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The Gunstringer matches Kinect's theatrical controller with a western stage play full of character, bravado and audience participation. It revolutionises Kinect -- not just in terms of controls, but the untapped nature of the thespian experience.
In terms of fine control Kinect is never going to beat MotionPlus or Move, but it shouldn't try to. Although Kinect Sports, and the upcoming Kinect Sports Season Two, come quite close Kinect actually has something entirely different and more interesting to offer.
The Gunstringer makes this abundantly clear in a single sitting. It instantly feels different to any Wii or Move game, with only a glance at the more muted style of Carnival Games (Wii) and The Shoot (PS3). It's different because of the genuine sense of theatre it creates.
In fact the game opens with a full motion video (as we used to call them on the CDi and CD32) that takes you from a waiting taxi into a theatre and starts the show. But more than these clever cinematics, The Gunslinger embraces theatrical interactions, commentary and audience participation throughout. Wii-Sports and the other first party titles from Nintendo suddenly seem rather staid and corporate next to the hijinks and hoopla on stage here.
The game is essentially and on rails shooter. But unlike other games of this ilk you control your character (a Skeletor styled marionette) in third-person with one hand while you use the other hand for shooting. It's a conceit that works because it closely mimics the real world actions of animating a puppet.
Standing there with your arms out feels a little odd at first, but is soon forgotten as disbelief is happily suspended. Also, because Kinect can cope with varied stances and you are not holding anything heavy the arm ache often associated with other gesture shooting games is avoided. The connection is surprisingly strong to the on-screen action -- I found myself instinctively holding two fingers out on my shooting hand even though there was no actual need to do this.
But more than getting you in the thespian mood, The Gunstringer also offers a surprising degree of control. Your gun hand is used to tag-target up to six enemies on the screen and then jerked up or down to shoot. The more targets you can shoot in one go the more points you get.
Wii-Sports suddenly seems rather staid and corporate next to the hijinks and hoopla on stage here.
While you are shooting you control your character's movement with your other hand. This involves both left and right motions to avoid cactuses, boulders and the like, as well as jumping over ravines and hiding behind boxes. Again there is a one-to-one nature of these controls rather than waggling him onto predetermined rails that extends the sense of control and connection. At certain times in the game you automatically duck behind cover and have to use your left hand to peep out before shooting with your right. Again, simple, effective and dramatic.
Along the way there are then special sections. Sometimes you acquire a gun in each hand to shoot at the same time. Sometimes the view turns side-on and you have to control the jumping alone - timing things to avoid barrels and vertical drops. Sometimes you can swap your six-shooter for a shot gun that has a spread effect, or target explosive barrels. Then there are the end level bosses that each has to be tackled differently. This nudges The Gunstringer more towards a third-person shooter feel than its on-rails nature would suggest.
This is the point where I would normally look to balance things with a bit of critique, but I'm really struggling to find any. I know that many core gamers will criticise the shorter length compared to games they are used to playing - it will take a determined player around three hours to complete. There is a valid question about whether this should be a download game rather than a retail box, closer to GBP 10 than GBP 30, but I think this misses the point.
Creates an experience that literally wouldn't be possible with either the Wii or PS3.
Families, even those who game regularly, are much less likely to connect their 360 to the Internet and setup an Xbox Live account, being a retail game means this is suddenly much easier for them to play. Add to this the excellent bonus content (of which the commentary tracks are my particular favourite and warrant a second play through on their own) and the inclusion of a free code for Fruit Ninja and The Gunstringer has done more than enough to justify its price.
Also, being a Kinect game, I was able to coax my other half in to play much more easily than getting her to hold a controller. She could stand next to me and control a second gun target without the need to restart the game (just raise her hand for a few moments). It was obviously a compromise not offering her a marionette of her own to control, but it's one that made sense -- and I think avoided some of Kinect's limitations for two players (ed: even Kinect Sports Table Tennis simplifies things in two player mode).
Being a shooting game, even without blood and guts, it's a PEGI 12. I'm still mulling over whether I want our kids to play it. I know we'd all love their reactions to the scenarios on the screen, and that these aren't a million miles away from the opening of Toy Story 3 (BBFC PG), but we are still quite sensitive to shooting in our family. Maybe something to save until they are a little older, or to play with our oldest once the others is in bed.
Kinect has a theatrical air that is perfectly matched by the presentation, interactions and hoopla here.
The Gunstringer is one of a new crop of Kinect games. But unlike the others I've seen so far has the essential ingredient of not only embracing the technology but creating an experience that literally wouldn't be possible with either the Wii's MotionPlus or PS3's Move controls.
Kinect has a theatrical air that is perfectly matched by the presentation, interactions and hoopla here. My only problem is that going back to play other gesture controlled games now feels rather flat and corporate.
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