Xbox 360 Kinect - Demands on Space and Laggy but Fun



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That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some serious disappointments. Firstly, while the voice and gesture recognition works brilliantly, the integration into the dashboard isn’t as profound or as effective as it first appears. Saying “Xbox” gives you immediate access to a context-sensitive bar of speech commands, but within the Dashboard all you can do is launch the new Kinect Hub.

Within this, you can handle profiles, add and modify avatars, launch games, tune the sensor and access the Zune, Sky Player and services. However, while you can look for a movie to rent, browse for music and watch Sky TV using voice commands and gestures, you probably won’t want to. Despite a beautiful, intuitive interface, it’s a slow and unwieldy way to do things, particularly if you want to search for an album or browse through Zune’s library of films.

More importantly, there’s no getting around the fact that Kinect is very tetchy about space. You really need a minimum of five feet of space between you and the sensor to make a game worth playing, and a further two or three feet behind you to play in. If you want to play with two players simultaneously in many games, including the bundled ”Kinect Adventures”, then you’ll need to stand even further back and have several feet to either side as well. Use the hub’s Kinect Tuner utility or stick to less demanding games, like the kart-style racer, ”Joyride”, and you can get away with slightly less, but only slightly. This rather makes all those smug comments made about the price of two-player Move setup sound a bit rich; if you want to play Kinect as Microsoft intended, you might have to buy a bigger house!

This is Kinect’s single biggest problem – and a bigger problem in the UK than it will be in areas of mainland Europe or the US. The fact is that where Wii works in just about every living room, and Move will work in most, Kinect needs space in which to work. If you have it, however, and you’re willing and able to move furniture around, then it’s worth it. Kinect really is something new, different and amazing.

The feeling starts when it first scans your face as you start a new game and places your avatar on screen, and carries on when you wiggle an arm or shake a leg and realise that your avatar is copying you exactly. There is lag, and you can see this in the efforts that some games have made to get around this. However, in the sorts of game that Kinect does well, it’s really not that much of an issue. It’s not the technical limitations that will stay with you, but that all-important sense of fun.

Take the bundled game, ”Kinect Adventures”, for example. While there’s nothing particularly clever or sophisticated about this mini-game collection, whacking balls at boxes using your head, body hands and feet not only makes you look stupid, it also puts a big smile on your face. The river rafting activity takes getting used to, but with two of you in the boat together, frantically scrambling left and right and trying to synchronize your jumps, it’s a blast. Ditto plugging holes with hands and feet in an underwater tank being attacked by psychotic fish. Ditto flapping your arms to float up and burst bubbles in the low gravity of an orbiting space station. To experience it is to love it.