“Xbox,” I say, “Streak 20,” and the huddle breaks. My quarterback trots up to the line. I instinctively half-squat and reach out my hands, placing them under the giant rear end of an invisible lineman. “Hike!”
There is a slight delay between command and action, and sometimes I’m not sure if Kinect Sports: Season 2 is responding to my voice or the fact I’ve stood up straight. Both trigger the start of a play in the game’s American football component.
Sure, I looked like an idiot to anyone watching me stick my big fat arse out in the Kinect pod booth at E3. There was a palpable lag that kept it from being an entirely smooth experience. But when it worked, it was fun, it put a smile on my face when I hit my streaking receiver perfectly over the shoulder, and it foreshadowed some of what I expect to see when Madden NFL integrates Kinect support next year.
Following the flagship Kinect Sports, Season 2 will offer six new activities when it releases in the last quarter of the year. In addition to football, you get golf, darts, skiing, baseball and tennis. At E3, I saw golf and football.
First, football. It’s a minigame, though an entertaining one when it works. You get four downs to score a touchdown or kick a field goal. Multiplayer is handled either cooperatively (you and a receiver, there are no running plays) or as a turn-based competition (both facing a CPU defence). Eight plays come up on the screen, one of which is the field goal, and you can pick them either with your hand or by saying their name aloud. The riskier plays are to the left of the screen.
When the ball is snapped, you control your quarterback’s aim by stepping forward or backward (left or right relative to the screen, as you’re facing to the side). I didn’t prefer this method of control but was told later that advanced settings will recognise your shoulder posture and aim your pass in that direction.
From there, your job is simply to make a throwing motion. Receivers downfield will carry a green icon if they’re open (red if they’re covered). Complete the pass, and if you’re playing with a buddy, it’s up to him to run like hell – that means moving his legs up and down as fast as he can. In singleplayer, it’s you doing the running.
My last pass of the demonstration was an 80-yard catch and run for a touchdown. “That’s the longest pass I’ve caught today!” said my demonstrator. “I bet you say that to everyone,” I replied.
Kicking a field goal is a simple leg motion, provided you’re within a close enough range. You know it, I know it, the American people know it, within two weeks of release we’re going to see some mishaps on YouTube. “We’ll see 10 videos of someone slinging his shoe into the television,” my demonstrator said.
“Yeah, but eight of them will be faked,” I replied.
That was football. Golf was more of a full-service experience, laid out on a custom-built course that offered a few high-risk shortcuts and terrain features to exploit, like catching a downhill to add some roll to your drive. Shot distance seemed to be pegged largely to your club type (which you may change with voice command). In putting, Kinect did differentiate between a soft, hard, and really hard stroke, so you can rattle out easy putts if you swing unreasonably hard.
Your green reads were manifested in a line that turned more translucent (or vanished) the more you were aimed away from the correct angle on the hole. Moving your aim was again the step forward/step backward control seen in football. Holding your hand over your brow, like you’re looking out across a field, gives you a flyby view of the hole. On the whole, golf is the sport that makes the most sense with motion controlled video gaming, and Kinect Sports handled it appropriately.
I wasn’t shown the other four sports, but was told that skiing will be a slalom-style competition controlled by leaning for turns (and jumping, when you hit moguls); baseball apparently is a home-run derby style competition although it will incorporate a pitching component. Tennis seems straightforward enough. I was told Darts is the real gem, but was given no information as to how it is controlled or what its particular move set is.
Kinect Sports 2 sounds like the kind of title that should be bundled with the device when it releases by the end of the year. For existing owners, the football game is an interesting novelty but the golf component, being a fuller experience, is more likely what would make it worth picking up.