Barely Feeling the Force in Kinect Star Wars

For as long as brothers have swatted one another with wrapping-paper tubes, Star Wars fans have wanted something, anything, to give them the sensation of wielding a lightsaber, repelling blaster fire and cutting down Stormtroopers in a streak of blue.

That, too, is the goal of Kinect Star Wars and all who are making it at Terminal Reality. But like the cardboard tube days, it is a game that requires some suspension of disbelief and one whose signature act breaks down after several excited swings.

The most glaring question arising from the gameplay demonstrations broadcast from E3 asks if the game really is laggy. Well, the short and brutal answer is yes. For whatever reason, whether it was my enthusiasm, starting one motion before another animation had finished, or simply because the game wasn't tracking me well enough, I never felt much connection to Kinect Star Wars, certainly not on a 1:1 basis.

Lightsaber usage requires the most deliberate gestures, as wrist-snapping motions—what many will do by second nature—were not easily recognized. The whole of your arm should direct the saber slash, and that is a much slower motion than the whirling Jedi dervish we've all imagined ourselves to be. This is counterintuitive, to say the least, when you're swiping your arm back and forth to redirect blaster fire back to its source (you'll auto-deflect blasters simply by standing still).

But even when I felt I had the lightsaber strike figured out I still had to contend with deploying it in a chain of other motions. Force dash and force jump, which carry you to your enemies (or behind them) need to finish fully onscreen before you can append your attack to them.

Your telekinetic powers are on your left hand. Force push is a pushing motion, and it too suffered from lag, not as much as the saber gesture. A two-handed force lift gets big obstacles out of the way. The one-handed force grip and throw was the best of the bunch.

But on the whole I just felt too much like I was punching and slicing at air. I was, probably, working too fast, and my guides told me to slow down. I can respect the idea that a Jedi behaves in a calm and considerate manner, but it seems a little bit like an excuse here and the saber battles, certainly in the three most recent films, are anything but slow and steady. And when I was not in combat, looking at my Jedi Avatar didn't reveal a 1:1 match of his arm positioning to mine.

Movement was a stronger suit and represented a good compromise that stopped short of on-rails design, allowing some non-linear choices (such as the order of foes to attack) while still carrying you precisely to your next target with a single gesture. The good news is Kinect was much quicker at recognizing and triggering them. (With Force Dash, lean your body forward, don't just step.) Force jump carries you to your foes, and if you're facing them, you may leap over them and land a fast attack from behind.

My adventures had me and Kit Fisto repelling a separatist attack on Bespin (or some gas mining city) and the powers I used were not the complete set, I was told. Force lightning seems doubtful as it's a Sith power and your character (an avatar with some customization) is a Jedi only. Vehicle segments such as speeder bike riding will figure into later portions of the game.

As enticing as the fantasy is, and as much as Kinect is uniquely suited to serving it, what I saw isn't a game that sells the device. Nor is there a truly compelling case for it to those who already have Kinect. No release date has been specified, and it's my earnest hope that Terminal Reality is able to tune its lightsaber combat to more closely match your actions, rather than simply be triggered by them.