Sports Island Freedom is one of the three sports compilations currently available for Kinect. Three. This presents a predicament for Christmas: Kinect Sports, Motion Sports or Sports Island? It's a £40 dilemma, but do allow me to take the strain off by eliminating Sports Island Freedom from the equation. Hudson's attempt sits right up there with Sonic Free Riders (3/10) and Fighters Uncaged (2/10) as one of the worst games for Kinect.
There is one thing going for Sports Island Freedom, and that's choice. The game boasts an impressive selection of ten activities: tennis, beach volleyball, boxing, kendo, dodgeball, paintball, figure skating, mogul skiing, snowboard cross and archery. While the former three have all been done to death, it's nice to see a developer tackling a diverse range of less-prominent sports. If only Hudson put some effort into making the games actually work. I'm starting to sound like a broken record, as most of my recent Kinect reviews can be boiled down to the phrase 'frustrating and unresponsive'.
Dodgeball highlights the problems. A ball is sailing through the air towards your Avatar's face. You jump out the way to avoid it, expecting your Avatar to do the same, but he stands there like a lemon and the ball cracks him on the bonce. The lag is – quite literally – game breaking, forcing players to act far in advance of their natural reaction time. There's barely any fun to be had throwing balls, either; the game automatically locks onto target, and all you have to do is swing an arm through the air. I don't think I ever missed a single throw – playing with AI is an experience completely devoid of skill.
But it's paintball that proves just how miserable this game controls. There are both elimination and capture the flag modes to choose from, but the experience is largely the same regardless. It plays out like a first-person shooter, with players mimicking childhood games of cowboys and Indians by firing imaginary guns. Depending on where you're standing relative to a grid shown on screen, your character will move in that direction. Say, for example, you position yourself in the top left of this grid, your character will strafe in that direction. You can then change where you're looking by moving your gun-like-hand about your virtual environment. There's no lock on system in place, however, and targeting an enemy is near enough impossible. Despite being unbelievably cumbersome, it is interesting. If nothing else it proves that FPS experiences are possible with Kinect, but they're going to need a lot of work.
There's a shred of enjoyment to be had from archery, which seemed to be the least broken of the ten activities on offer. Pulling back an imaginary bow string, players can flick their other hand to the side to release an arrow. At greater distances you'll have to compensate for wind direction, too. It's simple enough not to be ruined by unresponsiveness, although keeping your extended arm fixed on the target requires the kind of steadiness only achievable through copious amounts of diazepam. This is still more enjoyable than anything else the game has to offer.
Boxing's painfully easy, mogul skiing plays itself, kendo is just plain weird and snowboard cross suffers from the same problems as other lean-to-play based Kinect games. The menus take an eternity to navigate, and it often takes longer to set up a game than it does to play it. While I'm all aboard the rant train – there's not even an island to contextualise any of the sports. The title alludes to a hub world of sorts, a place of palm trees, golden beaches and blue waters lapping at the sand. There's none of that here. Each of the ten mini-games is a totally isolated event, the only thing tying them together the labyrinthine menu screens.
If you're looking for a compilation of sports games this Christmas, drop your cash on Kinect Sports, not Sports Island Freedom. Rare's assortment of sporting activities is great fun, with high production values and controls that work. Hudson, on the other hand, presents a collection of barely playable mini-games with dodgy physics, poor controls and not an ounce of charm. If you find this in your stocking this Christmas, you'd better hope Santa was decent enough to leave a gift receipt in there too.