Video: A Gamer Takes a Look at Xbox Kinect

System Is One More Step Toward Control-Free Gaming

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With the launch of Microsoft's Kinect gaming system coming up, Ad Age sent gamer Chris Pollack to check out the system and tell us what he thinks. Chris also took along his mom, Ad Age Managing Editor Judann Pollack, to see if the game was suitable for adults. Check out the video and Chris' review below.

When Ad Age asked me to review Microsoft's Kinect, I was, at first, a little skeptical. I am primarily a PC gamer who migrated from the Xbox 360 a few years ago. I am usually fond of hardcore games such as first-person shooters or role-playing games, so Kinect, with its Wii-reminiscent living room Olympics and fitness games, didn't seem like my cup of tea. But once I went out and tried Kinect, I saw how it could be a viable platform for children and adults alike.

Kinect, then known as Project Natal, first caused a stir at E3 2009 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo, for those of you that don't know), where Lionhead Studios' Peter Molyneux showcased an alpha version of the upcoming Kinect game "Milo and Kate." While some saw it as just another game, others saw it as a step forward in human-computer communication.

The model I was testing was built for the E3 2010 and still has some limited capabilities. But even what didn't work well had great potential. One example is the voice commands. You can use Kinect to speak to your Xbox and tell it to do things such as pause a movie or turn itself off. Of course, you must speak to Kinect like you would any computer: slowly and clearly. If you don't, it will get confused.

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While I'm 16 and have been playing games since 2000, I know it's difficult for some people, especially those raised before video games were popular, to get the hang of controls. With Kinect, Microsoft is, as Heather Snavely, director of global consumer communications for Xbox 360, put it, trying to remove the final barrier between the player and the game: the controller. With both children and adults, I have seen that the primary difficulty for people who are new to games is figuring out how to use the controller. With 21 buttons and two analog sticks on the Xbox 360 controller, I guess I can't really blame them.

But games such as "Kinect Adventures" and "Kinectimals" were simple enough for even my mother to play. With Kinect, you just jump in and play, with little to no instruction required. An example of one of these games is "Kinect Joy Ride." Only about halfway through the two-lap race did I realize I had been given almost no instruction on how to control the game. As soon as I stepped in front of the screen, I instinctively held up my hands like I was gripping a steering wheel, and off I went. The entire experience was surprisingly natural.

The game I saw that best displayed Kinect's abilities was "Kinectimals." In "Kinectimals," you have your very own exotic cat that you can cuddle and play with, as well as teach tricks. The cat I saw was named Skittles, after the one in the E3 demo, and it was an African lion cub. The player can pet Skittles and teach it to jump, spin around and play dead. Once you've taught your pet some basics, you can bring it through an obstacle course with balancing beams, jumps and tunnels. The version of "Kinectimals" I played was not voice-activated, but I was told the retail version would support giving voice commands to your furry virtual friend.

Overall, I believe Microsoft's Kinect will be a worthy adversary to Nintendo's Wii. It's an intuitive system that will encourage game developers to think outside the box and create entirely new ideas like we've never seen before. It also has the potential to appeal to hardcore and casual gamers alike. The jury is still out on whether I would purchase Kinect, but Microsoft has me leaning in its direction. At $149 by itself or $299 when bundled with an Xbox 360, Kinect could keep the Xbox 360 at the top of sales charts and living-room entertainment centers alike.

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