It was recently announced that a lightsaber peripheral would be coming for Star Wars Kinect, which slightly goes against the whole 'body-only' ethos of Kinect, but then again playing the game without one pretty much makes you feel like an absolute idiot. I had hopes (I'd be lying to suggest that said hopes were 'high', but there were hopes) for Star Wars Kinect. After all, manipulating the Force with motion control is something that Star Wars fans such as I have been dreaming of since this obsession with waving one's limbs to control things took off.
Sadly, and although I'm loathe to use sweeping generalisations I have to say this outcome was somewhat predictable, Star Wars Kinect manages to take a bunch of nice ideas and ruins most of them. It'll probably sell well, in spite of the last fifteen years' dubious output, the Star Wars franchise is still a highly lucrative one and some fans will purchase anything with the logo on the box indiscriminately. But that doesn't mean it's good.
Such is the problem with hype: it raises expectations. We come to expect certain things from our consoles and our games. When George Lucas reinvented lightsaber combat to be fluid, balletic and acrobatic, millions of hopeful Jedi-wannabes dreamt of doing the same.
They'll be pretty disappointed by this, then.
We could forgive early Kinect games for not making the most of Microsoft's camera, but the potential of the thing is slowly being revealed through games such as Child of Eden and The Gunstringer and therefore our critical gauge must shift. Put simply, sluggish controls are not good enough.
I saw a child step up to the plate at the Microsoft Play Day, he mastered the movement mechanics, jumping to...well...jump, leaning forward to dash up to opponents, exhibiting restraint to make his lightsaber movements clear and emphatic. He needn't have bothered, the lag was insufferable, so much so that he stamped his little foot and stormed off with a thunderous expression on his face. I don't blame him.
I had far better luck, or rather my professional commitments meant that I had to stick it out, but even when it worked, the action was fairly insipid. I found my self longing for some sort of tactile feedback, the indistinct nature of the action proving thoroughly underwhelming. Surrounded by reps wearing Xbox-branded t-shirts, I found myself hungering for a Playstation Move.
The Force sections were much more satisfying. Force Push and Pull worked exactly how I'd imagined, once I'd run and nabbed a coffee as I waited for the lag to sort itself out (that might be an exaggeration). Lifting one's hand embraces a target in a blue sphere, after which you can dispatch them with a wave of your hand however you like. It's the best aspect of the game. Sod the lightsaber, throwing around henchmen is an absolute blast. There's something hugely satisfying about grabbing a droid, whipping it towards you and slicing it in half as it flies towards you. But after the twentieth time?...Hmmmm....
Gamescom was treated to an exclusive new slice of gameplay though, giving players the chance to take control of the slavering beast from Return of the Jedi and kick Mos Eisley into pieces. Frankly, this is exactly what we've been waiting for: the chance to stomp around as a gigantic monster (or robot or tank or dinosaur or robo-dino-tank). As the demo began my eyes lit up with glee. Full body movement was the order of the day: stomp on the spot to move forward, turning the body to go left or right, swinging one's arms to demolish everything in your path.
At least, that's the idea...
But, inevitably, poor use of Kinect scuppers this, turning what should be possibly one of the most empowering, exhilarating and cathartic samples of Kinect gameplay yet into a sluggish heap of disappointment. Swatting X-Wings from the sky is good fun, and the final battle with the AT-ST is a bit of a laugh too, if you can attribute the lag to simply being a giant hulking meatbag and forgive the basic faults at work then there is some fun to be had. But the bottom line is that you shouldn't have to.
The pod-racing, also new to Gamescom, works pretty well. In fact I'd go so far as to say that it's probably the most well-worked aspect of the game, though you should understand that's not saying much. Holding your hands out in front of you, you push forward and fully extend to accelerate, pulling back to brake, with turning achieved by pulling back the left hand to turn left and the right hand to turn right. Essentially it's exactly the same as the arcade pods they had for Star Wars: Episode One Racer, only without any kind of tactile feedback, and no awesomely sculpted, absurdly expensive pod to sit in. It looks as if it will be the most enjoyable aspect of the game - pretty much because it's the only one that seems to actually work as it should with minimal fuss - and that's fine.
I know that this is preview code. I realise that perhaps we shouldn't be making value judgements of an unfinished game. Precedent has taught me that Kinect games should be met with a relatively low threshold of expectation. But frankly to subscribe to such thinking is to fail to do our job properly. Kinect is capable of better. Casual players deserve better, as do franchise fans. I don't object to the game's concepts, its ideas or its presentation in any way shape or form. The Force Powers offer some serious fantastical fulfilment initially. Indeed, I think that this is the type of game casual Star Wars gamers have been crying out for, but its execution appears to leave much to be desired.
And no, that lightsaber peripheral almost certainly won't make it better.