Long has been the wait for a Star Wars experience which fully incorporates those two most coveted of Jedi activities: using the force and swooshing a lightsaber. Before we begin then, I have to state that, alas, this isn’t the game that puts a 100% gesture accurate lightsaber in your hands (or even not in your hands, this being a Kinect game and all).
You will do a huge amount of arm swinging – in mimicry of the world’s most famous fictional blade – yes, but never will that swinging be represented on screen in anything but the most arbitrary way. It’s a disappointment that Kinect Star Wars never really recovers from, not least because it demands precision from the player but then fails to feedback such accuracy in gameplay terms.
At times it feels as if a more precise control method was thrown out at the last minute of its development time, only for the standard (and let’s be honest, disappointing) Kinect gestures to take its place, so subtle are some of the encounters you’ll take part in.
Take an action sequence mid-way through the game’s ‘Jedi Destiny’ campaign. Your vanilla padawan has infiltrated a Star Destroyer – if that’s not the technical term for the largest of starships in the Attack of the Clones period of the Star Wars timeline then please forgive my ignorance – in a bid to breakout numerous captured Jedi.
After fighting wave after wave of identikit droids and reptilian bounty hunters you’ll eventually come to a sequence onboard an elevator where, quelle surprise, yet another wave of droids appears – though this one containing more of those capable of engaging in duels than seen so far.
This is the first time where the absence of any precision in control of your lightsaber is felt, and, as ten or more foes engage you in turn, progress becomes more down to pure luck than the light side of the force. That most enemies can deflect your attacks by purely standing still and holding out their weapon doesn’t help, nor does the fact my kicks and jumps are often missed by the Kinect sensor – or at least not tracked dependably enough for such moves to be relied upon.
Instead of the expected glorious whirlwind of Jedi powers and saber swooshes I’m left with an aching arm, a heightened sense of exasperation and the overwhelming feeling that Star Wars fans have been left short-changed by what might well have been not just a celebration of an ailing franchise, but the introduction of a killer app into Kinect’s software library.
Outside of the lightsaber there’s the opportunity to dodge, leap, duck and even throw weaker enemies around like rag dolls through use of the force push attack linked to the player’s non-saber arm. Kinect has trouble tracking almost all of these moves however (at least in my living room) while throwing enemies feels random due to the lack of any aiming reticule. Worse still is the force dash triggered by leaning forward with arms stretched behind you, to say that successful use of this is random would be putting it mildly.
It’s not that Kinect Star Wars is a complete mess, indeed the figure-of-eight saber move which deflects laser bolts is fun to use, while the classic score, colourful visuals and huge battles depicted provide a spectacle that’s sure to pull fans in – at least until the next control glitch shatters the illusion.
Inclusion of a two-player split screen option for the main campaign is a welcome feature, as is the variation of play which sees the player taking aim at fighters from the gun turret of a ship, racing through the forests of the wookie home world on a speedster and engaging fellow force users in duels – which nicely channels the age-old Star Wars arcade cabinet of yesteryear.
In what some might take as an admittance on the part of LucasArts and Microsoft that what they’ve delivered falls short of what fans expected, various additional modes of play are available beyond the short campaign. Pod racing seems a natural fit but falls, once again, to the vagaries of Kinect’s clumsy ‘no hands’ controls which rarely respond in a fashion subtle enough to justify the tracks’ tight and unforgiving corners.
Another mode which channels the old city-destroying classic Rampage, sees the player bashing through various iconic Star Wars locations as a fearsome Rancor monster. While diverting enough at first, the mode soon wears thin after you’ve cared to swing your arms left and right for yet another contrived reason. Finally, a dance mode with more than a passing resemblance to Dance Central, is on hand to entertain those in mood for a boogie, complete with Cantina-style takes on real life numbers.
As a whole however Kinect Star Wars presents an experience which feels diminished, certainly falling short of the experience we were promised via the hype created for both game and even the Kinect itself. With George Lucas himself seemingly at pains to hold the franchise back in his stubborn belief that it’s chief audience is for kids, perhaps the final product here should come as no surprise.
Your kids will no doubt love it, the thing is, Star Wars has two lots of kids wanting to play it, and those on the bigger side would be in their rights to demand more from a full price title which also requires an expensive peripheral to play. It seems all eyes now turn to Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor in the wait for the first great core Kinect game.