Preview: Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox One)
Posted by Ken Barnes
Ready to rock (climb)?
When most people look back and try to think of games that actually worked properly with Kinect, Kinect Sports and its sequel – Kinect Sports: Season Two – are generally the first titles to roll off their tongues. With good reason, too, as the two games really did show the sort of thing that Kinect was capable of. If four people are in the room and you fancy a quick game of something, the bowling event from the first title is generally never far away.
So the pressure is on Rare to really deliver with Kinect Sports Rivals. Even more so, when you consider that even though Microsoft is bundling the new Kinect sensor with every Xbox One console, Kinect Sports Rivals is pretty much the only game that we’ve seen so far that is intended solely for use with Kinect. Fortunately, based on what we’ve seen and played, it looks like the Twycross based developer has stepped up to the plate to knock it out of the park once again.
Kinect Sports Rivals looks to be a game that has been developed by a team that has really listened to the fans of the two earlier games. The general consensus was that while the sports themselves were great first time around, the method of getting into a game was too long-winded and featured too many menus. Minor improvements to the system were made in the second title, but Rivals looks to be tailored to get you into the action just as soon as it possibly can. The game registers how many players are in the room, and tailors the sport selection options based on that number, along with how popular a sport has been with those players in the past. If three out of the four people sitting in the lounge generally seem to like the rock climbing event, it’ll go ahead and suggest that, rather than bowling, say. On top of that, everything apart from the events themselves can be managed using a standard controller, meaning that you can whip through menus in a flash.
When a new player joins, he or she is prompted to create their “Champion” – which is the character that will represent them on-screen. The game asks the user to look left, look right, and look down, and then maps out the players face, creating a more chiselled and stylised version of them. We’ve seen some creations that have looked excellent, but more often than not, the champions that are created appear to look somewhat alike. They’re generally somewhat recognisable as the person that they’re supposed to be, but some people will need to use their imagination a little more than others. Rare is still working on it at this stage, of course. Your champion appears in all cutscenes once created, which is a real nice touch.
The sports themselves feature a mix of popular events from earlier games – soccer, bowling, and tennis – and new events – target shooting, jetski racing, and rock climbing. From what we’ve seen, the graphics are pretty bang-on, with the water in the jetski racing event looking particularly convincing. In that event, the control system must be mentioned, too. Holding your hands in front of you (as if you were riding a jetski, of course), you can turn with finesse or bank sharply using variously-sized physical movements. But the real magic comes with acceleration. Without moving your arm, opening your hand (as if you were letting go of the accelerator) slows you down. Closing your hand revs the engine and propels you forward. It also seems that this occurs in stages, meaning that Kinect is picking up some tremendously fine movements in order to work out how fast you want to go.
If nobody’s around to play against you in your living room or online, you can take on the AI versions of your friends. Your champion learns how you play – and how well you play – and that data is shifted up to the cloud. When your friend goes online and hooks up a game of Kinect Sports Rivals, your champion data is downloaded and used so that you appear in their game as an AI player. Effectively, this means that your champion can always be working for you, earning you rewards and reputation even when you’re asleep. We didn’t get much of a chance to go into the single player game modes, but from what we could make out, it seems that the whole package is a much deeper experience this time around, which could mean stacks more non-multiplayer action than you’d expect.
And of course, the nice little touches that you expect to find in a Rare game seem to be in there as well. Cover your ears and the music is muted, for example. The Rare representative suggested that there were many more Easter eggs such as this to be found, too.
From what we’ve seen, Kinect Sports Rivals is shaping up really well. There’s a couple of months of development time left before this one hits the shelves in January 2014, and if the quality levels remain where they are, Rare could once again find themselves with a game that deservedly does incredibly well at retail.