Review: PlayStation Move

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Games and Players, Microsoft, NDS, Nintendo, PS3, Sony, Wii, Xbox

It’s surprising to think that the Wii has been on sale for nearly four years, and we’re only now seeing true competition from Nintendo’s rivals. Of course, considering the half-hearted motion controls of the Sixaxis, it’s probably wise for Sony to have been cooking PlayStation Move slowly since its introduction 15 months ago.

The PlayStation’s motion controller sticks much closer to the Wii’s mould than Microsoft’s Kinect, with E3’s Move tagline being “This changes everything”. Hyperbole aside, Sony is aiming to take the technological high road, as it does with all things PS3, and beat the Wii on precision and movement accuracy.

Playstation move

The technology used is actually pretty similar to Nintendo’s, but on steroids. The Wii’s sensor bar sits by the TV and gives out infrared lights that a camera in the remote picks up in order for the pointer to function.

Move flips this around, with a camera next to the TV picking up the glowing ball on the end of the controller. The PS3 can then measure distance from the controller using the size of the ball as a reference.

Playstation move

The Move controller also has all the movement sensing bells and whistles of the Wii remote and MotionPlus attachment, demonstrating that Sony’s thinking was obviously that they weren’t attempting to reinvent the wheel so much as make it a little rounder.

Playstation move

Move controllers are available alone for £35, or with the PlayStation Eye camera for £50. The Navigation controller (the equivalent to the Wii’s nunchuck) is £25, though we haven’t included it in our testing it here.

Playstation move

The most noticeable thing about Move’s primary controller is the glowing ball on top, unsurprisingly. When the controller is off, the orb is white and softly translucent, and looks remarkably like a ping-pong ball (it’s about the same size as one, too).

When the controller’s in full use, the ball lights up in a range of colours, so it can be tracked by the PlayStation Eye camera. While the ball might seem to be a weak point should the controller ever make contact with your wall/lamp/friend’s skull, it’s actually squishy, and just pops back into shape after an impact.

The rest of the controller has a more organic look than the Wii remote. It’s round, and becomes slightly thinner in the middle, presumably to be more ergonomic.

Playstation move

On the front, you have the four familiar PlayStation face buttons, though the fact that they’re arranged in a square, rather than a diamond, makes it a little hard to remember which one is where for a while.

Between those is the Move button, a thumb-sized new addition, clearly meant as Move’s version of the Wii remote’s big A button.

Playstation move

Beneath those is the PS button, which serves the same function is it does on the DualShock 3 or SixAxis controller of bringing up the XMB. It sits in a concave, which avoids accidental presses neatly.

The underside of the controller is mostly clear, but features a trigger, known as the T button. This is analogue – like R2/L2 on the DualShock 3 or the left and right triggers on the Xbox 360 controller – in contrast to the crisp, clicking B button on the Wii.

Playstation move

The left-hand side features the Select button, which is quite hard to hit, but is rarely needed.

Playstation move

On the right side, you find the Start button, which can be pressed accidentally depending on you hold the controller, though it only happened once or twice.

Playstation move

At the base of the move is a micro-USB port for charging, a slot for the provided wrist straps, and two mystery connectors that could be used for accessories in the future.

At first, the Move controller feels a little more comfortable than the Wii remote. It’s not that Nintendo’s controller was uncomfortable, but the roundness of Move goes some way toward helping it sit neatly in the hand.

Playstation move

That said, we found that we started to feel the effects of prolonged use faster with Move, and we think it’s to do with the shape. The tapered middle means you’re often gripping harder than you would have to with the Wii’s controller, especially when playing something with hard swings, like Table Tennis on Sports Champions. Discomfort in the wrist crept in earlier than it did during an equivalent session of Wii Sports Resort.

Let’s be clear, though: We’re not saying Move is painful, uncomfortable, bad for you, or anything like that (assuming you have no joint problems to begin with). After all, we were playing for quite long periods during our review time, though not unusually long for a committed gamer.

We’re not even saying it’s definitely less comfortable than the Wii remote – as we said, it’s actually a bit nicer just to hold – but we do think that the shape isn’t ideal for long periods of the more wrist-bending games.

There are a few other things about the Move’s design that seem a little odd to us. Why add a new button with the Move logo (which is, let’s remember, just a squiggly line, and so doesn’t jump out at you on-screen), when Sony could have just used X or Circle?

Of course, the most contentious design decision will always be that orb. We don’t deny that accuracy that it brings (more on that later), but it really does look silly. We’re not going to make the laboured sex-toy joke, because all of your friends who see it will. Seriously, it’s not just a meme – it’s the first thing that people who’ve never even heard of Move say.

The light is also quite distracting. If you’re trying to do something else in the room while someone’s playing a game with two controllers, your eye is constantly drawn. The Wii remote was designed to be inconspicuous – the shape fits in with your TV remotes, and it almost disappears into your hand when you hold it – but this can be borderline gaudy.

That said, motion-controlled gaming always has and always will make you look a bit weird. It’s not like the wild flailing was dignified before the glowing ball was added, so maybe we should just be happy with the extra accuracy and possibilities it offers.

Playstation move

In the games Sony provided us to test with, we were able to get a feel for much of what’s possible with Move, but we also became aware that these tests are somewhat limited by the way the games are programmed.

This has always been one of the Wii’s biggest caveats, and the worry is always that games will use motion sensing in a way that really should have just been achieved with buttons.

With that in mind, we can safely say that we came away hugely impressed with what Move can do, but it still needs a careful, measured implementation.

The controller’s ball certainly seems to offer an accuracy of pointer movement that goes beyond what the Wii remote is capable of. The idea that it could be as accurate as a mouse is probably a bit ambitious, but it’s good enough that we could see it giving real-time strategy games, and a few other genres that do better on PCs, a new lease of life on consoles.

Playstation move

When you navigate the XMB with the Move controller, you point it at the screen, hold trigger, and then point it up, down, left or right to move in that direction in the menu.

Interestingly, the ball stays dark during this time, so it seems to be using only the motion sensing capabilities, but it’s so fluid and accurate that you wouldn’t know the difference.

When the ball is being used as a pointer, we found that it often only operated in a very narrow field compared to the Wii, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it makes navigating some menus a little more fiddly than we’re used to. On the other hand, it works perfectly at much further distances than the Wii remote is capable of.

There are several games where the orb needs to be visible to the camera, even when you’d think the control would be all motion-sensing based.

With the Wii, you could walk into another room and bowl if you wanted, but that’s rarely the case here. In fact, leaving the camera’s field of view with the active controller seems to stop all functions from working – including the buttons.

While one of the criticisms of Kinect that’s going around is the space needed to use it, this is actually also an occasional problem for Move. Sports Champions demands that you stand eight feet (2.5 meters) away from your TV, and then it still expects you to be able to step backwards, and swing your arms all around.

Playstation move

For some people, this won’t be a problem, but in our case it meant shifting a sofa back a couple of feet every time we wanted to play (not to mention getting rid of the coffee table). Yes, we always needed to make some space when playing on the Wii, but nowhere near as much as this.

Of course, we’re just talking about living rooms here. These space restrictions will just about rule out Sports Champions for bedrooms.

Why is this an issue for Move when it isn’t for the Wii (some of the most energetic Wii games be played sitting on your sofa or standing up without too much of a penalty)? It’s the restriction of the ball and camera system. You need to be able to swing your arm well out occasionally, and still be on camera.

This restriction follows through into some of the multiplayer games. We only tried with two people, which was fine once we’d made enough space, but if you were playing four-player Volleyball, where everyone has to be on camera at once, it would be absolute carnage.

Annoyingly, Sport Champions wasn’t the only game that caused us a distance problem. Our sofa was too close to the TV for us to be able to play that game, but when we popped in Start the Party!, we were too far back!

Start the Party! uses the camera and Move controller for augmented reality (AR) WarioWare-esque party games, so each active player needs to be quite close to the camera to be the right size on-screen. This distance inconsistency is another sacrifice for the accuracy on offer, but it’s simply a problem that the Wii doesn’t have.

The AR in Start the Party! is very impressive though (and it actually makes an occasional appearance in Sports Champions too). Giant foam hands stick like glue to the end of your controller, wobbling convincingly with the momentum of your swings. Tennis rackets twist in your hand, meaning that you have to careful to hit with the strings, and not the rim.

Playstation move

Win one round in particular and the controller becomes a pencil, enabling you to deface your opponent’s image – all with incredible accuracy, though the fact that you’re seeing yourself from the other way makes it a little confusing when you’re rotating things, or moving them to and from the camera.

Naturally, there’s a horror story too. Kung Fu Rider – a kind of Tony Hawk’s meets Pain, with a Crazy Taxi heart – is a classic early-Wii case of unnecessary waggle. Thrust the controller up to jump, but to accelerate you have to shake it up and down, resulting in numerous accidental jumps. And yet, when you actually want to jump, it’s frequently unresponsive.

It’s a perfect example that the Move technology can only be as good as the software harnessing it.

With Sports Champions sitting happily alongside Wii Sports Resort on our shelf, the obvious test for Move was to put it up against Nintendo’s offering. There are several like-for-like games here, so how do they compare?

Table Tennis

A tricky one. The Wii version offered a huge amount of control over the spin on your ball, but you still had control over your Mii’s movement, and the accuracy of your swing didn’t matter as long as the timing was right.

Move couldn’t be more different. By stepping left, right, forwards and backwards, your character will do the same, enabling you to get in close for smashes, or to get back for a powerful top spin return.

You also need to think about the height of the ball, because it’s quite possible to just swing at air underneath it.

Playstation move

Serving on Sports Champions is a nightmare, though. Not a single one of the people we got to play could get the hang of it.

Of course, adding elaborate physics to a sports game just means it can go wrong. Attempts to put slice on the ball can result in it pinging off at ridiculous angles for no discernible reason, probably in part due to the precision the game demands from you and Move. Precision that is there, but is hard to master.

Wii Sports Resort is the arcade version, wanting you to put crazy spin on the ball, but this Sports Champions is all simulation. If you want to put tonnes of side spin on, you’d better get some damn practice in.

Winner: Sports Champions

Disc Golf

Though there’s no proper golf on Sports Champtions, which is a bit of a shame (though perhaps not unexpected, with Tiger Woods 11 already out), we do have a good ol’ Frisbee to toss about.

There’s barely anything between these two, in terms of the control system. Sports Champions seems to be a tad more forgiving in that it’s slightly easier to throw the disc straight in front of you, but both games have totally convincing curves and wind effects in flight.

Winner: Draw

Bowling/Bocce

Okay, so this isn’t exactly like for like in terms of the games, but the control scheme is the same for the pair, so it’s a good comparison.

In Sports Champions, how much momentum you get on the Bocce balls from a throw can occasionally be a bit inconsistent. Throw the pallino hard and low on the S-shaped course and it occasionally only travels about 10 metres, while other times it rockets round the course, though you’re sure you threw it pretty much the same.

Playstation move

It’s also hard to really get the hang of left and right spin on the Move game, especially compared to Wii Sports Resort’s bowling. We’ve always found that the Wii bowling game produces exactly the same slight left spin that we have in real life, and that adding a different spin is a just a matter of subtle wrist action.

Winner: Wii Sports Resort

Archery

To keep this fair, we compared the Wii remote-and-Nunchuck Archery game to using two motion controllers at once on Sports Champions.

The Wii version was always one of the most impressive MotionPlus demos, with every twitch and sag of the your arm translated to the screen. At first, Move really disappointed us. Control was laggy and accuracy was very tough.

However, it was then pointed out to us that, while we had made some effort to adopt a correct archery pose, we weren’t doing it properly. So we turned fully 90 degrees from the TV, outstretched our arm all the way and tried again.

Playstation move

Suddenly, movement was perfect. Going from target to target is smooth (though you get more of an aiming aid from Sports Champions than from Resort), and using the second controller to bring arrows into the bow yourself gives you a great Robin Hood feeling.

The only thing we missed from the Wii version is a way to readjust where the centre of your aiming is (for example, you can aim slightly below the TV as your centre, so you’re arm doesn’t get in the way). This would be even more welcome on Move, due to the distraction of the glowing orb.

Yes, it’s less realistic, but real archers don’t have lights on their bows. However, this doesn’t take away from the accuracy of the controls.

Winner: Draw

Swordplay/Gladiator Duel

The addition of shields in Gladiator Duel makes Sports Champions offering a little more elaborate than Resort’s, but it’s still swords.

Alas, the Swordplay game on the Wii was always a bit of a disappointment, because the actual hits tended to be restricted to vertical vs horizontal swipes and blocks. Despite the appearance of attacks at different angles, it pretty much boils down to those gestures, wasting the accuracy of MotionPlus.

Gladiator Duel makes good on these promises, especially with two controllers (for the sword and shield respectively). Attacks do more damage if you hit harder, but there’s still the classic situation where a casual swing suddenly deals a huge amount of damage and you’re not sure why.

Playstation move

To be honest, the swing strength detection is kind of inconsequential because everyone always swings hard anyway. The trick here is in careful use of your shield and timing and angle of attacks. In this, it’s hugely impressive, and Move’s accuracy enables truly tactical bouts.

Winner: Sports Champions

Playstation move

The biggest takeaway from our time with Move is its incredible accuracy. Augmented reality instruments move perfectly with the controller, Frisbees fly with the gentle curve you give them and you can select things with superb precision.

As we said, the controller is comfortable, but not for really long sessions of hard-swinging games. The glowing ball is undoubtedly ridiculous, but is the price you pay for accuracy. You’ll get used to having it there, even if anyone who sees it for the first time will raise an eyebrow.

Move has advantages and disadvantages over the Wii remote. The orb enables a higher level of accuracy than the Wii can manage even with MotionPlus in some cases, but also seems to occasionally restrict Sony’s controller.

Being able to operate only within strict confines of the camera is fine for one or two people, but when there are more of you, it’s handy not to have to worry about such things. We suspect future game programmers can avoid an over-reliance on the camera (and the plethora of motion sensors should be able to compensate for this).

Similarly, while the accurate detection of depth that Move has is fantastic for some games, the inconsistency of sitting four feet away for Start the Party! and standing eight feet away for Sports Champions is irritating.

In fact, our single biggest concern is the space required to really go at the games. It won’t be an issue for games like MAG and SOCOM, but it could be the difference between whether this or a Wii is more appropriate for your space.

Somewhere, in the gap between the Wii remote with MotionPlus and Move, is an ideal motion controller. But what we have is mightily impressive, even with its flaws. It’s not a revolution of motion control, but a refocus from being unassuming and family-friendly to being all about precision and adding options.

However, it’s not cheap. The starter pack containing one Move controller and the PlayStation Eye camera is £49.99. We think Sony would have been wise to include a game with that – Wii Play made buying a second controller far more palatable for millions of Wii owners.

At £35 each, the controllers alone aren’t that expensive, but they’re all /extra/ cost on top of what you’ve got already.

As a piece of technology, we heartily recommend Move to PlayStation 3 owners. The motion gaming bandwagon is growing and growing, and isn’t going to disappear any time soon. Move won’t be for everyone, if only because of its steep price as an optional extra, but those that do invest will find an excellent piece of gaming technology.

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Review: Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Games and Music, Microsoft, NDS, Nintendo, Sony, Wii, Xbox

The Nintendo Wii made waves when it came out in 2006.

It wasn’t because of an exciting array of incredible launch titles – there weren’t any. And it absolutely wasn’t due to the Wii packing dazzling HD graphics – it doesn’t.

It was all down to the motion-controlled gaming interface which put players inside games for the first time.

Playing a tennis game suddenly became about swinging and hitting a ball, instead of using your fingers to hit the right buttons on a control pad in the right order. Gaming was revolutionised.

Four years and 75 million worldwide Wii sales later, Microsoft and Sony have now both released their high-tech answers to the Wii-mote, and they couldn’t be more different.

kinect

While Sony’s PlayStation Move uses the PlayStation Eye camera to detect and measure the location of high-tech and spatially-aware handheld controllers, Kinect has no physical controllers to speak of at all.

The idea is that your body is the controller. It’s up to the Kinect games and apps to use the camera and microphone to work out what you’re doing and what you’re saying, and to interpret your commands in the appropriate fashion.

kinect

How it works

The Kinect sensor contains an RGB camera and a depth sensor to track your movement. It measures the positioning of 48 key joints in your anatomy and by tracking the movements of these joints, it can work out exactly what position your body is in. What’s more, it sees in 3D by overlaying the input from the RGB camera with the depth sensor.

kinect

Meanwhile the built-in multiarray microphone monitors the room for your voice – yep, Kinect even allows you to control your Xbox 360 using voice commands alone.

It’s almost too good to be true, isn’t it? These are the hopes and dreams of every 6-year old child come-true. It’s the sort of technology we only dreamed about while watching ’60s TV series’ like The Jetsons as kids.

kinect

But this isn’t fantasy. This is real. And so what we nervously want to know is – does it really work, and is it any good?

kinect

Kinect has a colour, and it’s purple.

While all Xbox games thus far have come in those distinctive green DVD cases, Kinect boxes are purple. So from now on, purple means ‘Requires Kinect Sensor’ and green means normal 360 game.

Some games which don’t require Kinect, but have Kinect features for those who have it, will come with a ‘Better with Kinect’ sticker on the box.

kinect purple

It’s Microsoft’s way of avoiding confusion in the market place. So there’ll be no trying to work out if something is Kinect compatible or not. If the box is purple, it’s a Kinect game.

How much?

The Kinect Sensor will set you back £125 on launch. It comes with a free copy of Kinect Adventures – a title with lots of mini sub-games like Wii Sports, designed to showcase the various capabilities of the Kinect sensor.

Now, it probably won’t have escaped your notice that £125 is rather a lot of money. After all, you can pick up a brand new Xbox 360 console for about £140. Meanwhile, a PlayStation Move controller costs about £40.

However, despite this, we don’t think Kinect is necessarily bad value for money, and this is why.

Kinect can detect up to six people in a room, and supports two active players at a time. So that £125 brings with it two-player gaming from the word go. That compares favourably to the £127 you’d have to pay for the equivalent PS Move setup (with PS Eye, two Move controllers
and two navigation controllers).

The main downside with Kinect is that if you have no friends and just want to play on your own, you’re going to have to fork out the full £125 regardless. While this is a pain, the single-piece nature of the device doesn’t allow it to work any other way.

Setting up

There are two different ways to, erm, connect Kinect to your Xbox 360. If you’ve got one of the new, slim models, there’s a proprietary connection on the back which you can plug Kinect into directly. This also supplies power to the sensor.

kinect

However, if you’re stuck with an older model, you can still plug Kinect in by using one of the two USB ports on the front and you’ll need to plug it into the wall for power using this method, too.

kinect

Ideally, the Kinect sensor needs at least six feet of space between you and it, to work properly. And really, you’re going to need another five feet or so either side of you in order to have room to move around freely. And we’re talking bare minimum, here – you wouldn’t want to have any less space than that.

This is obviously a bit of a handicap as there’ll be plenty of keen Xbox gamers out there who just don’t have the room for it.

We found that positioning the Kinect Sensor on top of the TV instead of below and in front helped a bit in this respect. That way, the camera has more to look at, and you can make the most of the room you have if you’ve got limited space available.

And it’s as easy as that. Once you’ve placed the Kinect sensor, you switch your Xbox on and you’re taken through an easy peasy set-up process.

Interface

Kinect comes with its own menu system, accessible from the Xbox 360’s dashboard. Inside this menu, you are able to access all of the Kinect-compatible entertainment features that are available to you.

What’s more, you can browse to these features without using the Xbox 360 controller.

The Kinect experience begins as soon as you switch on your 360. At the sign-in screen, if you wave at your TV, Kinect will recognise your face and sign you straight into your own Xbox Live account. Once you’re into the Xbox dashboard, another wave at the TV will take you to the special new Kinect dashboard menu.

In this menu you can access all your Kinect-compatible content including whatever game you have in your drive, Sky Player, Last fm, Zune music service, etc.

You can navigate using your Xbox controller, but what Microsoft really wants you to do is use hand gestures. And this is the point where you find out if Kinect is for you or not.

You interact with the Kinect dashboard and with most Kinect games in mostly the same way. If you hold your hand out in front of you, a hand icon appears on the screen. You then move your hand so that the icon moves to the option you want to select and you hold it there for a couple of seconds.

A circular progress bar around the hand icon depicts the time you need to hold your hand in place. We found it to be a slightly tedious experience.

Some games, such as Dance Central, use a point-and-swipe sort of system which seemed a lot more intuitive and less of a hassle. We found the point-and-hold system just a bit awkward, it was hard to actually get the hand icon to stay on the option we wanted and once in position, holding for a second or two was just a bit of a pain.

You get used to it after a while, but frankly, we can’t see why anyone would want to navigate an Xbox menu by holding their arm in the air, instead of just pressing a few buttons on the controller.

There’s a certain novelty aspect to it, of course, and while we didn’t allow ourselves to go back to using the 360 controller, we certainly wanted to at times.

Voice control

Possibly the most Star Trek-like feature of Kinect is voice control. When using media services such as Sky Player or the Zune music service, you can control your Xbox using your voice alone.

You get the Xbox’s attention by saying “Xbox”. A list of commands then pops up from the top of the screen. If you’re playing music or watching a video, these commands typically include
pause/play/stop/rewind/fastforward/faster/slower. We’ll discuss how well this all works on the next page.

kinect

There’s no denying that there’s some fantastic tech inside Kinect. It’s an impressive system, but in order to really enjoy it, you may have to readjust your expectations with regard to what it is and what it isn’t capable of.

If you’re expecting to play a game and have your on-screen avatar do exactly as you do with your body, quickly, completely in sync and with no lag – you’re going to be disappointed. You just can’t do that in most games.

Kinect is less about having your exact real-world movements appearing on screen in real-time and more about using your body as a controller.

Take a game such as Fighters Uncaged as an example. It’s a 3D Beat ‘em up title where you control your fighter by performing fighting moves. But there’s a significant delay between you unleashing your kicks and punches, and them being mirrored on screen.

jumpJump!

If you let rip with a heaving uppercut, you’ll have already finished swinging before your avatar will mirror your move.

It’s the same for all games. In the River Rush minigame in Kinect Adventures, you have to lean and jump in order to avoid obstacles. But your character doesn’t jump perfectly in time with you – there’s a split-second delay.

Across the board, with all games and apps, this delay is dependant on how fast you move. A slow, gradual movement, for example, has almost no noticeable lag at all. The faster you move, the more pronounced the lag is.

It also doesn’t matter how high you jump or whether you tuck your knees in or anything like that – your on-screen avatar will just jump in the same way each time. It won’t mirror your exact movements.

And that’s because with most games, your movements merely trigger a pre-animated action in the game – rather than the avatars exactly mimicking you.

The first few times we played with Kinect, this bothered us a lot. It prevented us from having the kind of fun we envisioned having when Microsoft first announced the product.

But if you can get over this issue, it’s not all doom and gloom.

The better news

With many games, this lag issue is actually totally irrelevant anyway.

kinect

Dance Central, for instance, from Harmonix – the makers of Guitar Hero and Rock Band – is all about skill, precision and timing. You must perform the right dance moves in time with the music and dancers on screen, in order to get a good score. Lag doesn’t come into it because you’re mirroring the dancers, rather than the dancers mirroring you.

Equally, there are plenty of health and fitness-themed games such as The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout. They’re all about balance and body position rather than quick moves, flying kicks and punches.

Imagine a Yoga game where the on-screen tutor analyses your posture and tells you how to perform Downward-facing dog a bit better. Kinect is just as much about this kind of thing as it is about the hardcore action titles.

And so what it’s done is make the Xbox a much more appealing console for casual gamers. This is something PlayStation Move does not offer.

Accuracy

It does take a while to get to grips with Kinect. Ignoring the lag issues with some games, the other major battle facing you is to get the hang of a new kind of hand-eye coordination.

Some people find it hard enough to catch a ball or donk a pingpong ball in real life without messing up. With Kinect, you’ve got to do those things on behalf of your on-screen character. You’ve got to transplant your thinking into the body of your avatar, timing your movements on its behalf, which is more tricky that it sounds – especially when you have to factor in the lag.

When it came to games such as Kinect Adventures throwing obstacles at us, we found ourselves wanting to wait until that obstacle reached the screen before performing the appropriate manoeuvre, rather than waiting until it reached our on-screen character. This meant we were often too late to perform the jump or sidestep.

Again, this is something which improved over time. But still, again it represents a barrier between you and the game. We wanted to feel like we were inside the games we were playing. But in general, you don’t get that feeling at all – you’re still just controlling a character – who isn’t you – on the screen.

Once you’ve got the hang of it though, Kinect is perfectly accurate enough. If you mess up, you generally feel like it was your fault rather than the game not working properly.

Confusion

There were a few occasions when Kinect got rather confused. The most frequent issue we encountered was when someone stepped into view of the Kinect sensor when someone else was gaming. Occasionally Kinect would then lock on to the wrong person, which caused obvious problems. There were also a few issues with voice control.

Voice control – does it work?

Controlling something like Sky Player with voice commands is good fun and works almost perfectly.

The voice command ‘Xbox’ lets the console know you’re going to talk to it, and the on-screen options (which bare some resemblance to the original Monkey Island command menu) pop up quickly. The Xbox more often than not did exactly as we asked it to, it’s really good fun. Kids will love it.

However, that’s not to say it’s a perfect system, because it’s not.

As you can imagine, the likelihood of someone saying the word ‘Xbox’ while you’re fiddling with your… Xbox, is quite high. So unsurprisingly, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for someone in the room to say “Xbox” only to trigger the Xbox’s voice command feature by mistake.

This would be easily remedied if there was any kind of individual voice recognition system, where you could tell the Xbox only to respond to a specific person’s voice. But unfortunately that’s not possible – not yet.

Our second problem with voice control is that while it technically takes almost no effort at all to say “Xbox…. pause” when the naughty bit in Wild Things comes on, it’s still a lot quicker to just grab the controller and hit the pause button with your finger.

For this reason, we can imagine many people simply abandoning the voice control system completely.

Equally, we can also see a just as many people being so fascinated by this feature that they never want to go back to their controller.

kinect

Kinect has had a bit of a rocky ride up to now. There’s been plenty of criticism – including from us at TechRadar – but you know what? We think Kinect is actually pretty good.

The problem is that the people who’ll be most interested in Kinect from the off are the hardcore gamers who’ve had their 360s for ages. They’ve got a mountain of games, and they’re looking for something new.

But Kinect is not necessarily for that type of gamer. Sure, there are plenty of Kinect games aimed at that hardcore audience, but we think Kinect is a product designed to bring the Xbox 360 to a wider audience.

Kinect turns the Xbox 360 from a console predominantly aimed at young men, to a family machine with infinite possibilities.

Games such as Kinectimals are a prime example. That game is not aimed at anyone other than young children, and for them it’s fantastic. Equally, there’s going to be a raft of new Kinect titles coming out to cater for other untapped demographics.

We liked:

Voice control works nicely, and we never had a problem with games or apps misunderstanding what we were saying.

We also love the way Kinect is opening up the 360 into a much more well-rounded console. Microsoft is going to sell a lot of consoles to a wider range of people off the back of Kinect, and so if it gets more people involved, that’s a good thing in our book.

We didn’t like:

We don’t like having to hold our arms in the air in order to select from the Kinect menus. It’s annoying and we much preferred the point-and-swipe method employed by some of the games.

Space is also a major negative – there’ll be plenty of budding Kinect gamers out there who won’t be able to join in due to not having enough space in their living rooms. We suspect this will be more of a problem for European gamers than North American ones.

Lag is also an issue, and while you can get used to it, Kinect doesn’t quite feel like the finished article while these delays exist. It’s also a bit more expensive than we’d like, but it’s hard to criticise this simply because Kinect is such a unique product.

Verdict:

We like Kinect a lot. But it’s not a perfect product by any means, and many hardcore gamers out there are going to be disappointed by it.

However, we think it’s an impressive piece of technology, and in the months and years ahead we envisage it spawning some truly revolutionary games.

For the moment though, the launch titles seem a bit weak and that £125 price tag looks just a bit too much.

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Review: Vogel’s TwistDock

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Games and Music, Games and Players, PS3, Sony

The TwistDock is, put simply, a stand and controller charging port for your PlayStation 3. It’s circular and twists around so you can reach the controllers, which sit hidden behind your PS3. It’s designed to look good, feel premium, and keep things tidy.

However, you’ll definitely pay for that high-end feeling. The dock itself will cost around £80, with the USB Hub and Cable Set add-on packs both coming in at around £30. We had the full set to play with, so let’s see if it’s really worth £140.

The basic TwistDock is a round stand with two controller holders in the back. To charge your controllers, you have to attach a little add-on to the top of them that slots into their USB port. This has some contacts on it that press against matching contacts on the TwistDock.

We can guess why they didn’t just put USB plugs on the TwistDock: because it’s premium. But it would have been simpler. Two lights on the front of the dock tell you whether the controllers are charged (which is actually quite good).

To charge your controllers. the TwistDock naturally needs some power. It comes with a European mains plug, which slots into a UK adaptor. The two really don’t look like they’ve been designed to sit together. They’re loose, wobbly and awkward, but didn’t actually fall apart in our time using the dock, so escape total condemnation.

There are two USB ports on the back of the TwistDock, so you could charge two more controllers or… um, your phone? These USB ports don’t do anything other than power, so they’re no good for PS3 accessories that send information to the console.

The USB Hub pack, which adds data functionality (for more money!), actually comes with a new mains adaptor with more power than the TwistDock’s original to give the necessary juice to the extra ports. Why didn’t they just make the original stronger?

The hub was an absolute pain to get slotted into its hole properly, but we eventually got it in and working. The PS3 had no trouble spotting any peripherals we attached.

Now, the TwistDock’s cunning plan to keep your PS3 tidy is to run all cables under the console, through the centre of the dock, under it and out the back. However, to make this really work, you’ll need the TwistDock Cable Set, which includes an HDMI cable and a PS3 power cable, both with plugs at right angles.

Your PS3’s normal plugs, being straight, will cause the cables to loop quite far out before they come back under the dock to be hidden. “Why, that’s not tidy at all!” the TwistDock people probably said. “Let’s provide alternative cables that don’t loop out thanks to their right-angled connectors, and charge more for them.”

There are two problems here. The first is that you have to pay more. Again.

The second is that the provided power cable is the two-pin figure-eight kind used by the PS3 Slim. The old-style PS3 uses the chunky three-pin kettle lead, making 50 per cent of the Cable Set totally useless to any original-style PS3 owners.

On the plus side, the HDMI cable is really well built, and works just fine. On the down side, jamming the kettle-lead cable through the whole in the TwistDock clearly meant for a smaller plug is a damn pain. Especially since the HDMI cable is so thick and covered that it takes up half the space itself.

Apart from this oversight, the TwistDock does work well for both flavours of Sony’s machine. And, yeah, it looks good. It’s a convenient way to hide your controllers and charge them at the same time.

It’s also pretty expensive to begin with, and then you need to add two accessory packs if you want USB data functionality or cables that don’t stick out.

The TwistDock is easy on the eye and nice to have around, but it only stays interested in you if you keep spending money on it. As far as we’re concerned, it’s just too fiddly and awkward to really be the premium product it wants to be and justify how expensive it is.

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Review: Nintendo 3DS

Author: ally keer  //  Category: Games and Music, Gaming/Handheld consoles, NDS, Nintendo, PS3, PSP, Sony, Wii, iPhone, others

The UK release of the Nintendo 3DS on 25 March will see Europe welcome the latest offering from arguably the most innovative company in the gaming world.

Nintendo is responsible for iconic household names like Super Mario, SNES and Gameboy all of which have made a massive contribution to how we play today.

But the Japanese company has also been busy redefining the modern medium with its most recognised bit of kit – the Wii, dragging everyone from nine year old girls to 79-year-old grandaddys around the TV to wave a white remote in the air.

Our colleagues at T3.com grabbed some Nintendo 3DS video footage which you can watch below.

Nintendo’s current handheld line – the Nintendo DS – has had a similar amount of pull on the public, creating a world where everyone’s a gamer. You might be Brain Training on the bus or leaping over spike pits at lunch, either way you’re a part of a video game boom (at least in terms of awareness) that’s never been seen before, and that’s largely thanks to Nintendo.

After such success you might forgive Nintendo for resting on its laurels and, indeed, since the UK release of the first DS back in 2004, the progression of the portable has been something of a slow evolution.

Sticking a couple of extra letters on the end of each edition, with devices like the DS Lite, the DSi and the DSi XL Nintendo made the common alterations; making things bigger/smaller/lighter, adding a camera here and a bit more power there.

Nintendo 3ds review

The core of the DS remained the same though; a book-like, dual-screen handheld with the touch functionality that augments the gaming experience with an extra dimension of interactivity that spawned the DS success in the beginning.

But now, with the release of the Nintendo 3DS, Ninty is having a punt at revolutionising video games for a third time and ‘extra dimension’ is the key phrase again.

With a Nintendo 3DS UK release date of March 25, for a price that’s been left up to European retailers but is currently sitting around the £200 mark generally, the public will get its hands on the latest DS iteration.

Nintendo 3ds review

At first glance it looks like a shinier, sleeker version of its brothers and it still has the same dual-screen, touch sensitive set up. This time, however, the top screen boasts the ability to beam your gaming experience in full auto-stereoscopic 3D – that’s 3D without the need for a pair of 3D specs.

Nintendo 3ds review

Ok, so the likes of Avatar have already reignited the 3D interest for cinema and Sony’s pushing 3D gaming on the PS3 – pricey TVs and cumbersome glasses included – but unassisted, palm of your hand 3D is a completely different and massively exciting prospect.

The Nintendo 3DS has the potential to be a massive stride forward from its predecessors and another landmark product that Nintendo can lay claim to. If it works, that is. We’ve been working on our Nintendo 3DS review for the last week – here’s the verdict…

Nintendo 3ds review

To look at the, the Nintendo 3DS is more or less classic DS design.

It’s slightly smaller than the DSi in terms of sheer size, at approximately 135mm x 74mm but is a bit thicker at 20mm deep compared to the DSi (137mm x 75mm x 19mm) and weighs around 8 ounces with battery, stylus and SD card on board.

Nintendo 3ds review

It looks that bit sleeker though, with curved corners, angled edges and shiny gloss finish. This time the lid houses two cameras rather than one (necessary for the 3D camera we’ll come on to), both placed centrally at the top of the panel, and each about half the size of the DSi’s camera.

Placed at the back on either hinge, as with the DSi, are the two shoulder buttons which look slightly smaller this time in that they don’t protrude quite so much as on the last model. The hinges themselves carry on the gradual lines of the device to complete the look.

Nintendo 3ds review

Lift the lid on the 3DS and the more sophisticated design ethos is continued with a black, gloss finish border that makes up the front face of the 3DS and surrounds the top screen. It’s a neat departure from the single colour-scheme we’re used to.

In terms of how the new device is to hold, the 3DS doesn’t feel quite so expensive or solid as something like the Sony PSP. The d-pad, face and shoulder buttons are small with that distinctly ‘clicky’ feel. We’d also say that when fully open, the top panel encroaches on the space your fingers need around the shoulder buttons. A minor quibble that’s only noticed every now and then, and who’s to say we don’t have chubby fingers?

Nintendo 3ds reviewNintendo 3ds review

Where the 3DS does trump the PSP in terms of control, however, is with its new analogue nub – officially called the Circle Pad. The point of analogue control has obviously been a tough nut to crack for designers of portable games consoles recently.

Nintendo 3ds review

Sony’s current handheld has a flat nub with imprinted grip, something that has been criticised for being difficult to manoeuvre because of its flat design that sees players slide their thumb around awkwardly rather than pushing and pulling as they would with a stick.

Nintendo 3ds review

Having gone down the nub route as well, Nintendo’s Circle Pad is still a bit of a chore to push around compared to a proper stick as well and Sony’s NGP will likely take the analogue control crown when it releases with two full-on sticks.

What does help the Nintendo 3DS, however is the fact that the Circle Pad has a concave surface. The shallow banks of the nub act as a nest for your thumb and mean that you have at least something to push and pull against to an extent without slipping off.

Nintendo 3ds review

The Circle Pad was responsive with a quick snap back to the centre once it was released. We had a couple of handhelds to play with, however, and one demonstrated a particularly sticky Pad which didn’t come all the way back to the middle if it was pushed to its boundaries

Since this was just one case, though, we have to give the 3DS the benefit of the doubt, although it does make us wonder whether the nub design could be prone to stickiness over time.

Also of note the placement of the front facing camera, now above the screen rather than on the join between the panels and the addition of three new buttons (Home, Start and Select) under the bottom screen.

Nintendo 3ds review

Getting onto the technology that drives the 3DS, that lower screen is LCD with the resistive touch capabilities that can be controlled with the included, 4mm, extendible stylus your finger. It measures 3.02 inches and has a 320 x 240 resolution.

The top screen is the important one though. It makes use of lenticular lens technology to create the final 3D image. Simply put, the screen uses a series of long thin lenses called lenticules that have cured fronts.

Nintendo 3ds review

Because of their shape the lenticules direct the pixels’ light in different directions and each eye sees an alternate column of pixels. You can probably fill in the rest: Two images are rendered by the 3DS’ GPU, they are sent to separate eyes by the lenticules and, as you probably know, by seeing two slightly separated versions of the same image we get glorious 3D.

Of course, to look as good as the current Nintendo DSi, the 3DS needs to have twice the resolution, and it has exactly that and then some.

Where the DSi screen ran at a resolution of 256 x 192 This time we’re treated to a 3.53 inch wide-screen LCD display zapping 16.77 million colours in what Nintendo’s calling 800 x 240 pixel resolution (what it actually means is you get 400 x 240 in each eye and then the same in both eyes when in 2D mode). Not only does the 3DS present you with unassisted 3D then, it’s bested its predecessors significantly in terms of resolution in the 2D arena as well.

Nintendo 3ds reviewPAPER: The 3DS comes with a wad-like and not-exactly-environmentally-friendly multi-lingual user guide

What’s driving the 3D machine hasn’t actually been officially disclosed and without being able to take the console to pieces just yet we have to rely on reports that the handheld contains a twin ARM11 266 MHz processor and the PICA200 GPU from Digital Media Professionals.

Also reported is 1.5GB of flash storage, 63MB of RAM (although some contesting reports suggest 96MB) and 4MB of dedicated video memory. Also tucked away inside the body is a motion-sensor and Gyroscope, which will come into play later.

All this is powered by a battery that Nintendo has estimated will offer 3 – 5 hours of life and longer when playing games from the DS back-catalogue using the 3DS’ backwards compatibility.

Not too different to the DSi then, although after putting the 3DS through its paces it seems that the avid amongst us will only hit the minimum estimation – we were out of juice at three hours of constant play in full 3D. Nintendo does, however, provide a nice little charging cradle as part of the package and the handheld had no problem lasting the day when in sleep mode.

Nintendo 3ds review

The 3D effect that’s conjured as a result has a focus on depth rather than throwing objects out of the screen at you all the time. How much depth exactly depends on the design of the game itself and player discretion. A slider on the side of the top panels allows gamers to adjust the level of depth, acting almost as a visual volume button.

The slider will probably be used in varying amounts as people take to 3D differently. We had the effect on maximum for the most part though and found the effect to be sharp, deep and with very little ghosting when we had the 3DS positioned in a way that hit the ’sweet spot’.

Nintendo 3ds review

And the sweet spot is crucial. You need to hold the 3DS so that it’s central, still and head on if you want the best effect. It’s by no means hard to find the right angle, it’s the one you’d most naturally adopt, but movement does interfere with the picture significantly.

The amount of forgiveness you get for straying depends on how 3D your image is in the first place. If the images are split to a greater extent to give the impression of more depth, the difference will be more apparent once you start to angle the screen in such a way that makes one image more prominent than the other.

The games we played

We were able to get our hands on two games; Nintendogs + Cats and Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition. Nintendogs + Cats boasted the greater amount of depth and so even a degree of sideways rotation of the 3DS caused flickering of the image and the occasional split-second blackout. Titling the handheld forwards and backwards doesn’t have the same amount of visual degradation, though.

Street Fighter could take more movement in all directions before the image started to ghost significantly. There was generally less depth in Street Fighter, though, since the focus is on two players – there’s no gameplay element that requires roaming in and out of the foreground so the background plays an aesthetic role.

But there are two camera angles in the 3D Edition of Street Fighter – the traditional side-on view is 3D only in the sense of having different layers of 2D cell-shaded art stacked on top of each other.

A second camera angle, however, rotates the side-view around so that it’s more a diagonal over-the-shoulder shot and this is the angle at which to get the best 3D effect. The characters become full 3D models and the sense of depth is much more obvious and complete as objects in the background have depth to them as well as looking further away.

Nintendo 3ds review

There’re also some examples of protruding pixels here as well; because of the angle, the outside of your character’s body – particularly the elbow, for example, as certain punches are thrown – noticeably occupy the foreground in comparison to your opponent who appears in the background.

The best example of a 3D image coming out of the screen we witnessed, however, was during Nintendogs + Cats, when our kitten came right up to the screen and then poked its head clearly beyond the glass.

In both cases though, like we’ve said, the 3D effect is more one of depth. When we’re considering how much more immersive the gaming experience becomes, it doesn’t work in the sense of surrounding your head and making you feel like you’re actually sitting in the game, but it does make you feel like you could stick your hand into the world and touch everything.

It also enhances the graphics, not necessarily in a technical sense of quality, just in the way objects look more realistic and solid because of their added depth.

It was when our cat pushed its head right out of the screen that we started to really appreciate the extra graphical quality the 3DS has over previous iterations, regardless of the 3D wow factor. The graphics in Nintendogs & Cats are far more detailed than previous versions, showing off the extra power and resolution of the 3DS.

Using the 3D slider to turn off the effect, there wasn’t too much difference in visual quality when playing both games in 2D. The lines in the backgrounds of both games became sharper in 2D but only negligibly, there a more noticeable dulling in colour with 3D mode activated though.

Nintendo 3ds review

Outside of its gaming capabilities, the 3DS tech is also used for a 3D camera with a 640 x 480 resolution and an active pixel count of around 300,000. The photos that come out of the other end are good for a bit of pointing and cooing but we found them to be a bit grainy and the 3D effect is actually a case of have 2D images layered on a 3D plain.

For the core Nintendo audience, this will be more than impressive and a nice gimmick, but after playing 3D games that use the tech so well we couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed by the camera.

Another trick in the 3DS repertoire is its augmented reality, which makes use of both the camera and the on-board gyroscope. Face Raiders, for example, is a small first person, sci-fi blaster that sees you move the 3DS around to target enemies in a similar way to GunRange for the iPhone 4.

When you miss an enemy and shoot the backdrop it breaks away, sending debris floating towards you and revealing the view from the camera.

It’s a simple game but it does seem like a bit of an error of judgement since moving the 3DS around so vigorously means that you’ll inevitably lose that sweet spot at some point. The 3D usage in Face Raiders, however, is comparatively less than what we’ve seen in the full games, with not too much moving in and out of the foreground, which is probably a good thing for the above reason.

cards

There’s also a group of more specific augmented reality games that make much more use of the tech. They’re activated by putting a yellow card on a clear surface like a desk and pointing the 3DS camera at it. The best of the bunch sees the card turn into a tree covered island before your eyes giving you the task of finding and shooting a number of targets.

By moving the 3DS around the scene as if it were actually there you can look around trees, behind objects and even down holes that are two deep for your desk to accommodate in order to find the targets.

A lot of the other AR features are probably better described as tech demos more than anything, they’re there to look impressive but don’t actually do much. ‘Star pics’ is especially guilty of this; it uses separate cards with famous Nintendo faces on them which spawn statues of Link, Kirby, Mario and Samus depending on which dedicated card you put in front of the camera.

Once they’re standing on your desk you can change their size, pose or glide them slowly along the table. There’s nothing more to them than that, but hopefully they’ll be the start of something much bigger.

There’s a social element to the 3DS’ as well in the Street Pass system. This automatically exchanges things like high-scores and custom characters which other 3DS portables in close proximity.

It also tries to encourage gamers to use the system and keep their 3DS active in sleep mode at least by rewarding them with a piece to a jigsaw puzzle for every new person (and their virtual Mii avatar), more interestingly, a piece to a jigsaw puzzle or XP for a basic RPG action game centred around your Mii.

The 3DS could pick up our fellow users the second we walked into the office, so it seems sharp in terms of connectivity there. The related mini-games are overly simple but will be enjoyed by gamers with a gotta catch ‘em all mentality. Besides, it’s more a way for Nintendo to keep 3DS consoles active so that they can automatically grab updates and software from the net using the Spot Pass system over WiFi.

Nintendo 3ds review

While 3D gaming still splits opinion, this is a relatively cheap, accessible way to enjoy it and the quality is more than good enough to offer an impressive and immersive experience.

We liked:

The revelation that is glasses-free 3D visuals in a handheld device. More to point, the fact that it works so well. Okay, there’s a definite sweet spot that you need to maintain if you want that 3D image to remain sharp but it’s not really that hard to work it out.

Couple this with the extra power and resolution that the 3DS has over its closest ancestor and there’s a much better graphical showcase on offer for 2D lovers as well, which is why we can expect bigger and better looking games than what’s been possible on the DS to date,

We disliked:

The camera. For us it fails to be much more than a gimmick. Perhaps we’re coming from a hyper-critical perspective and may fall just outside of the audience Ninty is hoping the camera will please but, with its slightly grainy quality and 2D layering, it’s little more than a toy to us. A good chunk of people will be pleased with it for that reason though.

We’re not completely taken with the application of the augmented reality tech either, especially the Star pics feature which has little more than slightly movable statues of Nintendo greats to offer. However, if there’s any company we feel we can trust to take the foundations of what feels more like a tech demo and turn it into something great, it’s Nintendo.

Verdict:

The 3DS outdoes its predecessors significantly when it comes to power and visual output, which means Ninty players can look forward to demanding names like Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid in the future.

This is a device that’s going to grab everyone all over again but, at the same time, it’s got plenty to offer the gaming hardcore as well and that’s just as big a step forward as the specless 3D visuals.

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Review: Logitech Driving Force GT

Author: ally keer  //  Category: Games and Music, Games and Players, Microsoft, PS3, Xbox

Have you felt the sting of Sunday afternoon envy watching F1 drivers frolic in their hydraulic simulators like giddy children on priceless corporate bucking bronco rides? ‘I could probably go quicker than that’ you whisper through gritted teeth, ‘if only my dad had spent all his money on karting licences instead of bourgeois nonsense like mortgages and food’.

But until Red Bull Racing spot you executing perfect doughnuts in Homebase car park and decide to offer you a racing contract, the closest you’ll get to the pro race driver life is getting a decent force feedback steering wheel and loading up an unforgiving racing sim.

Logitech’s Driving Force GT is such a wheel. Decent. It’ll work on PC or PS3, and the Gran Turismo logo on the front hints it’s better suited to the latter, where expectations are lower.

Right enough, there’s convincing force feedback, but compared to the superlative G27 in Logitech’s arsenal it hardly compares. Gear shifting is the Driving Force GT’s real bogey, though. Lacking paddles, the wheel-mounted buttons feel stiff and unsatisfying and the flimsy stick offers little relief.

It’s capable then, but at £100 it’s not worth the money and dangerously close to the greatly superior G25, also in the Logitech camp. Consider only if you want cross-platform driving.

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