I came, I saw, I flailed around wildly and then I needed some rest. Thankfully, the machine before me, this new taskmaster with three eyes, had the foresight to tell me to get some rest before I injure myself (or more likely smash some furniture).
What am I talking about? I’m talking about Kinect, the new motion sensor from Microsoft that is set to revolutionise gaming forever. The Kinect is Microsoft’s competitor to the Nintendo Wii and Sony’s PlayStation Move and the principle difference is there are no controllers, just you. Yes, you – your body. The cameras mounted on a motorised arm follow your every move and you and one other person can jump right into the game whether it’s careening down rapids, whacking and kicking balls around the place, boxing, dancing, jumping, sliding … you get the picture.
The Kinect, which goes on sale today, is set to be the biggest Christmas breakthrough and a spokesman for Microsoft told me the reason there had been no midnight launch last night was because most of the stock the company had brought into this country was taken up in pre-orders.
When I first saw this contraption in action a few months ago, I felt rather self-conscious stepping up and whacking balls back and forth. At the time we were being given a preview along with media across the world of what was coming. Months later I got to see more evolved games like Kinectimals and Dance Central, as well as the ability to control DVDs with a simple swipe of the hand.
Today, the device launched with 19 new games including Kinect Adventures, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 The Videogame, Game Party: In Motion, Zumba Fitness, Get Fit with Mel B, Kinect Joy Ride, Sonic Free Riders, and Ubisoft’s UFC Fighters Uncaged to name but a few.
More games will follow in the coming months and it will be exciting to see what publishers will do with the platform. Personally, I’m hoping for truly immersive action games based on platforms like EA’s Medal of Honor or Activision’s Call of Duty franchise. I’ll just have to wait and see.
So, first impressions. Well, the unboxing of anything is always a dramatic moment, but unlike most people into their technology it is usually a moment of dread rather than anticipation. Being a bloke, I rarely read the instructions except until something doesn’t make sense and usually nothing makes sense and before I know it I’m studying the darn manual.
So I’m delighted to tell ya’ll that the setup of the Kinect was refreshingly easy. Apart from figuring out if you have a Wi-Fi adapter at the back of your Xbox 360 you’ll need to use an additional USB extension lead that comes with the Kinect, I was ready to go in five minutes.
I switched the Xbox 360 on and after an initial software upgrade that took a couple of minutes I was being asked to present myself in front of the TV. I was asked to make a few cursory movements, stay deathly quiet while it calibrated the sound in the room and even though it asked me to say a few words, it was clear that voice commands aren’t available for Kinect users in Ireland. My source at Microsoft assures me voice features will come next year.
Ducking, kicking, pivoting, jumping
I picked an avatar and away I went. The only Kinect game I had to play at the time of the review was Kinect Adventures and it most certainly was an adventure.
The game has you doing all manner of things, from playing dodge ball-type games to jumping and weaving down rapids to balancing on a cart shuttling Indiana Jones style, where you have to jump, weave, duck, pivot and God knows what else.
My first impressions of the Kinect were really just how intuitive it was and I was impressed how my partner had almost no learning curve to deal with, she just stood in front of the TV and got going.
What really has to be impressed here is the sheer physicality of it all. You’ll be tearing up your gym membership with gusto. The whole thing is a cardiovascular wonder, seriously. Whatever you do it is simply calisthenics. Even if you’re not playing an exercise game you’re exercising.
I’m imagining two scenarios. Firstly, you’ll see a lot more fitter people than usual return from their Christmas holidays. Seriously, gods and goddesses will emerge from the Christmas excesses this year! Secondly, you might also see people returning with ligament strain or pulled muscles or worse, eye injuries from flailing too wildly and either landing inside their Christmas trees or on top of their coffee tables or from being whacked in the face while passing some over-enthusiastic gamer.
You see, the latter aspect is a concern for me. Irish living rooms aren’t very large and in order to play the Kinect properly – it actually won’t let you play unless you’re in the right range – you need to be six feet back if you’re a single player or eight feet back if you’re playing as a duo. So space is everything.
But back to the gaming. It truly is a marvel and my legs still hurt from all the squats and pirouetting I did. In fact, I sweated buckets and because I was playing in shoes on a hardwood floor, I cringe at what the neighbours were wondering what I was up to.
There is an element of responsibility about the Kinect – if you have been playing continuously over a period of time, a message will pop on your screen and suggest you take a break to avoid injuring yourself.
Because I only had Kinect Adventures, I kind of bored pretty quickly and felt it wasn’t really challenging enough for me – despite my exhaustion – and I have to say I’m looking forward to getting to grips with some of the other full-on and imaginative physical games in the franchise, like Fighters Uncaged, Kinect Sports and I’m definitely going to go for a fitness game because hey, I always wanted a personal trainer.
All in all, the Kinect is a masterpiece of technology and the lack of a controller in your hand is actually quite liberating. The other fantastic thing about the Kinect that people need to realise is if you’re an Xbox LIVE user, the Kinect doubles as a way to control your music and movies. I tried this out and was able to pass a movie with the swipe of my hand and flick through various scenes as if I was Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Other things to bear in mind is additional content through services like Last.fm, where with a wave of their hand or a voice command, users can play, skip, ban and love tracks.
Another feature to watch out for – and that I haven’t tried yet, I have to admit – is Video Kinect, a video chat experience that you can enjoy on your couch or with Windows Live Messenger.
The question now will be how much stock will be guaranteed in the run up to Christmas. It is certain to be the Christmas hit of 2010 and probably the most significant thing to happen to gaming since Halo emerged. Like I said when I first saw the technology last June, I know what I’ll be doing this Christmas.
· The all-in-one Xbox 360 4GB Console with Kinect includes the new Xbox 360 4GB console, Kinect sensor and Kinect Adventures, priced at €299.99 (ERP). Or for those who have an Xbox 360 console at home, the stand-alone Kinect for Xbox 360, priced at €149.99 (ERP), includes the Kinect sensor and Kinect Adventures, and works with the 45 million Xbox 360 consoles currently in homes worldwide.