In a world where Kinect for Xbox One is seen as nothing but a gimmick designed to ensure that you pay more for a console than you otherwise would, it was imperative that the first Kinect-only experience was compelling. A Wii Sports for the Xbox One, if you will.
So who better to leave in charge of such a thing than Ubisoft, the publisher responsible for releasing one of the original Kinect’s worst titles, Fighters Uncaged? What’s worse, is that Fighter Within is a “spiritual sequel” to that game. Oh, lord.
Fighter Within is a Kinect-controlled fighting game where the action is presented in a side-on manner. Which immediately brings us to the first issue. You’re facing the screen, but your character is standing side-on, meaning that there’s a massive disconnect between what you’re doing and what your fighter is doing. It isn’t what you’d call a huge problem and you can certainly get used to it, but it just doesn’t feel right as you play for the majority of the time. If that were the worst of the issues, we’d be happy.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Not by a long shot.
Ignoring the utterly confusing story where people are enemies, then friends, then lovers, then each other’s bosses, the gameplay is diabolically bad. It shows promise to begin with, but only for the very first tutorial level. You throw a straight right, your fighter throws a straight right. You fire in a left hook, your fighter throws in a left hook. It sort of feels good. Then you realise that there’s absolutely no recognition of how fast or hard you throw the punch, which just ruins that good feeling. Throw a big old gorilla swing at the screen, and it feels like you’re watching a steamroller be defeated by a marshmallow wall, as all that happens is that your character throws a weak straight right. One-to-one move replication, this is not. Then the game introduces other moves, and descends into an absolute mess. Throwing a combo involves hitting three or four punches in quick succession. So as you’d expect, some matches can be won simply by flailing your arms about fast enough to trigger combo after combo. A little further on, you’ll be introduced to the concept of throws. If the opponent is guarding, you can hold one arm high and the other low in order to throw your foe to the ground. More often than not, this won’t trigger before the other combatant has dropped his guard, so you’ll get a message telling you that you can’t throw unless the other guy is guarding, rather than the devastating slam you were trying to pull off. By the time you've learnt all the moves, the game is pretty much so confused by every single thing that you do, that there's no point in trying to play it. We reckon you could bust out the moves to the Village People's "YMCA" and still win by knockout.
Kicks work to an extent, and it feels pretty sweet to knock in some kickboxing manoeuvres from time to time, but they’re so weak that much like the rest of the game, there’s little point to them. Swing your leg as hard as you can, and all that will happen is that you'll tear your quadricep as your on-screen avatar does a little toe-kick that wouldn't be strong enough to knock over a Smurf.
Believe it or not, all of this would be borderline acceptable – not good, but not diabolical – if the pacing of the game or the enemy AI were anything like polished. But again, that isn’t the case. CPU opponents seem to have one speed, and that’s to just hammer you with shots over and over again until you’re down. The only tactic you’re feasibly able to respond with, is to block and then throw a combo, hoping that your hand speed is quickest. Every single match – and we mean EVERY single match – can be won more or less by hitting right-left-right-left combos as rapidly as you can. Sometimes they’ll need to be low combos in order to get around a high guard, but that’s about the extent of the decision making that you’ll need to employ here. You don’t need to block – which is fortunate, given that stepping into standard high block position often triggers a punch. As fighters aren’t ever staggered when hit, even if the enemy does catch you spark on the jaw, you probably won’t even notice as your moves aren’t interrupted. Imagine a game of Street Fighter II where Ryu throws a fireball that hits Guile right in the face. Now imagine that as a result of the attack, Guile loses a bit of energy, but just keeps on punching without so much as a break until Ryu is knocked out. Not much fun, huh?
Add all of this to the rock-bottom budget that’s been thrown at the voice acting – someone could at least have told the Cockney guy that the word “dojo” is pronounced “dough-joe” and not “dodge-oh” – and you’ve got a hateful mess of a game that just refuses to go away. You “play” fight after fight after fight after fight, with only some still images in between rounds being employed to try to convey any sort of believability. That’s the entire game. No challenges. No special rounds. No variation. Fight. Pictures. Fight. Pictures. Fight. More pictures. In multiplayer mode…well, let’s not bother. It’s not like you’ll play this, then actually want to show it to any of your friends. In fact, you’d probably have more fun together if you set the game on fire in the middle of your lounge and started toasting S’mores and telling scary stories.
Finishing a tale with “and then…Ubisoft announced that they were making Fighter Within TWO!” should be enough to induce much screaming and wetting of pants.
Fighter Within is exactly what you’d expect it to be: trash. Knowing that the game is sub-standard, the publisher has slapped a lower retail price on it, in the hope of luring in a few pigeons who have a bit of extra cash in their wallet and don’t know what to buy. To be honest, that lower price is still somewhat insulting given the relative quality of the product at hand. The Kinect naysayers will see Fighter Within and shout “Look, we were right! HAHAHAHAH!”
Based on the game, we can’t say that we’d be able to argue with them. Avoid at all costs.