When I first heard about it, I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who thought that Project Natal would be the biggest thing to happen to the gaming since the birth of the current generation of consoles. Rumours were flying around about its capabilities; voice commands, pop up keyboards, being able to tell what sort of mood you’re in, this was the future. I should explain, I have a very rigid and opinionated view on what I consider to be the future and what is just a gadget. For example, The Kindle is the future, because it is a giant leap forward that an entire library of books can be stored on something that fits in your (admittedly oversized) pocket. The smart phone however is a gadget; it’s tacking extra functionality on to pre-existing technology. That isn’t to say that this is a bad thing; without my HTC my life would grind to a shuddering and tearful halt whilst my Kindle sits on its now empty bookshelf gathering dust.
Back on topic, Project Natal was the future. Voice commands are the future, being able to sense moods is the future; it would be like having HAL from 2001 in my house and I was desperate for it. I wasn’t even put off when I heard those rumours that during development the lasers might have burnt the testers retinas; ‘this is progress’ I told myself ‘and no miracles occur without the odd person losing an eye somewhere along the way’.
My enthusiasm was tempered however at the release. Not by its looks (can you remember the first time you saw the thing?! It looked like a boss), nor by the promotional material that came with it (also looking awesome), it was the name. Kinect. So pleasant and unintimidating. So family friendly. A true gaming peripheral should have a spectacular name like The Devastator or The Thrusticon Annihilator. Something with hundreds of buttons and switches and lights and when you first take hold of its thick priapic joystick it feels both kind of wrong and kind of right at the same time.
Kinect it seemed was not really the name of a peripheral that would tick any of those boxes. Even so, I was unperturbed and I was still ready to bring one in to my life. I was also happy to ignore the relatively limp roster of titles as I was sure that business would soon pick up. I was simply not prepared to accept that the technology that could and was used for robotic microsurgery and an army of different self-guiding robots would be wasted on titles like Kinect Adventures and Kinect Animals.
With the exception of Wii Kinect Sports, there was little to inspire the gaming market. Game boxes began to be blighted with what has now become the tagline for half-baked and half-arsed casual buy in; Better With Kinect. Better With Kinect means that we can’t really be bothered to overhaul our control systems but Microsoft have been banging on about it for so long now we’ve humoured them with a gimmick. Forza 4? If you turn your head Kinect will read it and turn the camera position as well. Great! So while the camera is looking out the left hand window of my car to see someone overtaking me, I’m looking at my wife sitting across the room wondering why I’m facing her and trying to look at the TV at the same time. Ghost Recon Future Solider, Dead Space 3, Mass Effect 3; on and on the list goes of games you’ve played and that you probably didn’t even know you were missing out on the vastly improved experience you would have got with your Kinect. On and on it went, big releases choosing to ignore the spectacular technology that was fast being reduced to nothing more than The Black Eyed Peas Experience. At least Ubisoft had a stab at embracing the control possibilities with Child Of Eden, but even then it was nothing more than blip which we may look back on fondly but has ultimately faded into obscurity.
Then one day, the great new hope appeared on the horizon; Rise Of Nightmares. It might not have been the sort of game you would normally buy, not everyone likes a horror game; but this was a PROPER game. The sort of title aimed specifically at you and me, not your mum and your gran. There could be no accusations of this being a parlour game to appeal to the family demographic when within the first 20 seconds someone has had their hands chopped off. This, I said to myself and my barely interested friends, was where gamers would finally be able to take back their Xbox from the nightmarish clutches of the family gathering. The real tragedy of it all thought was that Rise Of Nightmares was one of the most apocalyptically dreadful games ever to be vomited onto a disc before violating your console. It was an absolutely pathetic effort at a game, and as one the gaming community gave a collective sigh of disappointment.
Then in April 2012, the last chance of salvation for the Kinect rolled into town. The first three words spoken by every gamer across the world when they heard of the Kinect had finally materialised; Kinect Star Wars. This was it. This was the defining title of the entire Kinect back catalogue. The game that we had all waited for and were desperate for it to live up to our dreams. Inwardly we all dared to hope that this would be redemption for all the terrible games that had been churned out, that this would finally justify this purchase that sat atop our TV units like an average speed camera; it was this hope that made it all so much worse when the words ‘Galactic Dance Off’ homed into view. Of the four million things that I would do if Carrie Fisher turned up in my living room with a bikini and an open mind, performing a jilted and elaborate dance routine is not one of them. To a Star Wars fan, whatever soul the franchise had left following the constant chipping away from Lucas over the past two decades had finally been sold, and it was all too much. I’m sure I’m not the only one for who this was the last straw, and found myself saying ‘Xbox Off…..XBOX OFF………OFF YOU STUPID THING!!! for the last time.
Ultimately, who is to blame for the Kinect failing to live up to my expectations? Me for setting my expectations too high or Kinect for failing to live up to them? The answer is of course that it is the Kinect’s fault. I was promised seamless voice commands and the ability to bring up a virtual keyboard which it could capture me typing on; the second part of that is just a downright lie. If you promise me the world, it’s not my fault that I’m unhappy with a wheelbarrow full of manure whilst you dance off into the sunset with my money. So bad was this failure, that it’s actually tarnished the name of it’s children; ignore the privacy issues surrounding Kinect 2.0 for a moment, if it’s capabilities are as far removed from the real thing as they were with the original Kinect then it’s going to be one more nail in the already pretty nailed down coffin lid of the Xbox One.