The Curious Case Of Kinect Vs. The Hardcore Gamer
Will Kinect ever be considered hardcore?
The first generation of Kinect games have passed, and now developers are looking at the best ways to bring Microsoft’s peripheral to a new audience. But is it too little, too late for the average Xbox 360 gamer?
What makes a fun game? More specifically, what makes a fun Kinect game, and are the two mutually exclusive? A high proportion of the Xbox 360’s controller- centric audience will have pondered that particular conundrum, having already questioned the merit of the Wii generation, let alone Microsoft’s attempts to ape Nintendo’s motion control successes with Kinect.
It wouldn’t be particularly controversial to suggest that Kinect’s first full year on the market has produced a catalogue of software lacking in originality and devoid of inspiration, made up as it is of a predictable wave of sports-lite, party and fitness titles.
While no one’s begrudging Microsoft the opportunity to expand the 360’s reach and target a new demographic – a bigger audience is good for everybody – the selection of third-party and first-party titles released exclusively for the peripheral is squarely aimed at the family market. Until now.
While over ten million Kinect units have been sold since the peripheral’s auspicious debut 12 months ago, that figure only accounts for part of the huge install base of 55 million Xbox 360s worldwide, and Microsoft rightly has its sights set on a bigger target.
Figures suggest that Kinect is the catalyst behind the console’s sales resurgence in the US over the last year, but while the likes of Kinect Adventures or Kinectimals are great for new customers who bought Kinect bundles for those very titles, the majority of 360 customers continue to be those that were attracted to the platform’s cornerstones of core genres – shooters or racing games – robust online multiplayer and locked-in, first-party exclusive franchises.
Fortunately, phase two of Microsoft’s master-plan for Kinect appears to have its most loyal, partisan fans in mind. Twisted Pixel’s recently-released title The Gunstringer could mark something of a mini turning- point for Kinect software, being that it goes someway to solving the problem of how to play a shooter without a typical controller, and does so with a heavy dose of the developer’s zany humour – but will it become the exception rather than the rule?
Another recent release suggests it could, while moving even further away from Kinect’s initial family-friendly image.
As reflected in numerous reviews, Rise Of Nightmares’ execution may be somewhat lacking, but it at least goes out of its way to make up for any shortcomings with its tone, content and target audience. As impressive as the ambition is in those two Kinect-only titles, though, it could be a different approach that ultimately sells a substantial share of the Halo faithful on Kinect’s potential.
The game? Er, Halo: CE Anniversary. 343 Industries has teased some form of Kinect compatibility for the remade version of Master Chief’s inaugural adventure, and while, granted, it’s unlikely to represent a killer motion-control app, or even gameplay features for that matter (343 has stressed the remake’s dedication to authenticity) Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary will marry that black plastic bar with the shiny gold visor of Xbox’s most enduring icon.
The same goes for Forza Motorsport 4, which makes substantial use of Kinect to control menus, navigate your way around vehicles in Autovista mode and even provide a touch of head-tracking during races.
The inclusion of Kinect compatibility in two of Microsoft’s biggest first-party franchises this year may not be particularly necessary – you’ll still be able to operate both with a standard 360 controller – but neither should it be surprising.
Early adopters may be a little taken aback by the speed with which Microsoft has dropped Kinect’s launch mantra, ‘You are the controller’ but the manufacturer’s marketing strategy ﬁnally seems poised to prioritise the very gamers that made the Xbox 360 such a success in the ﬁrst place.
After snubbing them at Kinect’s launch it’s the least Microsoft can do, and indeed, the platform holder truly believes Kinect can be all things to all gamers, all over the world.
Are hybrid titles the place to win hearts and minds for Kinect? Such a strategy may be paying off for Sony – when Microsoft was reeling off its sales ﬁgures for Kinect back at this year’s E3, its chief rival unveiled sales of 8.8 million units for PlayStation Move.
Not quite as impressive as Kinect’s ten million perhaps, but then Sony hadn’t felt the need to completely remarket the PS3 to a new audience.
As well as the usual light, novelty launch content, Sony instead turned its attention to adding Move compatibility to third-party games such as R.U.S.E. and Tiger Woods, before adding it as an optional control method to its own staple titles ranging from Killzone to LittleBigPlanet.
Such a move could certainly shift the core- gamer’s perception of Kinect up a couple of notches.
Other upcoming hybrid Kinect titles include former 360-exclusive franchise Mass Effect 3, which will enable players to select dialogue options and command squad-mates using their voice – again, not quite the must-have implementation of Kinect we’ve been waiting for, perhaps, but there’s no denying that issuing relatively complex orders on the battleﬁeld of a third-person shooter with speech alone lends a certain air of cool, and if it works well, potentially an enhanced level of immersion.
We may have to wade through ever-increasing amounts of Kinect shovelware over the next couple of years, but there should also be enough content to at least intrigue players of shooters, RPGs and action-adventure titles.
With ‘proper’ developers like Lionhead and Crytek now developing for the tech, titles like Disneyland Adventures will be countered with a Fable: The Journey; for every Dance Central 2 there’ll be a Ryse waiting in the wings.
Hell, even Double Fine’s Sesame Street project seems to have a lot going for it. But if Microsoft can start bringing more addictive Kinect functionality to the experiences gamers already want to play, before we know it we’ll all own ten games that are ‘better with Kinect’. 2011 may not be the year Kinect crosses the core divide, but 2012?