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Sob story: Why I'll be playing Child of Eden with Kinect

Justin McElroy

It seemed like a fine idea for a feature.

Armed with a early preview disc for Ubisoft's upcoming Child of Eden, I would compare the game's two methods of control, the good old-fashioned thumbstick and buttons and the newfangled Kinect method. Then, when comparing the scores for both, I'd have a pretty good idea of which method is superior.

So what was the problem? The fly in the ointment? ... Well, see, one of the methods made me cry.

Gallery: Child of Eden (9/27/2010) | 12 Photos

I'll admit that I had to literally wipe some dust from my Kinect before I started up this spiritual successor to Rez, but before the opening strains of the first level, "Matrix," had ended, I was reminded of how much promise the camera has.

As I hurdled down a tunnel of light, pulsating music urging me on, I'd wave my hand over enemies and ... OK, I'm getting ahead of myself. At the very start what actually happened is that I sort of spun around for a while and had to fight to get my view back on anything worth shooting.

The disorienting thing is that both the camera and the reticle are tied to the motions of your hand and until you get that into your skull (it didn't take me more than a minute) you're going to be staring off into space a lot.

Once you learn to wrangle the camera, you have two weapons at your disposal: On your right hand, a lock-on missile barrage capable of targeting eight enemies at once and, on your left, a rapid fire laser that destroys whatever you wave at. While the targeted missile strikes require you to flick your hand forward, the left-hand laser is always firing.

While the missiles are more powerful and therefore your primary weapon, the laser is the only thing capable of bringing down enemy projectiles. Here's the way that typically plays out: You wave your hand over a group of enemies, destroy them with a very "Force Push"-like move and then eliminate some enemy fire in such an authoritative way, it's hard to not to (appropriately enough, considering the level's title) feel like Neo. What I'm saying is that playing Child of Eden with Kinect is like being a Jedi and The One simultaneously. (And yes, for those wondering, it's perennially 1999 in my noggin'. Sorry.)

So many video games are power fantasies, but when the barrier of the controller is removed, it's hard not to let this one go to your head. But the impact of using the Kinect is about more than gameplay. Standing up, likely even closer to the screen than you'd normally sit, you're immersed even deeper into Child of Eden's neon synaesthesia.

I was reminded of how much promise the Kinect has.

Eden's threadbare "save the girl" central objective couldn't be more tired, but something about how immersed I was in that world short-circuited my cynicism. At the end of "Matrix," I saw my charge, Lumi, and flailed desperately as I tried to free her from her crystalline prison. The music was swelling to a crescendo and I was literally doing everything I could physically to save a girl that, for the moment, was the only other person in the universe. And then, just for a second, right there in my living room, I teared up. Maybe it was emotion of the moment, maybe it the depressing realization that all the flailing had actually left me pretty winded. Either way, it happened.

Next, I tried the controller. It was fun.

As several more hours of testing would prove, my scores were fairly even between the two control methods, but my experiences could not have been more disparate. With Kinect, this is synthetic tourism, a 10-minute trip into a gorgeous, abstract world where you're the most powerful being in existence.

With a controller, Child of Eden is a video game.

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