Review

Kinect Joy Ride Review (Xbox360)

Taking a trip with Kinect Joyride is rather strange, as it feels like the complete opposite of driving a real car. Learning to drive in real life begins with frustration as you stall in the most awkward of places, then you become more familiar with how it works and feel keen to learn more about how it all works. Finally you're cruising along with the greatest of ease, enjoying the feeling of speed.

Kinect Joyride, on the other hands, begins with the enjoyment as you sample something new - who would have thought you'd be able to drive a car by holding your hands up to a make-believe steering wheel! Once the initial rush is over, the next obvious step is to learn everything else that is possible. Soon afterwards, the frustration kicks in when you realise that the game is utterly shoddy work, with laggy controls, horrible loading times and pointless collectables.

EXCLUSIVE: Xbox game promotes reckless driving

Initial impressions are pretty damn good. You really are driving that car, and it really is turning in the direction you turn! Pulling back your arms builds up boost power, and thrusting forwards unleashes the speed. You can also drift by turning the 'wheel' just that little bit extra, and perform a variety of stunts in the air via a few cheerleader-style arm movements.

For the first half an hour, we found ourselves caught up in the thought that 'wow, this actually works!'. Following the track is easy enough, and we rarely bumped into walls or veered frantically off the track. Each track has numerous different paths to take as well, so even if you do find yourself bearing off in the wrong direction, there's usually an alternate path available nearby.

The amount of content on offer is also very pleasing indeed. You've got multiple game types, lots of tracks to race through, online racing via Xbox Live and plenty of cars to unlock. As you play through the game, you're awarded with fans for every good job, and the number of fans you have denotes how many game modes and collectables are unlocked. The sheer number of options and modes to pick from is easily on a par with the likes of Mario Kart and Need for Speed.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon period ends rather quickly, and you're left to explore the available content. It's at this point that everything starts to fall apart. The main issue with Joyride is the awful loading times, coupled with the ludicrous menu system. Tracks can take a good 15-20 seconds to load, and then only last around three minutes, at which point you'll have to wait another 15 seconds for the main menu to load again.

These loading times wouldn't be so bad, were it not for the fact that Joyride insists that you revisit the main menu every single time you finish a race. You can choose to retry the race, but there is no option to simply play the next track in order.

Riding an invisible horse that is driving a car

Consider this: you've just finished track one of the Pro Race mode. You now need to choose Main Menu, then choose Race 20 seconds later, then Pro Race from that menu, then scroll to the level you want, and finally wait another 20 seconds for the track to load. We would wager than during a typical game of Joyride, we probably spent more time in the menus than actually racing. This is clearly a very poor setup, and needs a very simple fix - adding a 'next track' button.

While this was getting our goat a bit too much, the cracks in Joyride's gameplay also began to show. Steering isn't too difficult, but boosting can be an absolute pain. Sometimes you'll pull your arms back and two seconds later the game will finally recognise the movement. Other times it simply won't recognise it at all, and you're made to stand there thrusting your arms back and forth, which can look very unsavoury indeed. Since boosting is a major part of the game, it's quite annoying that it doesn't work all that well.

It's such a shame, because if Joyride wasn't so slow and unresponsive, there'd actually be plenty to enjoy. Half a dozen game modes are bundled into this package, and each one offers something different. You've got two types of race - Pro Race is the standard 'get to the finish' mode, where speed and skill are the greatest factors. Battle Race features weapons picked up from crates on the track, although it plays more like Blur than Mario Kart. We didn't really feel that the weapons were all that satifying.

The other four modes could be classed more as minigames. Stunt and Trick see you pulling off crazy jumps and collecting points in a variety of arenas and half-pipes, and the feeling of speed really is awesome. Dash mode reminded us a little of the forward-running levels in Sonic and the Secret Rings on the Wii - you're racing down a series of tracks that stretch out into the distance, with obstacles scattered everywhere, ready to impede your progress.

Finally you've got Smash mode, which is basically an excuse to pelt around an arena, smashing into blocks and launching off ramps into huge 'boss' enemies. Indeed, there is plenty to do in Joyride, with several hours of play to see it all through. Then you've got medals to collect, fans to gather, achievements to unlock and special trophies to grab.

How he managed to get his car stuck in those power cables, we'll never know

All sounds great huh? If only the essential mechanics of the game actually worked, then Joyride really would be something special. Alas, the previously mentioned issues mar the overall product far too much for any of this to matter a jolt. If only more time had been spent on enhancing the flow of play and fixing the obvious problems, and Joyride could have easily been the perfect Kinect launch game.

Kinect Joyride is not a game you should invest in, yet with a few tweaks here and there, it could have been something great. If you can see past the atrocious loading times, the awful menu system and the laggy boosting, you may be able to appreciate what the game has to offer - but let's be honest, another Kinect driving game is bound to be released sometime very soon, so you're probably best simply waiting for that.

Kinect Joyride is available now for Xbox 360. You'll need the Kinect hardware to play it.

Top Game Moment: Boosting off the half-pipe in Stunt mode.

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