Well, here it is. After months of hype, thrills, spills and allegations, Kinect is finally here to make Microsoft's play for Motion Control. It's been a long and bumpy ride... but finally, here's our full review.
Setup: A Tale Of Two Consoles
If you've snagged one of the new 360 S Consoles, setup couldn't be easier. Just plug in the single USB cable and the drivers start downloading. Job done.
However, owners of the original Xbox 360 will need to faff about a bit. You'll need to plug the USB cable into the rear of the 360 and the power lead into a socket, creating a lot of extra wiring that will need to be stashed out of harm's way. Not only that, but Wireless Adaptors will need to be plugged into the front of the console using the provided extension lead. It's an unsightly and longwinded solution to a simple problem.
Regardless of your particular console, Kinect will soon install its own drivers and start an effortless calibration procedure in which it measures ambient light and sound levels. Note that it will demand quiet (though not unrealistic silence) during these sections- and dead simple instructions make it a breeze regardless of prior experience with high technology. After a brief tutorial, you'll be good to go!
Well, sort of. In order for Kinect to recognise them, players will need to run the Kinect ID app a few times. This odd little calibration tool will command you to move around the play space and adopt a number of embarrassing poses so that the Xbox can build a database of your face from different angles. The more times (and more conditions) you run it in, the better Kinect becomes at recognising gamers and assigning them the correct profile.
Space: The Final Frontier
The fact that Kinect needs between 6-8 feet of clear floorspace to function properly hasn't been exaggerated in the least. Whilst the sensor will pitch on its servos to find the optimal view of the room, players will need to leave approximately their height between between themselves and the camera. The taller you are, the more room you'll need to keep entirely in frame. This view also needs to be uninterrupted- so coffee tables etc have to be moved (partly to avoid the very real threat of broken shins). Since my lounge is long and thin with a TV in the corner, it was necessary to pivot the screen at an oblique angle and face the sensor directly into the room... and most people will probably have to move the sofa.
This is probably the main barrier to entry, so if you're in a dorm room or a small flat, I'm afraid you're probably not going to be able to use Kinect. Sorry.
So, Does It Work?
Yes indeed. Once you've set it up, Kinect is utterly brilliant. It doesn't take long for the software to imprint upon and recognise players, providing accurate and surprisingly lag free motion control even with two players dropping in and out of the action on the fly (in the majority of the launch titles). You'll need to make sure that light levels aren't too bright, but the dual cameras and depth sensors deliver the goods so long as you're not shining a light- especially direct sunlight- directly at the unit. I also had no trouble being recognised while seated, but reports indicate that this is a case by case basis. Glasses will also frequently throw off Kinect ID.
As a piece of hardware, Kinect is absolutely stunning... but the quality of the motion control experience is down to each individual game and their studios.The tech is solid- but for the purposes of this review, we'll have to leave the games out of it. Let's take a look at the menus, shall we?
Minority Report? Err...Traffic Cop, More Like
Ah. Hmm. Yes. This is going to sound slightly lame, but many of us were excited about Kinect revolutionising the way we navigated through menus and the dashboard. I think a certain scene from a certain Tom Cruise movie may have been mentioned a few times. By me.
If I sound a little embarrassed about this, it's because Minority Report hasn't quite happened. Kinect plays no part in the regular menus (including the marketplaces), which still require a regular controller. However, a quick wave or catchphrase (to be discussed later) brings up the separate Kinect Hub, which displays big buttons and allows a cursor to be precisely manipulated with a wave of the hand. While navigating menus using only your own two mitts is undoubtedly great fun, it's nothing like the experience that many expected. You have to hold out your arm and hover over buttons for several seconds, acting like a traffic cop directing the slowest rush hour jam rather than a badass detective aggressively slicing through menus. With any luck, subsequent patches will allow us to browse the marketplaces and integrate the hub with the dashboard.
The 'Universal Pause Gesture' allows us to pause a game and access the guide. Rather than an audio command, you'll need to stand bolt upright with your left hand at 45 degrees- half way between a semaphore pose and a Tai Chi position. It's nowhere near as annoying as you might believe... but hopefully in-game voice control will play a key role in future titles and patches.
Voice Control: Xbox! Do My Bidding!
Kinect's voice commands are deeply impressive. Four Microphones allow it to recognise and carry out simple commands even with background noise and some intentionally silly voices- and you'll be surprised at how long you can spend remotely opening and closing the disc drive before the novelty wears off. It's brilliant.
However, you might be surprised to learn how limited this powerful facility is at the moment. After barking "Xbox!" at the peripheral, you can basically only interact with the options already on the screen- which takes slightly longer than just using a regular controller. Zune control and video chat adds a couple of extra features. You can't manipulate DVDs or actually navigate using voice control just yet- or even turn the console on/off (which, let's face it, is probably a safeguard against accidentally turning off the console in-game)! However, this is almost certainly the way forward for hybrid titles. Being able to call out weapons, powerups and give complex hands-free commands to AI Teammates will make Kinect relevant to even the most hardcore shooter fanatics. Plus, it's really cool.
- Responsive, intuitive, addictive motion control
- Truly unique. There's nothing else like it.
- Voice recognition is exceptional
- Absolutely not suitable for small rooms and flats
- Menu control is more traffic report than Minority Report
- At the moment, it's all potential
The Short Version: Kinect is awesome. Microsoft's new peripheral absolutely nails the concept of controller-less gaming... but at the moment, it relies solely on future potential rather than its launch game lineup. Families, affluent casual players and tech fanatics should consider an immediate purchase, but most gamers simply won't receive enough value for their hard-earned cash at present.
If you're already psyched, I guarantee that you won't be disappointed. But if you have your reservations, you'd do well to hold off until next year's hardcore titles arrive.
Any questions? Ask away!