For most of its development, Joy Ride was an avatar racing game played with a normal controller. Somewhere along the line, however, some clever clogs realised that the game was a perfect test bed for Kinect's technological capabilities, so the controller was thrown out the window, and Joy Ride became Kinect Joy Ride. Exciting stuff right? Who wants to use one of those cumbersome controllers when you can use your body to control the game? Right? I won't admit to being particularly excited by the idea, but as I arrived at the Saatchi Gallery for Microsoft's Kinect centric Christmas Showcase, I made a point of leaving my preconceptions at the door.
"It's incredibly responsive!" yells one of Microsoft's enthusiastic PR folk as he throws his hands out in front of him and grips an imaginary steering wheel. The race starts and the track ahead bends sharply to the right. Our man reacts accordingly and turns to the right, prompting the car to make a sharp turn left, sending the vehicle roaring into a wall at top speed. He then proceeds to drive the wrong way around the track for a painful 10 seconds before he was finally able to turn the vehicle around and start heading in the right direction again. Joy Ride is many things, but responsive is clearly not one of them.
I noticed the same problems myself when I got my hands on (or is it off?) the game. The vehicle was desperate to turn left at every turn, which made navigating the track alarmingly difficult. I was told I would be able to drift by leaning my body as I turned a corner, but the game failed to register my exaggerated movements, and as a result I was denied the ability to drift. Sensing my frustration, somebody intervened and asked that I step backwards from the camera - apparently this would improve responsiveness. It did to an extent, but when you're in mid-race, the last thing you're going to be doing is working out your distance from the camera, and deciding whether you need to realign yourself. Kinect technology is undeniably clever, but Joy Ride is a perfect example of how distressingly finicky it can be.
When the car was behaving, players could turn their attentions toward collecting coins scattered about the track. In addition to busting out fancy tricks by dancing on the bonnet of an airborne car, collecting these coins will fill a boost gauge running along the bottom of the screen. When it has enough juice, you can pull your arms back and then thrust them forward to activate a speed boost. To the game's credit, this was fairly satisfying – it actually worked! Even so, I was so far behind the rest of the pack due to flirting with the barriers the whole way round the track that this boost failed to put me back in the competition in any way. I finished last by a hefty margin.
Of the growing selection of Kinect games I've now seen, Joy Ride has disappointed the most. Perhaps I wasn't doing it right; perhaps it takes time to get used to, but unresponsive controls and a lack of tactile feedback took away everything that's enjoyable about racing games. It was certainly a ride, but even at this late stage of development, there was nothing joyous about it.
Joy Ride is due for release for Kinect on Xbox 360 in November.