Can we please finally admit that Kinect is only really good for party games, fitness buffs, and small children? Could Microsoft please stop throwing money at that damn camera and maybe invest instead in some developers and acquiring something approaching a stable of talent? Pretty please with sugar on top?
Fable: The Journey came out this week, and largely flopped. Admittedly, it only had a day or two to make an impact, but even so, it's still a rather disappointing drop. Of course, it's entirely possible that no one outside of the vocal minority of core gamers online actually knows it even exists, and they're hardly the target demographic, are they?
The fact is that this was supposed to be the game to change an awful lot. Maybe. Microsoft had been shoving Kinect into every dark corner of the Xbox 360 that they could find, and yet still it was seen as a novelty at best, and a broken indictment of everything that is wrong with the industry at worst. But Fable: The Journey was supposed to change that. Every single time a title that focused on motion control emerged on the Xbox 360, it was met with a caveat. "It's pretty good...for a Kinect game," reviewers would say, the implication being that the bar was set so very low for the hilariously inaccurate and volatile camera that any release which encouraged laughter rather than intensive swearing could be deemed a success...for Kinect.
It was hoped that Lionhead's latest might do away with that need for that caveat, and provide an experience good enough to warrant the Kinect requirement being a secondary afterthought. Of course, the exclusive nature of making something a Kinect game means that such a outcome was never likely, but it could well have been a system seller. Just because I might consider Albion to be a mishmash of pantomime cameos and half-baked concepts that don't create a cohesive and engrossing world doesn't mean that the Fable brand (and, by extension, Albion) can't shift units. It's a flagship franchise for Microsoft, and they don't have very many; the only bigger risk Microsoft could have arguably taken would have been to have 343 make a Kinect-only Halo game.
Just typing that makes me feel a bit ill.
But, as Jon mentioned in his review, the most galling thing about Fable: The Journey is that it actually comes close to presenting Albion as a lived in world that you actually want to inhabit for a bit. It's a personal gripe of mine that the first-person perspective doesn't get used for more games outside of shooters, as it really does allow for a sense of immersion you can't get when the camera is constantly pointed at a central protagonist's bum. Fable: The Journey brings that in spades, and it's only enhanced by stepping into the role of a character who actually has a place in this world.
Of course, it then ruins that all by constantly reminding you that you're playing a motion control game with unskippable tutorial pop-ups, constant reminders that you're allowed to relax your arms (just in case you didn't realise), and some truly hideous design choices that never allow you to enjoy the world you're in.
You see, I'd posit that Fable: The Journey was doomed from day one. We never want to see a game fail, and so when it comes to previews there often has to be a certain amount of positive thinking; you can't make grand, sweeping critical value judgements without seeing the final product. But Kinect is not built for long periods of play. Even if the mechanics in Fable: The Journey had all worked seamlessly, it would still have been a tiring, solitary experience. Ergonomic research is imperative for new consoles and their controllers, and huge amounts of time and money are spent in attempting to deliver input methods that operate with a minimum of fuss and allow for easy access to all buttons without overextension, fitting in the hands comfortably and so allowing for long periods of play.
That has never been a key consideration for Kinect. Yes, we can sit down in Fable: The Journey, but it demands that we sit in the manner of a Victorian finishing school pupil: straight-backed, no crossing of the legs, with the posture of a soldier and the patience of a saint.
Motion control was supposed to make things easier, and Kinect was marketed on the notion that controllers are fiddly things that are offputting to some, providing a barrier of entry to games by being overly complex, requiring practice to master, and ultimately proving frustrating for those with little patience or able manual dexterity. Those ad-people were right: controllers are a barrier. They are the middle men between physical thought and virtual execution, but that execution is nearly always absolute.
Kinect's execution is anything but. The limitations of the tech itself, and the inability of developers to improve things from a software standpoint, make for frustratingly inaccurate, and wildly inconsistent results, and that's a recipe for disaster. After this latest failure, and Fable: The Journey is a failure, it's time to hammer the nail into the coffin of Kinect's hopes and dreams. That's not to say Fable: The Journey would have been better with controller support; it wouldn't. It was designed from the ground up to be a motion-control game, and the on-rails nature of things would be horribly shallow and unrewarding with the precision of two sticks at one's disposal. The point is that the whole concept and its execution were fundamentally flawed.
Motion control has never, and will never, be the future of gaming and cannot provide the deeper experiences that some would suggest it needs. Of course, that's not a bad thing, so long as it's realised and accepted, and investiture gets ploughed back into making worthwhile games - be they engrossing controller-based experiences, or insanely enjoyable party titles. But you can't fashion Kinect into something that it's not, desperate though Microsoft may be to justify the ludicrous amounts of money they've spent trying to convince people otherwise.
VR actively fools two of your senses - sight and sound - into believing that you're experiencing a new world. Motion control does the exact opposite, forcing you to acknowledge that you're playing something, forcing you to compensate for technological inadequacies, and forcing you into situation where it's impossible to suspend your disbelief. Children embrace the novelty far more easily, and with greater patience, because they're able to meet the technology halfway. But even then, as with the poor kid playing Star Wars Kinect at Gamescom last year, sometimes even the most imaginative folks reach a threshold where they stamp their little feet and wander off to play with something that won't impede their imagination with broken mechanics.
As a supplemental device, Kinect might have merit. But again, its usually quicker to press a button. I'm still yet to find a game where the "Better with Kinect" slogan actually bears true. I'll try the novelty once, maybe twice out of appreciation and think "that's pretty cool", and then I'll get on with my life and go back to playing games the way I always have as if those features weren't there. Why? Because they go beyond being superfluous and become distractions, because they break my flow and extend the distance between thought and execution. Controllers give me goals, assuring me that if I can improve, the gap between thought and execution will draw ever smaller. I can do something about that - I can learn, I can practice, I can progress. I can't do anything about Kinect.