As high concepts go, Wreckateer is simple. This is Angry Birds in 3D with the pigs replaced by goblins and the catapult and aggravated avians swapped for a ballista and a selection of special-purpose shot. Were it not for the controls, we’d all be calling it a clone. However, Wreckateer’s big selling point is that it’s one of the few games in this year’s Summer of Arcade that pushed Kinect. In fact, it’s the first big Kinect game since Kinect: Star Wars and Kinect Rush back in the spring.
Wreckateer could easily have been playable with a standard controller, but instead it’s been built entirely for Kinect. You fire the ballista by stepping forward, dragging back the shot with your hands and then opening your arms to let it go. You aim by side-stepping left and right with the string pulled taut, or by leaning and ducking up and down. Certain shot have to be activated by flinging your arms wide in the air, and there’s after-touch to let you swipe the shots left and right or up and down with virtual gloves. Wreckateer is not the most physically exhausting of Kinect games, but it’s much more physical than Angry Birds.
Wrecking the Joint
The aims and objectives are simple. You are a trainee Wreckateer, working as part of a team to clear a series of castles and strongholds of invading goblins, even if the only way to do so is to knock every last wall and tower down. Each level has you facing a new castle with a selection of shot, and you earn points for every wall smashed, every tower felled and every goblin pounded into dust. Unlike Angry Birds you won’t fail if you don’t mop up every last goblin, but you have to reach a high enough score to win a medal, be it bronze, silver or gold. Doing so unlocks the next castle, and so on as you work your way through the territories in the game.
There are six kinds of shot to work with, ranging from a basic cannonball to a gliding flying shot, which you steer by spreading and tilting your arms, to a heavyweight lift shot, which you can bounce three times by activating it in the air or as it hits the ground. There’s an exploding bomb shot which blows up when activated or soon after impact, a speed shot, where activation equals sudden acceleration, and a split shot which cracks into four smaller shots, which you can guide with your hands. Some are easier to use than others, but all have some special advantage, which will make that shot indispensable in certain situations.
On top of this there are explosives and icons. Not being too smart, the goblins have attached bundles of dynamite to certain walls and towers. Hit one, and you’ll set off some fireworks, or even a chain reaction of destructive blasts. Icons can also help, either by simply boosting your score when a shot passes through them, or by turning it temporarily into a bomb shot, lift shot or speed shot.
The Way the Castle Crumbles
Just like Angry Birds, success in Wreckateer is a mixture of strategy, precision and plain dumb luck. You need the first to analyse the level, see where the weak points are, and work out which missile has the best chance of reaching them and blowing the place sky-high. You need precision, because you have to aim the ballista accurately, steer the shot to its target and activate it at the right time. And you need luck because sometimes you’ll fluke across a high score opportunity, or watch tragedy turn into triumph when a fluffed shot accidentally brings the castle down.
Wreckateer is much better than the average Kinect game. The graphics aren’t incredibly detailed, but they have a slick cartoon style, and the goblins in their different costumes and guises make amusing targets. There are over 60 castles to get through, and the range of shot types and castle designs means that there’s plenty of variety. Playing as your Xbox Live Avatar only adds to the sense of fun. Most of all, the gameplay is addictive. You’re never content to scrape a bronze when one more go might net you a silver or gold, and there’s always another way to play the level that might reap greater rewards. Plus, when it all comes down to it, blasting buildings to smithereens is always good for a laugh.
All the same, it’s not perfect. For a start, the game’s physics seem disappointingly basic. Castles and towers don’t always topple or crumble convincingly. Shoot three of four supports from a fortified bridge, and instead of tumbling down it just sits there on the remaining leg. Sometimes this is just a minor complaint, making the destruction less convincing but not really affecting the gameplay. However, at other times it’s frustrating that the towers or walls don’t behave as they should. An action that should have kick-started a chain of destruction only knocks down a single tower.
A bigger problem is that the controls aren’t 100 per cent reliable. Sometimes the ballista fires before you’re ready, or refuses to rotate as you move. Sometimes shots just won’t activate, leaving you with a wasted opportunity. The game lets you earn ‘mulligans’ while playing, which helps when you have a disaster, but it’s annoying when you have to use these to correct an error made by the controls. Kinect is definitely part of the fun, but it can also be the cause of all that’s most frustrating in the game.
Wreckateer is a good Kinect game. The Angry Birds-style gameplay is fun and furiously addictive, and there’s enough variety and brutal destruction to keep you entertained for a weekend or two. At just 800 MSPoints, it’s practically a must-buy if you have Kinect.
All the same, it could have been better. As with any Kinect game a lot will depend on how well the sensor works in your living room, but when the ballista fires too soon or a shot fails to activate it gets very annoying, very quickly. A more convincing physics engine would also have made the destruction more satisfying and more spectacular. Wreckateer is a good Kinect game, but it could have been a great one.