Kinect's Second Wave
Star Wars, Sesame Street, Disneyland and Rise of Nightmares.
The trajectory of most new video game hardware is a lot like the trajectory of a really good game of Defender: you fight for survival, you struggle to meet a specific set of criteria, and once you've done all that, the second wave swoops in and it's back to the grind. Hardware can't hyperspace its way out of trouble though. That bit of the analogy doesn't work.
For Kinect, instead of blasting mutants and saving pixelated disco astronauts, Microsoft had to get enough peripherals into peoples' homes, and then steadily work at updating the software to give designers the kind of fidelity they could actually use. With 10 million cameras sold - or just shipped to retail? I can never remember - and a lot of game studios making appreciative noises about recent updates, that seems to have happened. Now, at a recent product showcase, Team Xbox has been showing off some of the second-generation Kinect titles that are coming later this year.
For a lot of developers, the shift seems to have been away from frantic anything-goes experimentation towards finding out whether Kinect's any good at violence. You'll be using the peripheral - if you want to - in big-budget shooters like Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Mass Effect 3, but there is also a range of bespoke action games on the way for which Kinect isn't just an afterthought.
Leading the pack is Sega's Rise of Nightmares, a singularly ambitious Kinect title in that it breaks a few cardinal rules: it's aimed at a core audience, it's incredibly violent, and it's not on rails. AM1's latest channels some of its team members' experience with The House of the Dead to create a moody little bludgeon fest that sees you kidnapped while on holiday in Eastern Europe and held captive by a torture-happy doctor type who looks just like Mel Blanc off of Looney Tunes.
"At one point I was bludgeoning some zombie or other with a scooped-out chest cavity and a Rod Stewart haircut."
The control scheme takes a little getting used to, but seems fairly promising. Movement's handled by putting your right foot forward and using your shoulders to turn, and you interact with in-game objects - grabbing weapons or opening doors, say - by holding out your right hand.
When it's time for a fight, raising both fists gets you into a punching stance, and then you can keep enemies at bay with jabs from your left and finish them with all manner of melee tools in your right. Weapons degrade over time, so you'll need to pick your battles, and in a brief five-minute demo, I messed around with a lead pipe and a chainsaw. Just like Cluedo, then. Apart from the chainsaw. That bit of the analogy doesn't work either.
Sega's promising that the control scheme is going to be tweaked a little before release and, to be honest, it's currently a little too sensitive for someone with my particular level of basic co-ordination problems. There are plenty of clever touches, though, from the instant enemy lock-on when you get into a fight to the fact that you can raise your hand at any time and the game will start moving towards your next objective automatically. On a side note, at one point I was bludgeoning some zombie or other with a scooped-out chest cavity and a Rod Stewart haircut. God bless Sega.