Ubisoft’s Fighters Uncaged is one of the first games which looks like it’s aimed at a more dedicated gaming following, as it claims to offer an unprecedented level of interaction with the on-screen action than ever before using the new Kinect device as its control interface. There’s nothing to really compare it to at present other than games like Tekken and the sports inspired UFC games, although the two input methods couldn’t be further apart. So how do you review such a game at this juncture in the life-cycle of the new Kinect?
The premise of the game is to simply beat up various stereo typical looking opponents as you move up leagues and generally prove that you’re the king of the street fighting scene. Sounds good, but is Kinect ready for such antics and more importantly, are you?
Upon booting up the game you’re introduced to the basics via a tutorial which really does take some getting used to. It’s pretty slow paced, but there’s reason for this because jumping in at the deep end would mean instant failure and probably a coronary heart attack and a trip to the local A&E (or ER if you’re American). Despite the game’s simple looking premise, there’s actually something quite deep under the surface, and so mastery of the moves is a must if you’re going to succeed. The tutorial merely teaches the basics, but once passed it’s recommended that you spend the time learning the more advanced stuff. Via a blue man you’re shown the actions you are to perform, with some looking quite natural and others a little more flamboyant but requiring a simple move on your part. There’s elements from martial arts involved and with some 80 odd moves available, much more than meets the eye initially.
You could spend hours in the tutorial and training modes except… your stamina might get the better of you, and so there’s a tendency to want to skip all the detailed stuff and get stuck in before collapsing to the floor in crumpled heap of sweat and dying breaths.
So you’ve endured the training and are ready to kick some butt with the main game. There’s no difficulty select or plethora of options it’s just you and the bottom league working your way to the top. To begin, navigation is using your hand to select one of the first 6 available fighters. Each guy has their own style and upon selecting, the loading screen will give you a hint in how to defeat them; now here comes the tricky part.
You’ve got two rounds to kick butt and a 90 second timer for each round. The game uses a rear view angle, slightly offset so you can judge the distance between you and your opponent. There are three ranges to take note of (close, medium and long), and because you can’t manually move forwards and backwards, you’re at the mercy of your opponent’s movements. Luckily there’s an on-screen indicator which shows you what distance you are, and then it’s a case of performing the right moves. Easy peezee. Well actually not, because someone on the development team thought it was a good idea to make the AI so incredibly difficult to beat easily that you’ll end up being out of stamina before you can get very far.
The AI dodges way too often and blocks way to much, to the extent that if you wildly throw punches and kicks you’ll be doing so with no actual reward. Why the developers didn’t make the game structured so that the first guys you fight are easy enough so your grandma could beat them, with the rest getting gradually tougher and requiring you to use more moves and learn the countering and ducking competently is a mystery. As it stands, if you do think you’ll get by throwing wild punches and kicking then you’ll be mistaken especially if you want to progress. the only place you’ll likely be heading after 10 minutes is the floor in a crumpled heap unable to continue.
The game is structured in a way that you fight each opponent, then once you’ve beaten them you fight them again to improve your score to unlock points which in turn unlock the next league. It’s very basic but highlights a major gameplay flaw which will frustrate and probably turn most gamers off. The problem lies in the fact that when you face an opponent you’ve already beaten if you don’t best your score then the effort results in no reward what so ever. Due to the physical nature of the game this isn’t acceptable and turns what should be interesting and fun into a major pain in the arse. And then there are the issues with the game not picking up your movements properly, meaning your efforts are wasted causing further frustration. whether this is to do with Kinect’s calibration or the game is unclear, but is incredibly annoying to the point where you’re left scratching your head thinking ‘who the hell approved this crap’. It’s overly difficult for the sake of it, and perhaps due to the lack of overall content a reason why. For the casual market Kinect is aimed at, this game has total fail written all over it simply because of some terrible design choices.
In the game’s defence, there’s a very steep learning curve and once you have mastered what it wants you to do then it’s possible to see some results despite it being tempting to give up and throw the game, Kinect, and your Xbox 360 out the window. Will gamers have the patience for this though? Like any fighting game, you’ve got to learn the nuances and the moves, practice, become better before you advance, and that ideal is no different in this game.
Graphically the game is perhaps leaps and bounds above the cute looking avatar inspired offerings and places it in it’s own realm. The fighters are detailed, although not being able to choose who you fight as is a real let down. If this was any other fighting game then frankly it’s not acceptable, especially when games like Tekken are offering some 40 odd characters to play as or against. There’s not really much else to say in this department, other than it’s all rather functional. The game not picking up your moves (especially knee strikes), or requiring you to wait between animations before performing the next move is a little disappointing and could have been better implemented. It just feels the whole game wasn’t tested properly against varied play conditions, or is simply buggy as hell.
There’s a hip hop style sound track that is synonymous with boxing/fighting games of this ilk and with a mixture of camp, cheesy and stupid voices for your opponents not a lot else to go on. Again, like the graphics, very functional and uninspiring.
How fit are you? How much patience do you have? These are the questions which determine how long you play this game for. If your stamina levels are low, then 20 minutes and you’re done. If you pace yourself a bit better then you can prolong the experience. However, it’s likely you’ll get frustrated with the game far quicker than your stamina running out. Other players can jump in at any time and take over the fight if needed, but overall it’s strictly a solo experience on offer here.
Fighter’s Uncaged is a good idea on paper which should have been fleshed out a little more and made more accessible to the masses. If you’re serious about fighting games or a fan of MMA then it’s likely you’ll get more out of the experience than someone who isn’t. There’s an impressive amount of depth under the hood, but this is not very well realized and probably will be overlooked by the majority of participants.
How do you score such a game then considering how unique it is? It’s probably best to start from a 10 and deduct points as you go along. Well, a point is knocked off due to a lack of options, the bare bones nature isn’t very encouraging and you’ll get bored far too quickly – there’s simply not enough to do here. Another two points are deducted due to the lack of fluidity with movements, them not corresponding with your own making the game a pain to play rather than enjoyable. The game’s core is getting those moves to work, and when they don’t then it fails miserably. A further three points are removed due to how incredibly inaccessible the game is, overly tough AI and a structure that is way too unforgiving that it’s a huge turn off; a game breaker, and one that the developers should be shot for.
In conclusion – When Fighters Uncaged actually works you’ll find a compelling and engrossing way to play a fighting game, one that offers genuine enjoyment as you shout at the screen to perform super moves and generally show off your MMA skills without stepping on the dog or kicking your TV into oblivion. After some time playing you’ll definitely feel that you’ve had a decent workout as you wipe the sweat from your brow. Sadly, the game isn’t about a workout and is actually supposed to be a game, and in this regard it seems the developers drew a blank and forgot. If you really want to show off how Kinect works to your nay saying friends, then this is not really the showcase game it could have been. What you’re left with is a title which frustrates far more than it excites and therefore can only be recommended to the desperate and the forgiving. If you are neither of those, then avoid like the plague.