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Preview: Hands-on with Kinect Sports: Season 2

Thursday 15 September

A bumper gaming calendar means that, on the gaming front for 2011, the best is still to come. Among the most highly-anticipated games to release is Kinect Sports: Season 2 – the follow up to the energetic Microsoft Kinect launch title. This time around there are six new sports: American Football, Baseball, Darts, Golf, Skiing and Tennis. Stephen Ebert headed over to Rare’s UK studio to play it before anyone else. How’s it shaping up?

Preview: Hands-on with Kinect Sports: Season 2

Just like the original Kinect Sports the sequel promises to make gaming fun for everyone. With Kinect Sports: Season 2, developer Rare wants to make it easy to play whilst still delivering enough of a challenge to keep players coming back for more, even for non-sports fans. 
 We managed to get a first play. Read on for the the first lowdown on each sport:




Skiing


 First on the tour, and one of the more energy-sapping games on the tour, was skiing. Games comprised a competition called ‘Downhill Dodge’ and a slalom style circuit in which you attempt to make it down the slopes in the quickest time possible. Players squat, and sway from left to right to mimic the actions of an Olympic skier. The increased sensitivity of the Kinect controls comes into play, most evident when placing the feet that bit further away to ensure tighter turns, while squatting lower enables quicker speeds.

‘Downhill Dodge’ caught the most attention here. Not one for snow slouches, players must duck, jump and weave in and out of obstacles like a ski stuntman. Rounds consists of short obstacle course that get progressively trickier to navigate. It’s incredibly challenging, and lots of fun, even on ‘Rookie’ mode. Other modes on offer included ‘Pro’, and ‘Champion’ – giving players three levels of opponents to pit their wintery wits against.

It was also the first time we heard the new voice commands come into play. Before starting a new course or challenge, players raise their arms to signal they are ready and, say “Let’s go” to start each course. Doing so is voluntary, but it does deliver a nifty speed boost, handy for when racing against others over Xbox LIVE.

Players can set each other challenges using the new Challenge Mode option. Get a fast time, tell a friend over Xbox LIVE, and encourage them to beat it. Rare hopes this form of online play will add more depth to Kinect Sports this time around. Challenge Mode can be used in any of the six Season 2 games. 
 Winning a race, or beating a course culminates in the similar sort of celebratory music that gave the original its party atmosphere. Expect to hear Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby a lot post race. Even more amusing, or annoying, depending on your musical tastes, is the Rick Roll Achievement – awarded to players when Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ randomly plays to unsuspecting winners or losers, showing that the series has lost none if its humour. 




Tennis

The beauty of Kinect is that there is little to say of the Tennis here. The best way to play is with open palms, as if to mimic holding a racket to hit the ball back and forth over the net. To serve, players pretend to throw the ball up in the air, before acting out a serving motion – pretty much self-explanatory so far.

Kinect-specific controls come into play when attempting to mix up shots. Placing one foot forward as if attempting to step forward generates more power, increasing the chances of hitting those WImbledon-worthy winners. Only with more playtime will we know whether Season 2’s tennis skills better similar motion controlled efforts such as that on the Wii and PS3.


Golf
Quietly one of the more impressive Season 2 games. As you’d expect swinging, is done by mimicking a real-life golf swing. Kinect does a good job of tracking just how hard you swing the virtual club. Before teeing off, players can hold their hands up to signal a practice shot. Here, toying with shot power using practice swings really lets you see Kinect’s body tracking abilities at work.

Saying “change club” using using your own voice, brings up a drop down menu on the right of the screen with a list of available clubs. Saying “three wood” lets you change to said club choice. Rather than stats displaying wind direction, players have to rely on visual whooshes of wind and the sway of trees to determine which direction in which to aim shots, keeping things simple. Raising your hand to your brow (as if to salute) lets players examine a tour of the hole. Once on the putting green, crouching down gives you a close up view of the hole prior to putting. On early impressions, this is golf at its simplest, yet technically most impressive, in what feels like a brilliant addition to the Kinect Sports series.


American Football
The emphasis here is on the quarterback experience. We got to try this out in a co-op mode, where one player throws the ball, and the other attempts to catch it and run to score touchdowns at the other end of the pitch.

Different tactics can be selected via hand movement or voice commands before throwing the ball downfield. Once the receiver has the ball they must run on the spot to move their player forward, preferably raising their knees as high as possible to evade tacklers.

With tactics to determine when, and how you throw the ball, there is more to American Football here than non-fans might think, but if we’re honest it’s still one only U.S sports fans are likely to get excited about.


Baseball
Another favourite, Baseball’s Kinect quirks are mostly lay in the arms of the pitcher. It’s the little things that make this more than just a hit and run game. Throwing the ball with your arm across the body results in a curveball, while moving your body forward will pitch a fast ball. Calling out “change pitcher” will even call out a star player to pitch for you, increasing the chances of getting the batter out, though this can only be done a few times per game. Batters can do it too, calling out for a superstar player with a golden bat should they have trouble hitting them home runs. Fielding, surprisingly is great fun. Players can literally catch balls by shifting their body from left to right and holding their arms out at just the right moment. Timing those arm movements and judging ball speed is key – it’s smarter than it looks, and great fun with friends.


Darts
Darts is a truly great addition. Its brilliance lying in its ability to be difficult to master, but surprisingly easy, and intuitive once you do so.

As you raise your throwing arm, a targeting cursor appears on screen showing you where your dart will fly, but rather than do the work for you, it’s up to the player to throw using the correct throwing form. After initial getting used to, it’s almost surprising how natural it feels.

It’ll work in small rooms too. A calibration option lets you set the dart board low, medium or high to determine how high or low you should aim, as if at an actual dart board hung up on your wall – a feature missing in previous Kinect games. We didn’t get to see all the darts mini games on offer, but expect games such as 301, where players must decrease their score by aiming at the highest numbers on the board, and Pop Darts – an addictive party darts game where popping as many balloons as possible within 30 seconds is the order of the day. Each third successive hit gains an extra five seconds, while accidentally hurling a dart at the poor bloke in the costume shaves a few seconds off. Fantastic fun.


Initial impressions
Developer Rare is delivering on its promises to make Kinect Sports: Season 2 better, more fun and smarter than the original. It’s early days but Kinect Sports: Season 2 is already looking like one of the most enjoyable sports games around. If any sports game can convince us to ditch the controller, this could be it.

  1. Mario Kart 8
  2. Watch Dogs
  3. Wolfenstein: The New Order
  4. Grand Theft Auto V
  5. Titanfall