Kinect Review: A First Step Into a Larger World

Along with Playstation 3’s new motion control accessory Move, few tech gadgets have inspired such heated debate and divided gamers as Xbox 360’s new Kinect has. Gaming addicts around the globe loved or hated the devices without laying hands on them, months and years in advance. Playstation Move made its way to the masses a few weeks ago and has proven to be fun, but isn’t it really just the next-gen Wii with its precision control and HD visuals? By no means is that a bad thing, but Microsoft took a different path with Kinect and decided to drop the need for a controller altogether.

Right off the bat there is zero question that Kinect is, to put it mildly, pretty darn sweet. The unit feels solid, of high quality and depending on where you live in the world, is really not much more then the cost of two new release games. The base is weighted for stability and has a practical rubberized pad which almost sticks to where it’s placed, which is recommended to be centered below or above your television set or display device.

Placement of the Kinect sensor is important but is not the giant Microsoft failure some may lead you to believe. Yes, you may have to prepare your room more then with the Wii or Move. But it’s quite obvious that interacting with the Kinect can also involve your legs, so is it really a big surprise to have to move your coffee table and perhaps slide your sofa back? No, however that’s not to say some people will not have issues. If you’re in a small space or dorm room, the exercise titles may prove impossible to follow. 6 feet is the recommended minimal distance from the player to the Kinect with 8 feet being optimal. I tested as close as 5 feet and had zero issues but the sensor had problems detecting my 5-year old son the closer he ventured. A fantastic hardware feature helping with placement is the sensor’s motorized tilt function which automatically calibrates to see you better. If you’re a gadget geek like me, you’ll be grinning as the sensor adjusts on its own to better track you.

Interaction with the Xbox dashboard is unique and fun to use but doesn’t seem to be fully implemented. The Kinect’s motion and voice controls can only be used in the Kinect Hub which is like a smaller secondary dashboard. You can give your Xbox voice commands as well as swipe panels with your hand which is Minority Report-style cool, but it would be more mind blowing if the Kinect was fully integrated over the entire dashboard with the new fall update. The Kinect’s navigation is extremely easy to use and I love how menu tags on screen seem to be slightly magnetic as your virtual hand touches them allowing for ease of use and little room for clicking the wrong thing.

As with most new consoles the hardware is only as good as its software. Kinect’s motion controls work well for the most part and are fun and intuitive to use. The motion tracking quality and degree of lag – yes, it does exist to some extent – varies from title to title but it doesn’t take away from the experience, although it does reveal which developers put in the time. A fitness game that doesn’t seem to be able to see my lower right leg is odd when a kids game or dancing title seemingly tracks the slightest gesture. But then this same fitness title takes unrecognizable pictures during the workout when I’ve seen many other photos from Kinect Adventures which are hilarious and clear as day. These inconsistencies will fuel the doubts of gamers that are still on the fence about Kinect. Overall the body tracking mechanic is far beyond the Wii’s wiggle and flick game play even in its weaker moments.

Is the Kinect a must buy, and does it have a future? As with its brethren PS3 Move, the Kinect launch titles are fairly redundant and weak. They are overly simplistic, definitively casual and will not entice traditional gamers to buy this peripheral for themselves. What Kinect does is bridge that gap between gamers and newcomers. It gives that wife or girlfriend something fun to play when he’s not playing Halo Reach or when friends come over. Kinect is for parents to play with kids and not have to worry about controllers or hassle with the casual games. Once you establish your KinectID, just swap players and the Kinect easily identifies you. Families will love this thing; I already can’t keep my kids away from it.

I understand many formal and informal critics – including my editor – claim Kinect must have a physical controller or input device to have any sort of longevity or lasting appeal. I agree to a point but counter with this argument: why is everyone assuming that the Xbox 360 will have Kinect and non-Kinect games? Xbox 360 already has its controller; we don’t need a wand for Kinect. Nobody is going to play Killzone 3 for 10 hours straight using the Move, so why would we expect that for Halo or Gears of War and Kinect? Traditional so-called “hardcore” games will never be fully motioned controlled, nor should they. Kinect will be successful by offering casual games utilizing full motion controls while implementing certain functions into controller based titles. Imagine being able to yell “reload” while playing Gears of War 3 or switching weapons with your voice in Halo. What if we could interact with objects in Fable 4 or Mass Effect 3 with our hands? Kinect’s motion controls will only ever complement and add to the game genres we love, it will NOT take over.

With much fanfare, anticipation, and even trepidation from some, Microsoft’s motion gaming peripheral Kinect has journeyed from a mysterious project named ‘Natal’ and onto store shelves as one of the most sought after electronic devices this holiday season. Should you buy a Kinect? If you’re looking for something new from your Xbox 360 or are tempted to enter the console gaming world for the first time then the answer is yes. It’s easy to set up if you have the minimum space which isn’t that big and it’s a blast for friends and family. Any hesitation on purchasing beyond monetary considerations should be based strictly on the weak slate of launch titles. Otherwise I can’t wait to see what 2011 brings to the Kinect and how much further it can take us into the relatively unexplored world of full-body motion control gaming.

– Jason Krahn

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