Review: Kinect Star Wars
How much of a Star Wars fan are you? In all cases but for its LEGO adaptations, that was the question that needed to be asked to anyone who wondered whether they should buy a game based around George Lucas’ iconic sci-fi saga in the past. For those gamers who didn’t know their Sarclaccs from their Sandcrawlers, their Ewoks from their Emperor Palpatine or (for shame) their Biggs from their Jar-Jar Binks, it was easy to reply that they wouldn’t ‘get’ the mythos and context of the complex storylines. By doing this, LucasArts could essentially narrow down the audience of these adaptations to a dedicated few hardcore followers. Strangely enough, though, I can’t help but think that entering Kinect Star Wars without expectations taken from some of sci-fi’s greatest adventures will make it much less disappointing as a video game experience than for the long-term fans who will surely already have picked it up.
The set-up for the game is simple enough: C-3PO and R2-D2 have returned to the Jedi Archives after the events of Return Of The Jedi, to document past Jedi adventures and galactic happenings, allowing the player to step back in time and experience these recorded events in order to aid the hapless droid duo. There’s certainly no risk of a lack of immersion as you boot the title up, the menu interface and the various halls suitably fitting the visual style of the films; if anything, one of the most impressive elements of Kinect Star Wars is Lucas Arts’ dedication to accurately representing the series lore by using a variety of much-loved characters, locales and battles to jog some of our favourite childhood memories. From Starfighter battles above Coruscant to speeder bike chases in crowded forests, there really is enough for every player to recognise and engage with, whether they’ve been with the series since its launch in 1977 or simply have a passing interest in it and also want to stop their Kinect peripherals gathering dust.
Ah, Kinect. In the past two years since its retail debut, Microsoft’s motion peripheral has had a rough time of it, attaining the odd few enjoyable releases such as Child of Eden and The Gunstringer but never having them meet such success that they have topped the charts. Part of the camera’s plight must surely have come from following in the trail of the Wii, a fully-featured motion console which had a head start of almost five years on it, yet on a more basic level the lag and slow responsiveness which have been increasingly reported by gamers can’t have helped matters either.
No matter how much the marketing team now try to get around it, the fact is that when we as gamers glimpsed a Jedi Knight leaping from a shuttle onto the streets of Naboo, smashing through droids and tanks galore until he headed straight into a thrilling confrontation with Darth Vader himself, we rightfully expected Kinect Star Wars to be the first true ‘hardcore’ Kinect title. What fans did not want to see, then, was a repetitive main campaign full of monotonous corridors where waves of enemies await and the choppy frame rate of the battles threatens to see their characters knocked out within seconds of meeting an adversary holding a saber rather than a blaster. Sadly, we’ve got the latter, and both of the exciting levels from the E3 2010 and 2011 demos (such as the one featured in the screenshot below) are long gone.
At first it may seem easy to forgive this shortcoming – developers are still fine tuning their motion controls, after all – but after a dozen or so odd repeats of the same predictable, tiresome battle in environments which are recycled to the point that we might as well be playing Episode I for the original PlayStation, everything begins to grate. What initially starts as a lighthearted gameplay mode good for some laughs despite its quirks becomes an infuriating challenge in its final stages, rendered close to unplayable by the glitchy final flight sections, all as a result of the restricted functionality of its source controller. Whether we should put the blame on Microsoft for making their hardware so difficult to work with lest the player stand up, or LucasArts for choosing to place such a focus on the Jedi conflicts is up to debate; nonetheless, it is an oversight that cannot be forgiven.
The ‘Jedi Adventure: Dark Side Rising’ storyline that covers the three sets of missions you partake in on two different planets and a battle cruiser is essentially the equivalent of a Star Wars Greatest Hits compilation, for better or for worse. Whereas in Mass Effect 3 the clear inspirations of Lucas’ grand universe were merely foundations for new and innovative adventures, here the screenplay writers become so reliant on the events of the prequel trilogy that they fail to come up with any interesting ideas of their own. What we get here, then, is a narrative beset with all of the dumb CGI gimmicks and over exaggerated dialogue that plagued the much-scorned Episodes I-III, not helped at all by the faulty gameplay pervading every section except the on-rails vehicular battles (which in themselves ask little but for the player to swing his arms to point their cannons at enemies which then fire automatically).
As those who have been following Kinect Star Wars’ long and troublesome development cycle will know, the gameplay experience does not end with the brief five-hour story quest. There are four further modes that await, too- ‘Podracing’, an effective take on the hovercraft competitions from the Phantom Menace; ‘Rancor Rampage’, a fun if basic chance for players to vent their rage on famous planets like Felucia as the monstrous giants from Return of the Jedi; ‘Duels of Fate’, an expanded version of the drawn-out lightsaber battles that does little to ease the pain of the lag problems from the campaign; and ‘Galactic Dance-Off’, the much-vaunted Dance Central rip-off that actually does the job of providing fun music numbers pretty well, even if the shreds of dignity left within you after buying this are sapped away as you dance to ‘We No Speak Huttese’. As party diversions go, there are certainly many worse places to head than here, but the problem is that the supposed target audience for Kinect Star Wars really weren’t looking for a new party game when they saw it announced.
As ironic as it might seem, LucasArts appear to have almost completely isolated themselves from any major demographic of players with their choice of format for Kinect Star Wars. Those who have been living in a galaxy far, far away from the realms of Lucas fandom are unlikely to be won over by this as a family title due to the admittedly geeky nature of its premise. If they do try it out, then they’ll find a barely enjoyable bunch of add-on modes sure to liven up a gig only if all else fails.
On the other hand, those fans like me who have been searching the skies for battle stations disguised as moons and awaiting the chance to tell friends that “those are not the droids they’re looking for” will probably be too shocked at the abysmal graphics, the cheap-budget set of identikit voice actors and the lacklustre storyline to even attempt to forgive the blatant shortcomings of the lightsaber duels and the downright insulting riffs of much-loved moments from the saga. The days of the classics – Battlefront, The Force Unleashed, even LEGO Star Wars – really do feel a long time ago, and worse still this leaves Microsoft in the uncomfortable position of having to recover from one of their worst exclusive flops in recent history. The publisher needs to bring their AAA game with Fable: The Journey and Halo 4 this Autumn if they want to keep their fanbase loyal and intact.