The final verdict on Microsoft Kinect

Two years into its lifecycle, PC World looks at what the Xbox 360 motion controller has achieved

For the longest time, it seemed as if the Kinect would end up as vapourware. Microsoft kept the dissemination of information about the peripheral, which was then known as “Project Natal,” to a minimum, only showing technology demos every now and then to let the public know that it exists. At one point it seemed likely that Microsoft might use the prototype name for the final product, though the company eventually settled on the name Kinect, a surprisingly fitting name for a device that was entirely motion controlled and designed for family orientated gameplay.

The release of the Kinect was not without its own controversy at the time. There was the admission that the device has no internal CPU, which made industry pundits concerned whether the peripheral would have the required power to accurately detect movements during gameplay. Then there was the ambitious Project Milo game demo by Lionhead Studios that was unceremoniously cancelled before it was ousted as a publicity stunt. However, for the most part the launch of Kinect in 2010 went reasonably well by all accounts, selling eight million units in its first 60 days and setting a record in the process.

Two years later, has the Kinect succeeded? The answer would have to be a yes, as the peripheral continues to be a strong seller for Microsoft, with the pack-in title, Kinect Adventures!, regularly appearing in the top ten sales charts for Xbox 360. Microsoft has also packed it in with the 4GB Xbox 360 consoles, indicating that the platform holder is happy with the Kinect’s place in the Xbox family. Microsoft must be happy with the peripheral’s product costs as well, as the Kinect has not received a redesign or slimming down in the two years it has been on the market.

Body moving

While the Kinect is a strong seller, it would be a stretch to say that it had a significant impact on the overall Xbox 360 experience. Despite an initial burst of titles for the Kinect, the number of games for the device has slowed down to a trickle. Most of the games released on the Kinect have been social in nature with casual gameplay in mind, with very few “core” games supporting it. The few core games that support the Kinect, such as Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, have been so badly implemented that the peripheral’s purpose for casual gaming has been reinforced.

The Kinect attempted to breathe new life into the aging Xbox 360 by introducing controller free, motion based gameplay. While the Wii and PlayStation Move required a physical controller to interpret player movement, the Kinect was going to do it without anything at all. It was a bold concept, and when it works it works well. The lack of a physical control does give the player the illusion of being in a game. However, when the Kinect is unable to accurately detect movement, then the experience becomes frustrating.

From a hardware perspective, the Kinect could have been better. If the device packed a better camera and lens, not to mention the aforementioned internal CPU, it is likely that a lot of the issues with Kinect would have been mitigated. The low resolution camera means that the Kinect is only able to detect appendages such as arms and legs, and not more precise focal points such as individual fingers. The current lens also means that a lot of space is required to use the Kinect, so cramped spaces or rooms with a lot of furniture affect the accuracy of the device.

Moving forward

The Kinect games that have scored the highest in reviews and sold well have typically taken a simplified route in terms of gameplay. The Dance Central series consists of players dancing to popular songs, with the Kinect often glossing over the awkward and inaccurate moves of the player to deliver a fun social experience. Kinect Adventures! consists of the player either leaning or jumping on the spot, while The Gunstringer is an on rails shooter where the player uses their hand as a mock gun.

A lot of expectations were riding on last year’s release of Kinect Star Wars, as it held the potential of appealing to both the casual and core markets. While the game went on to sell well, it was ultimately met with a negative response by critics. A lot of the issues with the game, such as unresponsive controls and simplistic gameplay, are endemic of most Kinect games, though if a player persists, there is a lot of fun to be had with the title. Like Kinect Adventures!, the game features several game modes to provide variety, though the one that seems to work is the Dance Central inspired Galactic Dance-off.

The Kinect had the potential to become a game changer, though hardware limitations have currently relegated it to a niche product. Microsoft should be commended on trying to do something different with motion controls, and if anything, the Kinect provides a glimpse into what the future of gaming may be like once the technology and software support improves. It is likely the Kinect was a test by Microsoft in whether there is market interest in this type of device, and the sales figures seem to indicate that there is an audience. It will be interesting to see how different the Kinect experience will be when and if Microsoft decides to bundle a similar device with its next Xbox console.

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Patrick Budmar

Patrick Budmar

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