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The Gunstringer 

This shoot-'em-up proves that the Kinect isn't quite there yet.

click to enlarge Nothing says “action” like cowboy marionettes vs. car-lot wind catchers.
  • Nothing says “action” like cowboy marionettes vs. car-lot wind catchers.

I've never been told to take my time in a gunfight before. And yet The Gunstringer offered me that advice during the game. It encouraged me to slow down and aim before I fired. And I wondered: What kind of gunfighter takes his time? Then I realized the answer: a Kinect gunfighter, that’s who.

The Gunstringer is a shooter for the Kinect, Microsoft’s hands-free, motion-sensitive controller for the Xbox 360. That means that I’m not holding a fake plastic gun or a standard videogame controller. There isn’t even a thumbstick being guided by my thumbs. In The Gunstringer I find my targets simply by pointing my right hand at the screen, thumb cocked and index finger aimed just like a child’s imaginary pistol. On the television screen, a red ring traces my movements and locks onto my targets as I pass over them. Then I simply pull back my hand — bang — and fire.

The Kinect has been hampered by the fact that, so far, nobody has figured out how to give players full control of their character’s movement through the game’s virtual world. Without at least one joystick to offer commands of “forward,” “left” and “right,” players must surrender the navigation to the computer. And so The Gunstringer is a shooter on rails, gliding me automatically through the game’s landscapes, leaving me free to aim and shoot at anything I see along the way.

This sort of shooting-gallery game has been around since the arcade days, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with it. It’s an obvious solution for the Kinect. Since my body is the controller, I need to keep my body in one place, parked in front of the television within view of the Kinect’s array of cameras. If I move left or right, or turn around, I either lose sight of the screen, or the Kinect loses sight of me. And so I’m limited to what I can control by moving my arms and legs. Which means all I get to do is jump over and veer around obstacles as the game auto-pilots me along.

The real challenge, though, is aiming. And since I’m not actually targeting the screen with a pointer like I do with the Wii or the Play- Station Move, the Kinect is slower to interpret my gun movements. It can sense when I move my hand up to the right, but it can’t tell if I’m tilting my finger to point in that direction. As a result, the aiming is sluggish, requiring my entire arm to move instead of merely my hand. Whatever else The Gunstringer is, it isn’t a quickdraw.

THE GOOD: The Gunstringer only lasts a couple of hours.

THE BAD: An undead marionette cowboy gunfighter who powers himself up by eating tacos — I smell a committee at work. Once again, Microsoft has developed a character that must have seemed “edgy” and “fresh” on paper but plays entirely flat and ridiculous in the actual game. Remember Voodoo Vince the voodoo doll? What about Blinx the time-traveling cat? Or the candy-stuffed protagonists of Viva Pinata? Me neither. With any luck I’ll forget The Gunstringer just as quickly.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Cut The Gunstringer.

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