Kinect Impressions from the UK

Having been optimistically looking forward to owning Kinect since its initial unveiling back at E3 2009 as Project Natal, I felt it both beneficial and frustrating to be, as usual, an outsider looking in on the official launch in North America. With almost a full week of reading and watching reviews, impressions and videos before buying the hardware myself, I got a pretty good sense of what software worked well and what didn't. It was also somewhat refreshing to see sites and forums not overflown with rampant negativity and pessimism because, lo and behold, Kinect actually works!

Upon first setting Kinect up I was instantly relieved to find that I could comfortably fit into the 'Best' area of Kinect Adventures basic set-up procedure. If there is one criticism that has repeatedly reared its head in article after article it is that Kinect needs a lot of space. Some have blown the issue way out of proportion; others have just been unfair. Yes, Kinect needs space, but isn't that a given? You're talking about a system which requires you to play games using your entire body. Not only does that mean that you have to be far enough back for the camera to physically see your body (and I found the recommended 6-8 feet to work perfectly), but you'll need space to bounce around and lean or step sideways every so often. That is the fundamental idea behind Kinect.

With size worries at bay, I soon found myself actually surprised at how well Kinect works. There is no consistent hardware to map into motion on screen as there is with the Wii, and there is no consistent and easy-to-track bright ball as there is with the Move. Kinect has to recognise and guess, and do it very, very quickly! And given that it is a sensor watching an entire room, with every room being different, trying to find and keep track of one or two human bodies, of which come in various different sizes, shapes and colors, and then translate that movement onto a rendered avatar, it does it really well. Better yet, it is fast and smooth. There is no calibration before every game -- there isn't even a mandatory body calibration when you first turn the system on -- you just stand in front of the sensor, give a wave and you're there. You can drop in and out and swap players with ease which, given the complexity of the hardware and software, is pretty refreshing after using Wii Motion Plus and Move, both of which require calibration quite frequently.

The full body tracking works to varying degrees of success, ranging from good-but-janky to great based on the games I have played. Kinect Adventures, as a pack-in demonstration of the tech, is oddly one of the more laggy experiences. The full body tracking works well, but there is a slight stiffness to the movements that isn't apparent when playing Kinect Sports, which appears much smoother. With such differences at launch, it quickly becomes apparent how reliant on software Kinect is, and how much better it can be in the hands of a great developer. Kinect Adventures is still a heck of a lot of fun, and the lag isn't anything close to game breaking. If anything, such differences at launch fill me with confidence with regards to Kinect's future potential. If this is the starting point, I honestly can't wait to see what Kinect will be capable of in one or two years time when developers have truly got to grips with the tech and Microsoft will have upgraded the Kinect firmware and it's ability to track bodies. I already have found it to be consistently accurate and reliable in various lighting conditions, a couple of different rooms and with a dozen or so users.

Does Kinect live up to its promise at present? As a piece of technology, absolutely. The body tracking works, and it works well. It doesn't have to be unresponsive and laggy and it can genuinely give a sense of magic and immersion rarely felt elsewhere. It is fresh and new and the best of the launch games, whilst uninventive for the most part, demonstrate Kinect's capabilities well and most importantly for Microsoft, the titles do deliver to a new market. Having spent a number of evenings with casual and hardcore gamers over the past week, everyone came away impressed and it almost always gave that wow factor. It is different enough from the Wii whilst still delivering what made the Wii so popular and, launching with the Kinect equivalent (and some would say superior versions) of Wii Sports (Kinect Sports), Wii Fit (Your Shape) and Just Dance (Dance Central) has made this a must buy for some of those that played it alongside me.

I can see this being a pretty common occurrence this holiday season. With word of mouth and people actually getting to play Kinect, I expect it to do very well. Even many hardcore gamers that previously scoffed at Kinect have found it to be not only fun, but potentially important for the games that they typically play. With plenty of titles that cater to both markets already announced for 2011 and many more to come, I genuinely look forward to seeing Kinects potential unfold.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at several of the key launch titles.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More