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Wipeout: In the Zone

Score: 58%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Behaviour Interactive
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Sports

Graphics & Sound:

Wipeout: In the Zone sounds like a great idea. Take Wipeout, a game show based around physical stunts and toss in Kinect, a controller built for physical control. The two seem destined for each other, but the end result isn't what you would expect. The right ideas are in place, but technical issues send the game tumbling into the water.

Wipeout: In the Zone is an Avatar-enabled game. You can take your personal Avatar into the game, or use one of the pre-made "characters," including unlockable versions of the show's hosts, John Anderson, John Henson and Jill Wagner. The Avatar likenesses are really good and add a fun look to the game. All three hosts voice their Avatars. There's plenty of commentary from the Johns. It's funny, though you will hear some jokes more than you would like.

Courses are designed to reflect the same art style as Avatars, so nothing looks out of place. Some of the basic courses look a little bland, though the Wipeout Zone looks really cool.


Gameplay:

Wipeout: In the Zone is divided into a series of episodes set up to resemble the TV show. All of the obstacles are from the show, though a few have been modified. A few changes are so they work better with the game, though a few tip towards a more extreme version. It's the plus side to contestants who can't get hurt.

Each episode plays out exactly like it does on the show. The two Johns offer their comments on the course, interjecting jokes whenever possible, before throwing it down to Jill Wagner. Once in the circle, you're interviewed and jump to begin. You then run through the course. Each obstacle requires different movements. You'll have to run, jump and even dodge. Wipeout: In the Zone deserves credit for including a number of varied motions - probably more than any other game - in short bursts of time. However, the combination of lag and momentum stoppers, like getting caught in an obstacle, hurt the experience.

Multiplayer is available, and one of the few areas where Wipeout: In the Zone actually shines. Each player takes turns running the course while other players try to throw off their balance. Of course, the motion tracking issues do a better job than players, but it is always fun to watch friends act like fools.


Difficulty:

Wipeout: In the Zone's episodes are available in three difficulty levels: Easy, Medium and Hard. Each contains the same events, though with more demanding parameters. Obstacles move a little faster and demand more movement out of players.

Even on Easy, the technical issues get in the way and muck up the experience. Jump zones are clearly marked in green, indicating the best time to jump. It doesn't always work that way; I either had to jump before reaching the green area to make sure my Avatar jumped when he hit the green area, or the movement wasn't read, sending my Avatar running forward into the water pit. I wish this was an isolated case, but nearly every motion in the game suffers from the same issue.

Some allowances are made to help alleviate frustrations. You can hold up your arms at any time and skip ahead but you're slammed with a massive time penalty. Using an "out" will destroy any chances of winning, though you can at least pass troublesome obstacles.

A training mode introduces you to all of the obstacles in the game and how they work. Though it can help you work out some timing issues, the pop-up messages before each obstacle kill any momentum you may have built up. This is especially problematic during jumps. It's a good idea, but doesn't help as much as it should.


Game Mechanics:

Before going any further, I tested the game under every circumstance I could. I re-calibrated the Kinect, even using the face card; brought in a pair of lights from work; purchased a Kinect mount for the back of my TV; and even tried it at a friend's house. If there's an ideal place to play the game, I couldn't find it, which is a shame because I really wanted to enjoy Wipeout: In the Zone and thought it would be a "Must Play" when friends came over.

If you own a Kinect, you know there are still issues that need to be worked out with the controller. I've had problems with some games not reading movements, but not as much as Wipeout: In the Zone. I got the best results using over-exaggerated motions, though these weren't the most comfortable actions. I had to practically goose-step to get my Avatar to walk; running was even harder. One obstacle requires walking while balancing, which is really hard when you're forced to use high-knee steps. Even with the big motions, the motions wouldn't always go through.

Some of the problems seem related to the amount of lag between movement and it happening on the screen. I expect some lag between big motions, like jumps or running, but there's a slow pick-up on even small gestures. Holding your hands in front of your body is supposed to hit the brakes, but it doesn't work all the time. The lag gets so bad at times it will read the wrong motion. Sometimes jumps are read as ducks or the hand motion causes you to walk backwards. Unless you manage to find a sweet spot, there's no telling what will happen.

Wipeout: In the Zone is more potential than product. That doesn't mean it is a total wash; you can still have fun with friends if you just want to watch each other stumble through obstacle courses. At the same time, the fun of friendly humiliation is brief. With a few tweaks Wipeout: In the Zone could be great, but until that time you should probably avoid the purchase.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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