Platform: XBLA (Kinect sensor required)
Developer: Iron Galaxy
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Let's tackle the elephant in the room right now: Wreckateer shares its core gameplay concept with that Rovio game. You know, the one starring irate avians. Both titles feature catapults to load with different ammunition and numerous fortifications to flatten courtesy of a capable physics engine. Green goblins stand in for rotund pigs, attractive 3D graphics replace two-dimensional artwork, but the two games are functionally identical. Wreckateer shamelessly touts its blatant inspirations, but there's arguably no shame in exploiting the cathartic fun you can only get from smashing stuff up. So many games have jumped on the bandwagon that the bandwagon has become a burgeoning sub-genre of its very own.
However, Angry Birds (let's drop the pretence) proved to be so successful because of more than just a solid gameplay concept. It's perfectly suited to the hardware, instantly accessible and natural to control on a smartphone or tablet. Wreckateer, therefore, needs to be similarly solid on its platform of choice: the fickle and under-supported Kinect sensor. Iron Galaxy clearly recognised this simple fact, because their inexpensive downloadable game joins the small selection of Kinect games that... wait for it... actually work, and are consistently enjoyable to boot.
What it lacks in originality, Wreckateer makes up for in precision, accessibility and good old-fashioned fun. At 800 MSP, it's also not going to break the bank.
The premise, such as it is, sees players assume the role of a novice Wreckateer. These medieval demolition experts are called in to reduce goblin-infested castles to rubble, wielding an enormous ballista to blow their targets to smithereens from a safe distance. Using the Kinect sensor, players step forward and virtually grab the drawstring with both hands, stepping sideways or ducking to adjust their aim and flinging their arms wide to loose the shot. As with the best Kinect games, this control system is both pleasingly responsive to subtle movements and far more immersive than a traditional controller (since you're physically acting out the in-game animation). Once your shot hits, the reasonable physics engine leaps into action, sending stone blocks tumbling, wooden splinters flying and towers crumbling down. Wreckateer won't cause Frostbite 2.0 or CryEngine 3 to lose any sleep, since most of the debris quickly (even instantly) disappears, but it's functional enough. The sheer dopamine-inducing catharsis involved with smashing enormous fortresses into dust for massive amounts of multiplying points cannot be denied, amplified by the physicality of the control system.
After a little easing-in period, Wreckateer starts to reveal its hidden depths. Nifty aftertouch controls let you add spin to the boulder in-flight by slapping the projectile around with both hands. The effect is pleasingly instantaneous, and with practice comes the ability to massively alter the trajectory of each shot. Different ammo types, such as explosive shots and a Dambusters-style bouncing bomb, have different devastating effects, with a gliding projectile acting as a highlight since it can be directly steered with both arms outstretched. Most of the sixty castles on offer feature wildly different geometries and weak points, explosives that cause massive chain reactions if hit with a precise shot and target shield icons to improve your score, adding a welcome level of tactical play should you choose to use it. Switching to an overview is as simple as raising your hand to your eyes, and a 'mulligan' earned from precise goblin kills provides a useful do-over for failed attempts.
It's a shame that just working properly is a major selling point for a Kinect game, but considering the numerous failed attempts and botch jobs (see also Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor), we've got to take the little wins when we can. On balance, though, it's worth noting that you'll need a fair amount of play space in order to properly walk around and rotate the ballista, not to mention that Kinect accuracy can massively vary depending on light conditions, clothing, player build and height. I personally didn't have any problems, but I've heard that some of my peers have been suffering from premature projectile ejection. As a tip, remember that Kinect actually prefers artificial light to daylight.
In terms of progression, Wreckateer goes down the tried-and-tested app route of doling out medals at certain point thresholds. A bronze medal is fairly easy to obtain and unlocks the next level, whereas netting the silver and gold awards requires a serious amount of forward planning and total mastery of the aftertouch spin system. This breezy and familiar setup allows casual players of any age to dip their toes in and have a go, while more advanced players or rabid completionists can butt heads against the harder challenges. That's the real joy of Wreckateer: it's accessible and fun for everyone, which is arguably the entire point of Microsoft's peripheral. So long as you don't approach it in mammoth sessions; this is a game to be dipped into, not marathoned in a single sitting.
Catharsis can occasionally descend into repetition and even frustration, especially during the latter half of the campaign. Some of the medal thresholds feel inappropriately high, while certain levels exhibit some intensely linear puzzle solutions that are at odds with the 'jump in, wreck everything' spirit of the venture. That said, Angry Birds and its ilk don't pull any punches, so it's probably unfair to criticise Wreckateer for wanting to provide a bit of a challenge.
Presentation proves to be slightly inconsistent, displaying a reasonable level of visual polish but brought down by some texture fuzz and the aforementioned disappearance of many debris objects before they even hit the ground. Worse, the voice acting is truly dire: the two main characters are painfully overacted, fist-in-mouth unfunny and teeter between at least four regional accents (I counted Irish, West Country, Yorkshire and Scottish). I daresay that Americans won't notice - neither will kids, thinking about it - but most British gamers will likely dive across the lounge for the mute button, their shot deviating wildly as they do so. At least the cutscenes are skippable, and let's be honest, we're not looking to experience deep storylines and thought-provoking character arcs here. We've come to wreck stuff up.
Many gamers may balk at the very existence of Wreckateer. That's fine. After all, chances are that the hardcore haven't bought into motion control in the first place. But for 800 Microsoft Points, you'll get a lengthy, addictive, accessible and fun diversion that's well worth dusting off your Kinect sensor to enjoy.
- Intuitive Kinect controls actually work
- Cathartic fun for casuals and hardcore, additive too
- Great value for the price
- Truly painful voice acting and dialogue
- Physics engine and debris is nothing to write home about
- Sometimes visually drab and slightly fuzzy
The Short Version: Wreckateer is a great example of a Kinect app done right: enjoyable, intuitive, responsive, accessible and appropriately priced. It won't win any awards for originality, neither will it be hailed as a killer app or game-changer. But my goodness, it sure is fun.
Basically, if you own a Kinect sensor, you should probably drop the 800 Microsoft Points and grab it.