With the Wii’s bafflingly high sales figures proving that flailing your arms about wildly is now deemed a respectable alternative to the humble controller, it was only a matter of time before the other gaming giants followed suit.
E3 2009 saw both Microsoft and Sony unveil their contributions to the world of motion control, MS with the sinister sounding Project Natal and Sony with the curiously shaped Move.
Microsoft has been keen to push Natal’s credentials, which are being forced down our throats in quite an irritating fashion at times, something which has inevitably caused a backlash from some of us ‘true gamers’.
So, if you greeted the news of MS’ next-gen Eyetoy with the sort of heavy sigh usually reserved for disappointed old-school Nintendo fanboys, then you are almost definitely on my side of the fence. The side that instantly dismissed Natal as the gimmick that it is, a desperate attempt by Microsoft to cash in on the casual gamer market.
The only thing that it will seemingly bring to the table are mini-game collections and the opportunity to laugh at your nan as she stands in the centre of your living room at Christmas, drunkenly trying to get to grips with the fact that she can interact with the tellybox. It’s fun for all of 20 minutes, but the novelty will soon wear thin and you’ll be wishing that you’d asked Santa for that Blu-ray player instead.
Regardless of the logical (biased) conclusion I have already settled upon, I still hold out a shred of optimism that maybe, just maybe, Natal will be the gaming phenomenon that we have been promised. It’s possible, right…?
Well, life’s full of little surprises, so maybe with the help of a few recognised franchises the SighToy (that will never catch on) will achieve the unthinkable: it will rise from the overcrowded cesspool of peripheral gimmickry, demolishing the Wii’s hold on the casual gamer market and solidifying the 360’s status as the cream of the console crop.
So, developers, take note. Here are the games that need to be made in order for Natal to truly be considered a success. Do you hear me?!
Mirror’s Edge 2
The release of the original Mirror’s Edge was accompanied by enough hyperbole to make even Peter Molyneux sceptical, but despite its originality and undeniable charm, it failed to live up to our great expectations.
However, its first-person free-running mechanics would make for a perfect Natal experience and EA would be absolutely insane to not commission a sequel. The original contained some of the most adrenaline-fuelled set pieces ever seen in a videogame, so the ability to freely manipulate Faith’s movements as she navigates her surroundings would surely be a recipe for success.
Ju-On: The Grudge
It has become something of a cliché to state that a videogame offers the player a ‘truly cinematic experience’, but Ju-On: The Grudge does just that. To be honest, that’s just about all it does.
By placing the player in what is essentially an interactive movie and offering them barely any control over the events that follow, Ju-On was not only one of the scariest gaming experiences out there, but also a surprisingly hilarious party game. The only thing that held it back was its consoles limitations, with the Wii’s penchant for blocky characters and PS2-era dull textures somewhat dampening the tense atmosphere.
However, combine creepy Japanese girls with the 360’s superior graphical power and you’re onto a winner. Couple that with Natal’s ability to place you directly in the shoes of the protagonist, forcing you to shakily hold a torch in your right hand whilst tentatively opening creaky doors with your left.
Ju-On‘s linear and straightforward format ensures that anyone (heart problems notwithstanding) can dive in and play, whilst the possibility that this spawns a Natal Interactive Horror Movie sub-genre is a tantalising prospect.
Imagine it: sprinting from the deafening whirr of Leatherface’s chainsaw, standing perfectly motionless in a closet as Mike Myers stalks the room outside, even navigating through a crumbling New York as the Cloverfield monster turns the city into its very own playground…
Unless you are some sort of masochist uber-nerd, chances are you never owned a copy of Capcom’s Steel Battalion. This mech simulator came bundled with the most ridiculously extravagant controller ever seen in a videogame. Coupled with the equally ludicrous price tag of £130 it was an insanely risky project, purpose-built for the hardcore elite.
Predictably, it undersold, and slunk away into obscurity along with its one and only sequel, Line Of Contact.
However, with Capcom confirming that they will be releasing a ‘forgotten title’ for Natal, Steel Battalion is being pegged as the unlikely candidate for a motion-controlled update. The removal of the complicated control scheme would put off a large portion of the small fan base it garnered upon its initial release, but it would undoubtedly introduce many more to its immersive futuristic combat.
All the intense button-flicking and trigger-clicking action could be easily translated to Natal, whilst the Mech’s Minority Report-esque visors could add allow for a neat and innovative targeting system. An intriguing/intimidating prospect.
Bioshock 2 was fantastic, no doubt about it. But it wasn’t perfect. Whereas your introduction to the city of Rapture in the original Bioshock was literally breathtaking, revisiting the city for the sequel never really felt like a progression.
Granted, if you had created something as majestic as Rapture then you would undoubtedly want the player to experience every last bit of it, but it felt like a missed opportunity on behalf of the developers to not really show us anything new. This is where Natal would have its time to shine.
Hurling plasmids at enemies with your own two hands would certainly be an experience, as would the opportunity to control that wily so-and-so Big Sister.
If implemented with Bioware’s trademark innovation motion controller, puzzle-solving could prove to be a big draw, as could the opportunity to venture outside the confines of Rapture’s walls and breaststroke through the neon-lit ocean.
If rumours are to be believed that Rapture will reach the surface, then it would be interesting to experience the conflict on both sides of the fence, through the eyes of a member of the military, nervously tiptoeing around the feral Splicers. Or through the eyes of the Splicers themselves as they desperately search for traces of non-existent ADAM.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 3
Although the Old Republic name is currently being used to champion a promising Star Wars MMORPG, we still haven’t forgotten KOTOR and all of its charming ways.
With Milo & Kate showing off the amount of customisable interactions Natal allows the player to have with an NPC, it has all the potential to usher in a new, more intuitive era of RPG’s.
It would be a gigantic task, sure, but by kick-starting the trend with the hugely popular Star Wars franchise the inevitable teething problems could easily be forgiven amongst the force chokes and lightsaber duels. Being able to freely interact with the Star Wars universe would certainly be an experience, an experience that Natal has the potential to deliver.
Of course, KOTOR isn’t the only Star Wars game that could potentially benefit from a Natal overhaul. With geeks across the universe just begging to fully immerse themselves in a galaxy far away, another chapter in The Force Unleashed series would perhaps make for an easily profitable romp.
Allowing players to have full control of the Force with their very own hands whilst wielding a lightsaber of their own creation will make for a sure-fire hit. Depending on the success of the sequel later this year, you could bet your house on LucasArts considering a motion-controlled Starkiller.
Regardless of your stance on MS’ little black motion sensor, the notion of placing yourself within one of your favourite franchises is certainly intriguing. Unfortunately, we gamers have been let down by cheap gimmicks too many times in the past to have any sort of confidence in Natal. Call me cynical, but I can’t see past the inevitability of Dance Dance Revolution sequels and mini-game collections to the genius piece of technology that lies beneath.
It’ll never catch on…