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Kinect Star Wars Review [XBox 360]

Is the force strong with this one? Well, rather unfortunately, Kinect Star Wars is far more Episode III than Episode V - a slightly ill-fitting tribute to the Star Wars legacy, and only sporadically successful as a game.

rating:2.5

Kinect Star Wars should have been the first major Kinect title. It should have been the moment the games for the latest console peripheral moved beyond party games and casual fun, with a deeper, far more immersive experience than what has so far been released to the platform. The opportunity to navigate richly hewn sci-fi environments, with invisible light-saber in hand without reducing the gameplay to episodic portions and mini-games, as has been the traditional format of the majority of Kinect releases so far would have been a major draw. It's just a shame that that's not what was actually achieved here. Not entirely anyway. Because the game is still just a collection of mini-games, and familiar ones at that: though there is good variation in the challenges, each of the five game modes - Dark Side Rising, Podracing, Rancor Rampage, Duels of Fate and Galactic Dance Off - seems to have been lifted from other Kinect games, and while the design, and execution is impressive enough, they have usually been done better elsewhere. It should have been the solo campaign which really shone, and which could well have offered the technology the opportunity to showcase exactly what it is capable of. But at three chapters in length, and with limited depth and variety in the combat set-pieces, even the excellent bridges between the frustratingly similar combat waves could really save it from anything but limited appeal. On the surface, the production values are typically impressive, given that this is a Star Wars and Microsoft co-production, and you can't really fault the slickness of the game's aesthetics. The brand has been traded on quite well - which you'd have suspected, since George Lucas has never failed to squeeze this brand for all it is worth - with some good cameos peppering the game, but it seems almost inconceivable that none of the original actors were employed to voice their own characters. But then scratch the surface a little and you'll find a raft of problems, from sloppy visuals in places to animation problems and as fundamental an issue as audio sync, though these presentation errors are trifling in comparison to the occasional control issues that blight the busier sections of play. With a fairly complex command system, the game rather criminally confuses your control commands in the heat of battle, and it is nothing short of massively frustrating to have your fate taken out of your own hands in such a manner. Of the five modes, podracing is most certainly the best, and it is thankfully free of the control issues that mar other parts of the game - and as an added bonus, extended play will result in increased upper body strength (it's no accident that boxing training circuits invariably include extended arm work) and endurance levels. The campaign mode is unfortunately the most underwhelming and frustrating mode, given what could have been achieved, and there is an unevenness to combat, especially in terms of damage effect on enemies, which makes the use of force push almost entirely unrewarding. So is the force strong with this one? Well, rather unfortunately, Kinect Star Wars is far more Episode III than Episode V - a slightly ill-fitting tribute to the Star Wars legacy, and only sporadically successful as a game. It's not that the component parts don't work - because they do: it's just it's difficult to really care enough when almost everything has been done better before, and the whole affair feels as unworthy of the Star Wars brand name as the majority of Lucas-endorsed merch and tie-ins released in the past ten or so years. Yes, it is moderately diverting to see Darth Vader in a dance battle, but why the hell would anyone really want to see it? The joke has been done before, and better, in Robot Chicken, and the entertainment factor of seeing the Sith lord shake his malevolent tail-feather lasts for the few times it takes to show everyone in your close vicinity. A few smiles raised, but then that quickly makes way to yet another soul-shattering cry for help from everything good that was once made in the name of Star Wars. Is this the worst Star Wars licence abomination ever? It could well be, especially considering how obviously the dance battle mode is just dropped into the game without proper story integration: it's like we're being openly invited to be disgusted. The problem is, Star Wars was never meant to be disposably entertaining: The Old Republic gets the requisite scope just about right because it offers fans both near infinite scope to play, and the chance to create their own stories free from the shackling influence of George Lucas and his Jar-Jar-loving imagination, but Kinect is just too slight, and too derivative to make any kind of positive dent. And it all boils down to the title - or what it signifies more importantly - the inclusion of the word Kinect, and indeed its precedence say everything you need to know about this game, and one of the reasons why Kinect functionality hasn't yet been drawn into main market gaming to a satisfactory degree. Because ultimately Kinect Star Wars devalues the technology of the Kinect system as nothing more than a gimmick, rather than integrating the functionality of the system organically. There has been no real imagination involved in that integration, which is why the game so liberally dips into other motion sensitive games, and rather than showcasing either Star Wars or the Kinect technology, it ends up doing full justice to neither. If the game is to have any enduring appeal, it will be for non-Star Wars fans, and most likely the younger Kinect fans who have so far been attracted to the host of mini-game-style titles offered to the platform. Rather than the game using the Kinect functionality to offer a rich game experience to take advantage of the Star Wars licence, Terminal Reality have used the Star Wars licence to add intrigue to some already well established Kinect play. And it hasn't really worked, aside from perhaps offering an alternative entry point for younger sci-fi fans who have somehow not yet come into contact with the Star Wars world. If any of them exist.

Kinect Star Wars is available to buy now.
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WhatCulture's former COO, veteran writer and editor.