Kinect promised so much when it came out late last year, but so far it’s delivered very little. The technology is in major need of an ambassador title; something more than the crop of me-too party games that have characterised its existence so far. But as the tumbleweeds roll across the barren plains of Kinect Town, who should barge in, sending the saloon doors a-swingin’, but The Gunstringer?
From the studio that brought us Splosion Man and Ms. Splosion Man comes an unlikely third-person, motion-control shooter that actually seems to work. Presented as a puppet show acted out to a theatre audience – complete with spaghetti-Western narration and cheering and booing from the crowd – The Gunstringer boasts all the humour and charm that anyone who’s played Twisted Pixel’s previous works will come to expect.
The game plays out as a series of, erm, plays, each one tasking the Gunstringer – an undead reincarnation of a Wild West sheriff – with hunting out and dispensing one member of his former posse, all of whom are said to have betrayed him. The Gunstringer simply oozes character, the presentation is immaculate and at times it’s absolutely laugh-out-loud funny. Don’t let the platform fool you, either; it may well be a Kinect title, but this one is pitched firmly at a more adult crowd than many of the titles we’ve seen for the peripheral so far.
To say that The Gunstringer is an on-rails game, while technically true, is perhaps a little dismissive. Yes, the Gunstringer moves automatically forward through linear environments, but the player does have a degree of control over the character as he negotiates the game’s various settings. Holding your left hand horizontally (as if clutching the handle of a marionette), you can move The Gunstringer from left to right, and you can make him leap by yanking your left hand upwards.
With your right hand, you aim your revolver’s targeting reticule and also fire your gun by yanking your hand back towards your shoulder, mimicking the recoil of firing a real handgun. The Gunstringer employs the target-painting mechanic of Red Dead Redemption to great effect, allowing you to pick out six targets at once before letting loose and pumping each one of them full of lead with a simple yank of the wrist. Some sections will require the Gunstringer to make use of other weapons, such as a shotgun, a flamethrower and even a katana. Occasionally, you’ll also have to pop in and out of cover (using your left hand), firing shots in between dodging enemy fire.
Not only is Twisted Pixel working within the limitations of the Kinect peripheral, but the studio has also seemingly acknowledged its strengths over other input methods. For instance, one of the criticisms levelled at some Kinect titles is that they’re perhaps better played with a controller. This is not entirely true of The Gunstringer: while general movement may well have been more accurate with a pad, I imagine the ‘target painting’ mechanic would actually be much more difficult. Similarly, the dual-wielding sections where you aim two rapid-firing six-shooters at multiple, fast-moving targets – one gun with each hand – would be much more difficult using the two analogue sticks. Twisted Pixel has certainly not attempted to shoehorn a controller-based style of game into a motion-control configuration, and it shows.
That said, it seems that the relative simplicity of the opening levels masks the fact that your overall control of the Gunstringer himself is actually not that precise. When things start to heat up a little mid-game and a degree of accuracy is needed to navigate the Gunstringer through the many obstacles peppered throughout the environment, things get a little frustrating. Occasionally, movement fluctuates between being over- and under-responsive. For the most part, though, the responsiveness is enough for you to handily get through most of the scenes without too much issue.
It’s worth mentioning that not only is The Gunstringer available at around half the RRP of a regular Xbox 360 title (at $49.99), but it also includes a download token for the excellent Fruit Ninja Kinect (as reviewed here by the esteemed Richard Armitt). Not only this, but there’s already a free DLC play available for download - it’s around 1.8GB in size, though, so watch those data caps.
If The Gunstringer had been a Kinect launch title almost a year ago, I imagine the tech may have had a fair few less disbelievers. It’s an absolutely playable and entertaining motion-control romp. And while the occasional fit of unresponsiveness will cause some frustration, it’s far from a deal-breaker. As it stands, The Gunstringer is the most impressive Kinect game yet, and I’m encouraged once again about the peripheral’s use for a wider variety of game types. And it’s one giant step forwards in legitimising a motion-control platform that’s so far underperformed on the gaming front.