It's been roughly one and a half years since Kinect launched worldwide in late 2010, selling over 8 million units in its first 60 days and making the Guiness World Book of Records for being the "fastest selling consumer electronics device" ever.
Since then, the motion-sensing device has sold over 18 million units as of January 2012. It's safe to say from a financial and commercial standpoint, the device was a success as a product, and has no doubt helped prolong the life-span of the Xbox 360 and helped Microsoft sell millions more consoles.
But what else has Kinect notably accomplished or changed other than impressive sales? In my opinion, not much.
Let me elaborate; when I ask what Kinect has notably accomplished or changed, I mean in relation to "core" gamers; the massive market who owned an Xbox 360 console before the Kinect came along, the people who were probably not all "casual" gamers, whatever these two interchangeable terms mean these days. Has it provided for "core" gamers?
Kinect's purpose and functionality is for a gaming console, so it was pretty safe for me and others to assume the device would have some sort of appeal for all gamers and be used primarily in a gameplay manner. After all, Microsoft hyped up the launch as something that would revolutionise gaming and provide great games for both the "hardcore" and people who traditionally never play the games the Xbox 360 is well known for, such as Halo or Gears. They wanted to expand the market and provide something new at the same time, and that was understandable, even if it was obvious Microsoft were desperate for the market the Wii had captured.
The potential and technology was there for innovative features to be implemented, beyond the stuff we've seen before like voice-chat and voice commands (as nifty as they are) or fun (but overly simple) motion games involving Fruit and Ninjas. Kinect's competitor, the Wii Motion controls, may have seemed gimmicky to me initially, but while there was a heavy amount of shovelware, Nintendo utilised motion creatively with quality first-party "hardcore" games. MS had the perfect opportunity to improve upon Nintendo's shortcomings in the motion-sensing gaming market with its own first-party offerings and really show off its capabilities to third-party developers and get us gamers some great games.
But no, they didn't. I realised this too late when I fell for the Project Natal hype towards the hardcore, and bought a Kinect close to its launch in 2010. I've tried to play and enjoy a lot of its gaming library since then, with an open-mind to try new experiences. But it saddens me to conclude there is practically nothing to be genuinely excited for in relation to Kinect, even if you're a gamer who likes to play games like Dance Central, Kinect Star Wars or Kinect Sports. But even these games, dubbed "casual" by some, are unresponsive and average at the best of times.
It's hard to be open-minded with Kinect, whether you're a "casual" or "hardcore" gamer, when there is such a limited range of variety available, let alone games that really use Kinect to the fullest advantage, creatively and effectively. Right now the market is full of fitness and sport games, sub-par on-rails experiences and "hardcore games" that merely use Kinect as a minor feature, such as Skyrim and Mass Effect 3's voice capabilities. The only notable exception that comes to my mind would be the Gunstringer, which was both fun and accurate enough in its Kinect implementation, a rarity in the game released thus far.
There is also nothing noteworthy to boast about Kinect in relation to its software or technical capabilities. Playing Fighter's Uncaged, a game which arguably tried to boast it's "hardcore" factor in the form of a supposedly brutal underground brawler, illustrated and highlighted the device's saddening technical shortcomings. The response time to a player's movements, punches and kicks is horrendous. Worst of all, the game only accounts for a strictly limited moveset, so you can't pull off your own uppercuts or spin kicks. Since Microsoft markets the Kinect by boasting "with Kinect, you are the controller", it doesn't make sense that I can't fight the way I want to within the game, and being limited to only a few basic movements is quite disappointing.
Since Microsoft markets the Kinect by boasting "with Kinect, you are the controller", it doesn't make sense that I can't fight the way I want to within the game, and being limited to only a few basic movements is quite disappointing."
Microsoft have attempted to facilitate creative experiences like Rise of Nightmares, Diabolical Pitch, Star Wars Kinect and Steel Batallion: Heavy Armour, but all have failed out of a combination of terrible marketing and the mostly unresponsive and gimmicky way Kinect's controls were handled within.
Steel Batallion: Heavy Armour in particular was perhaps the biggest disappointment for me in regards to Kinect; the storyline premise, the hyrbid use of the Xbox 360 controller and Kinect and all the franchise's history seemed like it would be Kinect's first big hit, but Capcom's boast about the game being the most accurate Kinect game yet was for nought, with the game being critically panned.
In my experience with it, the game constantly asked me to recalibrate the Kinect, constantly misread my gestures and caused me to die or fail in frustration when it did not respond to my movements correctly or in time. The few missions I did get through, many felt so gimmicky (such as standing up without moving for several minutes to wait for your target to appear) that I just gave up on trying to be open-minded and went back to my traditional controller-based games. I understand there was always going to be a delay in response time, but the accuracy of the device really has crippled what could have been a very different and very enjoyable gaming experience.
And that's exactly the problem. I haven't touched my Kinect since because of such a terrible gaming experience, save for when I need to comically abuse players on Gears of War 3 after a heated match. Most Kinect games I've played feel like a chore to do so or don't respond or react well with the motion sensor at all, and there's no true incentive for me to use it when playing Skyrim, unless I want to wake the neighbours up with Dragonborn shouts. Just like the Wii, the novelty wore off, ableit a lot faster for me. People buy it, play it for a bit, then never touch it again.
Kinect's failure in providing gamers with quality first-party Kinect titles is also reflected in the fact that only one of Microsoft's big three exclusive franchises (Halo, Gears and Fable) are being made to really use Kinect (Fable: The Journey). Gears of War: Exile was quickly and quietly cancelled last year, no doubt due to uncertainties on Epic Games's part, and thus another set of massive gaming opportunities was missed. Not to mention Kinect's visibility in this year's E3 compared to last year's shows a little less confidence on the device than before.
I just can't help but wonder where Kinect's place is after nearly two years on the market, and can't help but feel it was a poor investment. Whether it simply needs more time on the market, or a technical revision to make it more successful with gamers and developers, I'd welcome any effort to see the device reach the innovation many know it can reach and the potential and recognition it truly deserves.
But this is just my opinion; what do you think about Kinect at this point in time? Do you feel it has a place for gamers beyond a video and voice-chat tool and typical on-rails experiences?
By Nathan Misa- Bio