The Kinect is set to be Microsoft's biggest hardware launch since the arrival of the Xbox 360 in 2005, and aims to transform the way we interact with the console and with games forever. A motion camera with lots of neat tricks up its sleeve, the device houses two lenses for stereoscopic vision, detecting depth and movement in three-dimensional space, while an infra-red camera increases accuracy by picking up the heat signature of players as well as their shape. It'll also come with a microphone for voice commands, and boasts the ability to isolate voices and block outside interference. In terms of features, it has everything it needs for true hands-free gaming.
At gamescom 2010, DS put the device and its launch line-up through its paces. Here's a taste of the sports, racing, dancing and fitness titles that'll be on shelves come November 10.
Using the device
Later this year, the dashboard will be revamped to make way for Kinect. While the standard interface will boot up the console, waving at the screen will jump into a screen with six panels, allowing navigation with the cursor, and more options available by moving to the edge and swiping across. The panels housed all the usual suspects for playing and launching Xbox Live services. Whether all these services will cater for Kinect specifically is unknown, but the Avatar customisation area will be updated with panels and hands-free buttons and swipes.
Finally, there's positioning. Much like the Wii sensor bar or the PlayStation Eye, it'll sit below the television pointing out into the room. While you can play the Wii from a metre onwards, a possible issue with Kinect is that it has a specific zone of play. All demo stations required a lot of room to play games, with an area four to five feet from the screen needed to pick up the player. In front or behind that, and the sensor will struggle or fail to pick up users at all. While the experience is no doubt optimised for the living room, for those who play their consoles in compact spaces, this could end up being a real deciding factor. However, we're hoping to test the device in real world situations before passing proper judgement in this regard.
Football is clearly the jewel in the crown but the others more than hold their own from a standpoint of functionality. The motion technology allows a good deal of accuracy during each event and the games are certainly enjoyable when played against friends, particularly the bowling which is sure to become a fan-favourite. However, like its Wii counterpart, Kinect Sports has severely limited appeal in single-player mode as nobody wants to thrash around an empty living room.
Adventures has the player take on the role of the controller, requiring them to use full-body motion to jump, dodge and kick their way through various obstacle courses and exotic locations. Not only are the events fun to play, they also have the feel of a mini workout, hinting at scope for health and fitness titles using the hardware. Like most of the Kinect launch line-up, this is intended as a social experience and the option to jump in and out of online multiplayer sessions will certainly prove popular among those looking for an impromptu exercise session.
The studio is also planning to give it the Rock Band treatment, with regular downloadable content, already adding to the likes of 'Poker Face', 'Poison', 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' and the other 30 or so tracks on the disc. With support for multiple difficulties, hundreds of moves - many which are song specific - and its accessibility for both the casual and core gamer, we predict this to shift a lot of copies at launch.
The island location is home to all kinds of activities, one of which is an assault course that has you run on the spot, leap, duck and balance as the little cub goes across ledges and over fences. Once done the time will be posted to a local leaderboard, and working on his abilities in other areas will see improvements in his times as well. Kinectimals is as much a gimmick as Nintendo's best-selling dog-walking title was, and while it was difficult to see what the options available were for long-term play, it was a fun and cute enough addition to the launch line-up.
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved
While on the surface it sounds like a basic fitness title, there are a lot of very smart design features that make good use of the Kinect. For one, the player is always displayed on-screen as a silhouette, providing instant feedback as to whether they're replicating the yoga moves currently, or if they're throwing fists in the right direction. It's perhaps the only Kinect game to do this, and is a simple addition that really benefits a fitness title. The menus are also designed with as little clutter as possible, making it easy to navigate, with on-screen text neatly adjusting around the player in relation to their position.
Kinect Joy Ride
Successfully pulling off combos in Stunt Mode feels satisfying, but the motion controls during racing modes are certainly no replacement for a control pad as far as accuracy is concerned. Subtle motions rather than exaggerated gestures are encouraged, though this method still falls somewhat short of the precision that's usually associated with traditional inputs. While there's some fun to be had in multiplayer, Joy Ride is essentially a novelty title.
Kinect will be available for Xbox 360 from November 10 for £129.99.