Wreckateer comes along at a tough time for Kinect. Any pretence that Microsoft had of Kinect titles appealing to the hardcore gamer is gone. With almost every major title on Kinect being a disappointment (with the possible exception of Dance Central), Kinect must surely now be considered a financial success but a technological dead end.
This years E3 saw major Kinect titles conspicuous in their absence. From Crytek’s rumoured shooter Ryse to Fable: The Journey, the “big hitters” in Kinect’s software catalogue have evaporated. Other than the aforementioned Dance Central series, the only other stand out game for Kinect at E3 2012 was Wreckateer. With so few other titles inspiring interest, it was left to Iron Galaxy Studio’s castle smasher to make gamers dust off their Kinect’s and clear space in their living room once more.
Things start promisingly enough with a functional and snappy menu system. Perhaps a strange thing to mention you may say, but with so many Kinect games still struggling at providing the player with a usable interface this counts as a positive mark for Wreckateer. The game opens invitingly (if predictably), with some badly voiced generic Irish/Scottish voice actors making derivative jokes and reminding you how Fable is one of the few games to ever really get British humour right. The perfectly passable presentation is fine for kids, but adults will be rolling there eyes after mere moments with the cast of quipping catapult-ers.
While the previous sentence may impress with its alliterative cadences, its not factually accurate. You do not operate a catapult in Wreckateer, but a ballista. Essentially a gigantic mounted crossbow, you aim this weapon at a variety of different types of castle and attempt to knock them down with a range of projectiles. These projectiles include exploding shots, winged shots that you can “fly”, split shots and a number of other types which aid you in your demolition mission.
One of the first issues you’ll encounter is common to all Kinect games; a very definite sense of lag. While in other games this can be a huge problem, in Wreckateer its less of an issue as you feel like the weighty projectiles should have some degree of latency as they hurtle through the air. This is offset somewhat by the slow nature of the game. Most of the action seems to take place to some degree in slow motion, and as a result the latency doesn’t feel too bad when directing projectiles like the aforementioned guided, flying missile.
The other issue that you might encounter is a distinct lack of space to play in. Wrecakateer demands a lot of lateral movement and requires far more space than my own living room allowed. While I’ve always managed to sidestep my way to victory in Dance Central, moving left and right to aim the ballista in Wreckateer always caused me problems. This is largely down to how you aim and fire. You put your arms out to the side the and bring them together to prime the ballista, then walk backwards to pull it to tension. You then sidestep left and right to aim it. The combination of walking backwards and moving left and right always seemed to cause me problems. Again, many of you out there may be playing in an expensive open-plan apartment, community hall or aircraft hanger, but for those who aren’t this can be a real pain. As I said, my house is fine for Dance Central and most other Kinect titles, but even after defining my play space in the opening moments of the game, I was always running out of room when playing Wreckateer.
By including a broad range of different projectiles to be fired, the game includes a number of different interactive motions for each. As such, even late in the Kinect’s life-cycle the game feels like a launch title designed to be a showcase of what the hardware can do, and requires the player to learn many different motions and gestures for each munition. As a result, some of these work far better than others, and some of them are such a chore that you wish they were optional entirely. Surprisingly, when you have to hold your arms out like an aeroplane you have fairly good control fidelity and its a lot of fun. Another input meanwhile requires that you move a pair of on screen hands to “influence” the flight of one of your shots. This is infuriating beyond belief as the control you have is limited, the obvious lag of the on-screen hands is clear as they wave uselessly and the exertion of waving around like an idiot to little effect make you yearn for the more sophisticated days of the first Eye Toy games on the PS2.
Indeed its dispiriting to see just how far Kinect games haven’t got. Wreckateer is no more capable of reading your gestures than Kinect Sports was, although in this case the developers have tried their best to hide the shortcomings of the device.
All of these criticisms may sound damning, but there is a degree of finesse and depth to the game. The scoring system shows thought, with multipliers, bonus targets to hit, side objectives to achieve and little green goblins to squish. The actual castles themselves are great fun to smash and the games moves quickly from level to level, minimising the time taken for the player to set themselves up. This is crucial in a Kinect game; its amazing how many developers expect a family to remain entertained while playing a game that has constant set up advice, menu screens and additional instructions boring everyone to death between the time they spend actually playing. The game also does a good job of telling you exactly how well you are playing and incentivising you to improve. Graphs with previous high scores flash up pyrotechnicaly and you can always tell exactly what your goal is, how many shots you have left and how well you are doing. In this way the basic, minute to minute gameplay is perfectly passable and probably best enjoyed by families.
The larger problem for Wreckateer is that there’s a rather unexpected elephant in the room though. In this case, the metaphorical elephant resides on my own iPad (a strange place for an elephant to reside: on an iPad within a mixed metaphor). In this case its a little game called “Catapult King”. This charming little iOS game costs 69p (99c) and is great fun. It plays very similarly to Wreckateer, but worryingly (for Microsoft) the tactile touch screen interface of the iPad is a far more convenient, satisfying and rewarding method for firing projectiles at castles. It feels better and works better. Even worse, Catapult King is a better looking game than Wreckateer too, with better animations, a more convincing art style and more satisfying destructive effects.
You can’t really fault Iron Galaxy Studios; to some extent they were on to a loser from the start. The truth is that this game would be better with a controller, and better again with a touch screen. The fact that just such an experience is available on Apple devices (and for far less money) shows that the idea of Wreckateer was flawed from the start. That they managed to make a decently entertaining game at all is some kind of achievement. Like the Kinect itself though, Wreckateer is an irrelevant release.
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