Behold the Internet, circa 2200. It looks a lot like the 1992 movie The Lawnmower Man imagined “virtual reality” would look — lots of whirling fragments of light and color, like an exploded disco ball seeking to reassemble itself into some new form. Long, twisting, circular tunnels of light flow past, as though I’m commuting rapidly down an intergalactic wormhole on rails — no steering needed. And the soundtrack sounds like a frantic mixtape from the early 2000s that has been run through a blender and poured out onto a dance-club floor. Behold Child of Eden.
Behold, as well, me as the Kinect sees me. From its perch beneath my TV screen, the Kinect’s glistening red eye witnesses me standing in the middle of the living room, holding my right arm stretched out in front of me, waving it around as though I were directing the rearrangement of some far-off set of furniture. “Over there. No, over there. OK, around there...” Then I flick my hand towards the screen as though rejecting everything. The soundtrack strikes a flourish.
Onscreen, my journey through the wormhole is going well. At least I think it is. Child of Eden is so full of visual whiz-bangery that it’s often difficult to determine what’s going on at all. Somewhere onscreen are flying targets that I’m supposed to identify with my little round targeting reticle, which is controlled by the movements of my hand. But with so many glistening bits of color flying around the screen, how can I be sure of the ones that I’m supposed to target? The answer is that I often can’t, and so I resort to waving my arm randomly, watching my crosshairs identify the targets as I luckily pass over them.
With each successfully identified target, the soundtrack strikes a beat — another beat, added to the flurry of beats already beating. Then flick — a laser blasts, a fancier beat beats and the targets are gone. All of this is supposed to add up to a sort of interactive multimedia extravaganza — a Gesamtkunstwerk for the Xbox 360. Occasionally it does. A sweep of my arm will result in an arpeggio of sounds, an arc of color bursts into illumination onscreen and I feel excited enough to flick the entire assemblage away into oblivion.
But most of the time, the Internet circa Century 23 feels a lot like a videogame shooting gallery. Child of Eden can be played either with the Kinect or with the standard Xbox 360 controller. The wave-aroundthe-screen motion is the same whether I’m doing it with my hand or with a thumbstick. Of course, the thumbstick doesn’t take advantage of the Kinect’s motion-sensing wizardry. But frankly, the thumbstick senses my motions just fine with its trusty analog technology. And as I’m zooming through the clattery noise and colors, it’s a lot less fatiguing than holding my arm out in front of me.
THE GOOD: Some of the imagery — luminescent butterflies, vast mutating geometric forms — is remarkable.
THE BAD: If only the game would slow down long enough for me to enjoy it all.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Child of Eden is a pretty, on-rails shooter that is also pretty predictable.