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Kinect Star Wars Impressions

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Posted by: Robert Workman

We’re not quite sure what’s happening with Microsoft’s Kinect Star Wars project at the moment.  Originally slated to release late last year (along with a sweet looking system bundle featuring an R2-D2 console and a C-3PO controller), the game has since been delayed to a yet unknown date.  However, that didn’t stop the company from bringing a playable demo to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, where we got to go hands-on with a new sequence in the game based on the pod racing event originally featured in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

Now, those of you who might have played either Sega’s Star Wars Episode 1 Racer arcade game or LucasArts’ home version for either Nintendo 64 or Dreamcast, this demo will no doubt strike some familiar territory with you.  It’s essentially a prolonged lap around the Tattooine track, the same one that Anakin Skywalker races through in the film.  That includes most of the hazards you saw there, such as Sand People shooting at you from the hilltops, plenty of rock formations that you could easily ram into, and even the service ramp that allows you to take a quick shortcut.

However, the similarities in design end there, as Microsoft has taken a more visceral route with Kinect Star Wars.  The pod racing is much more detailed and furious this time around, with competitors exploding around you as they strike into objects, forcing you to dodge the debris they leave behind in order to keep your momentum going in the race.  Also, since the game is running on an Xbox 360, compared to that previous hardware we mentioned, it also looks much more impressive.  A lot of attention was paid to the Tattooine environment and the smaller things in the Star Wars universe, including gestures from fellow drivers (relax, no middle fingers) and laser blasts from the Sand People’s rifles.

Perhaps the most impressive effect of all, though, is all of this is happening in full 720p-supported 3D.  Yep, Microsoft introduced the feature with this new demo, meaning that you can take part in the pod race like you’re really involved with it – probably in the same respect you’d experience the film sequence in the upcoming 3D version of The Phantom Menace, hitting theaters next month.  However, you get to fully take control here, rather than listen to Anakin try and struggle with his controls.  That’s a win win, if you ask us.  (Whether the rest of the game will be supported by 3D has yet to be confirmed, but we don’t really see why it wouldn’t be.)

Now, as for this pod race, you don’t take control with the usual Xbox 360 control pad.  Instead, you use Kinect controls, but they aren’t typical steering, hands-in-front-of-you type handling like we previously saw in Kinect Joy Ride.  Instead, you control by holding your hands straight out in front of you when you start the race, then leaning them back with your elbows depending how you want to turn.  Slower turns require a small adjustment in the leaning back, while tighter turns have you curl your arm all the way back.  It’s an interesting choice for control, and one that’s quite effective when it comes to avoiding collisions with obstacles and walls.

Kinect Star Wars pod racing

What’s more, you have a temporary speed boost that you can use throughout the race.  To activate it, simply lean both your arms back, and jettison them forward quickly, in one swift motion.  If you succeed, you’ll change to a first-person perspective as your pod racer speeds along towards the finish line.

These controls are slightly tricky, but certainly workable, and it gave us a better overall feeling for the game than what we got playing it back at E3.  Granted, we weren’t trying to control a clumsy Jedi, but rather take part in a more visceral section of the game.  Hopefully the rest of it will match up when it finally arrives sometime this summer.

One word of warning, though – these drivers mean business. We drove like a pro and barely came in third place, so just make sure you stay on top of your game – and perhaps pay attention to the green track markers in front of your pod racer, which show you where to go.  Stay in one piece and you could very easily score a first place win.  Oh, and Microsoft, how about adding some multiplayer?

We feel a little better about the pending release of Kinect Star Wars after playing this, and we’ll hopefully have a positive verdict for you when we finally review it over the next few months.  Stay tuned…and may the Force be with you.

Tags: Preview, Kinect Star Wars

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