Wreckateer, the second in Microsoft's five-strong line-up for its Summer of Arcade 2012 promotion, reeks of corporate influence. Quite simply, Microsoft executives must have thought it was a phenomenal idea to use the wonder of Kinect to charge 800 Microsoft Points for what essentially amounts to a trumped-up iPhone game.
It's a 3D Angry Birds, basically, and one entirely devoid of charm or character. You, the plucky young upstart of the Wreck & Tinker Destruction Company, are thrust into ye olde worlde of Elkhart as developer Iron Galaxy Studios does its best to riff note-for-note with Lionhead's Albion. Which basically results in using Kinect to fling various fancy rocks at twee castles and bask in the splendour of watching them fall down.
That's fine, of course. Video game developers love making stuff tumble down, and gamers everywhere have been enjoying buildings topple over since Mario felled his first castle in 1985. And, as I'm sure our suited executive friends will tell us, what better way to take on a load of nasty green pi-- goblins than with some jolly good physics puzzles the whole family (ages 7 and up only, please) can enjoy?
Wreckateer could have easily been made to use a controller, but the way it makes you walk back and forth around your living room is a surprisingly simple and pleasurable gesture; yes, using Kinect actually adds some novelty to the game. The illusory act is that you're loading and manning your own ballista, so you walk closer to your TV to grab your ammo then take a couple of steps back to pull the machine taut and aim your shot before releasing. Having to hold still as you aim precise shots feels crafty and playful, albeit while having that slightly detached feel that all Kinect games do.
You can adjust the height of your shot, with the game handily illuminating the approximate area your barrage will land. You can also curve your blasts in mid-air, frantically swiping at the screen as you go - this move is largely unnecessary for the first half of the game's 50-odd levels, but becomes a constant necessity a few hours in. The main aim is to grab each level's gold medal, and the easiest way to go about this is to take out the supporting structures (often the base of spires) to tactically reduce each area to rubble.
There are multiple shot types, including split shots, bomb shots and just regular old cannonballs, and most can be modified further by blasting them through icons dotted about each stage. Microsoft's favourite, however, must be the flying shot, which asks you to spread your arms wide and steer to your destination (often the faraway base of a tantalisingly tall tower) with your upper body. On simpler scenarios this is fun, but on the game's more demanding moments (and trickier challenges) it is often infuriating. In fact, much like the enraged avians Wreckateer is so desperately looking to imitate, later stages feel more like they revolve around luck than discernible skill. At least Wreckateer lets you restart levels easily.
One of the inherent problems with writing about Kinect software is that, no matter how hard you try and avoid it, criticism of hardware flaws is inevitable. Wreckateer suffers from all of Kinect's familiar problems - chiefly that the device expects you to have a living room so spacious even the TARDIS would have a hard time incorporating one - but thanks to Wreckateer's relatively precision-free concept and a relatively refined UI it is also one of the peripherals most promising torch-bearers. You might occasionally grumble about a fluffed shot, but Wreckateer is a long way away from the tragic implementation of, say, Steel Battalion.
Wreckateer's main problem has nothing to do with Kinect; the game's fatal flaw is that it never manages to engage with its audience. The hollow, unmemorable levels are bountiful yet unspectacular, and the game's tumbledown physics feel so commonplace and uneventful that even the novelty of aiming with Kinect can't save it. Wreckateer might be asking you to aim for the skies, but it's a shoddy construction that quickly collapses under its own weight.
Version Tested: Xbox 360