Fighter Within’s problems start early and never disappear. Long before you begin flailing your arms and legs at the Xbox One Kinect in an attempt to control an on-screen fighter, there’s an ostensibly more straightforward ritual to complete first: selecting an option on the menu screen.
The camera ably picks up your hand’s movements but, rather than selecting a menu option by holding the cursor over an option for a few seconds, you instead must ‘punch’ items to activate them. This is problematic as, when you lunge forward to make your choice (fail to put enough vigour behind your strike and nothing will happen) the cursor darts madly off about the screen, usually away from your intended choice. Rarely has a game frustrated its player so quickly and so far in advance of any actual play. And yet, when you finally make it past the menus and into a fight, nothing improves.
The fighting game genre is founded upon principles of precision and timing. Such exactitude is seemingly impossible to recreate with Kinect, which must interpret a human’s imprecise punches, kicks, blocks and sidesteps in the living room and speedily translate them to on-screen attacks. It fails consistently to do so.
You play as Matt Gilford, a clichéd tough-talking street fighter (when asked what type of taekwondo he practises he replies, with embarrassing earnestness, “The kind you learn in the streets”) who hopes to enter a mixed martial arts tournament. Initiation mode leads you through Gilford’s journey to professional fighting, teaching you the basics of the game en route, from how to execute combos to how to block high and low efficiently.
The basic punches and kicks are soon augmented with counters, throws and special Ki moves. There are specific counters and blocks for specific incoming attacks, so the building blocks for a strategically interesting – if not particularly complex – game are present. Yet the game fails to interpret your sweeps, swipes and gestures with anything approaching consistency and reliability. Xbox One Kinect has already demonstrated its improved power and greater potential in launch titles such as Zoo Tycoon and Forza 5, but here on the battlefield, even the most basic gestures are randomly interpreted on screen, and no amount of living-room furniture rearrangement or adjustment to ambient lighting seems to improve its chances.
Kinect does, at least, manage to distinguish individual players in the room from one another, making local multiplayer matches between two flailing players possible. But even here, where the humour and silliness of two friends flapping hands at one another in a front room should be a given, enjoyment is woefully short-lived. In order to see what’s happening on screen each player must stand shoulder to shoulder, negating any human-to-human eye contact. Without this crucial social ingredient, the power of the scenario is neutered and all that’s left is a technically incompetent curio that feels like an early EyeToy demo.
Fighter Within’s storyline is a misery of clichés, reaching for kung-fu movie kitsch but delivering nothing of the sort. But even the ugly presentation and forgettable cast of characters could have been forgiven if the developer had managed to make good on its ambitions for a nuanced fighting game controlled with arms and legs rather than fingers and thumbs. Perhaps the goal was misguided and no amount of assured execution would have saved the proposition. Regardless, how improved Fighter Within may or may not have been if it worked as advertised is irrelevant. Here is a game that, through its abject brokenness, sets the Kinect cause back considerably, a knockout blow for this style of game before the next-generation of camera-controlled play has even started.
Fighter Within is out now on Xbox One.