It’s very hard to capture the tension and drama of a game show in a video game when said game show focuses on one contestant rather than a competition. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’s single-player mode captures very little essence of what made the show such a runaway hit, and the shoehorned multiplayer would make Regis Philbin roll over in his grave. Y’know, if he weren’t still alive.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is structured similarly to the game show, where general trivia questions are asked and the player must choose from four possible answers. As the traditional “lifelines” from the show wouldn’t necessarily work in a video game context, the hint system has been restructured to feature the ability to skip a question and poll the in-game audience.
On the subject of omissions, host Meredith Viera is nowhere to be found. A rather dull disembodied voice narrates the game while your lonely Avatar stands at the podium. In the opening animation before each round, the camera pans around the virtual studio revealing that there’s not even a host podium; it’s just the virtual representation of yourself in a lonely, sterile environment. There’s some stock avatar sprites in the stands with two frames of “clapping” animation, which are more unsettling than welcoming.
Rather than rely on the controller for input, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire instead puts the Kinect’s voice recognition software to work. Instead of asking you to just say a letter that corresponds to an answer, speaking an answer out loud will select it. The speech recognition works quite well and during our play test we only ran into one issue where the game couldn't tell which answer we were selecting, likely due to the fact that the answers provided all sounded quite similar. In those cases hovering your hand over the answer you want works just fine.
You don’t get to say “final answer,” though, which is kind of unforgivable. Everyone who’s ever watched the game show has wanted to be at the podium and say that trademark phrase, but no dice.
While the television show focused on one contestant at a time, the video game lets two players compete at the same time and it’s not pretty. The speech recognition is understandably gone, replaced by traditional Kinect controls of holding your hand over selections. In the game the answers are revealed as they are read, so if both players hover over the same answer, even if they were both there for the exact same amount of time, player one will always get it. Such an unfair advantage really sucks the majority of the fun out of a multiplayer game, which is devastating when the multiplayer isn’t really that much fun to begin with.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is a cash-in attempt, both on the brand and Kinect’s popularity. The single player mode is exponentially better than the multiplayer, but who really looks for these kinds of games to play by themselves? As a bargain title there’s fun to be had in testing your knowledge and accepting the Gamerscore the game lavishes upon you, but in any other situation it’s best to quit while you’re ahead and walk away.