Winter Stars Review
Written : Wednesday, November 23, 2011
By: Richard Walker
With the cold, wintry holiday season setting in, what could be better than heading out onto the virtual snow for a spot of skiing and snowboarding, or onto the ice for some figure skating, bobsledding and curling? Yes, what could be better than Winter Stars? Just about anything, as it happens. Since its launch last year, Kinect has been plagued by a whole swarm of shovelware, and at first it seems unfair to lump Winter Stars in with that rogue's gallery of crap, as it initially seems like a well put together title, but the more you play it, the more its many, many flaws begin to reveal themselves and come to the fore, like gaping gangrenous wounds on a dead walrus.
Things start off promising enough, with some nicely presented menus that are easy-to-use and navigate using Kinect, which is always a good start. But then things quickly go downhill, and not just because you're descending a mountain on skis. First of all, there's a shocking attempt at tying together the game's eleven winter sports events into a story, with dreadful cutscenes setting up each cup tournament that you'll need to get podium positions in if you want to progress. You're part of a team of winter athletes whose fortunes are on a downturn, and it's up to you and your gestural prowess to return the winter stars to their former glory. If you can be arsed that is.
"Woo! I've ripped my crotch!"
Once you're on the piste, track, rink or whatever, the first problem with Winter Stars is the ludicrous amount of space you need to make it work properly, or as well as it can under the circumstances. Of course, it's well-documented that you need a fair bit of room for Kinect, but we've never encountered a game that made full use of the entirety of our lounge, pushing us right into the corner of the room. For the record, our lounge isn't all that small either. Daring to inch towards the sensor results in an annoying message flashing up to tell you that you're too close, when in fact we're almost three metres away. We fiddled extensively with the Kinect tuner to no avail, making Winter Stars hands down one of the most frustrating experiences we've ever had with Kinect.
It's not all bad though, and if you have the requisite distance between you and Kinect, some of the events can be just about bearable, although winning them is another thing entirely. Getting to grips with the bobsled, the biathlon, downhill skiing and figure skating in the first part of the career mode is interminable, and even the interactive tutorials fail to make things any clearer or easier. For a Kinect game apparently aimed at a casual audience, it's simply too difficult. Some of the events are better than others, but the likes of figure skating and biathlon are just painful. Later sports in the career (assuming you even bother to get that far) demonstrate that there's potential on show in some of the events, but ultimately the execution invariably falls flat.
"This is about as exciting as it gets."
Snowboard cross, paraskiing, snowmobile, ski flying, downhill skiing, ski freeride, bobsled, curling, biathlon, short track and figure skating are the eleven events on offer, and all manage to mess up what should be an exhilarating ride – curling and figure skating excepted, of course – with skittish controls, and poor implementation. Even hitting the adrenaline by stretching out your arms fails to illicit much of a thrill. And sure, the career mode might be lengthy, but it's as dull as icy brown sludge and won't hold your attention for long. We tried to give a toss about our whinging team of idiots, but we ended up happy to see them at a low ebb in their pitiful careers. If you're not rooting for the good guys on your own team, then really, what's the point?
Multiplayer fares better than single-player, as it enables you to share the hell with your friends and even have a crack at actually winning an event. There's local splitscreen and online multiplayer, which all works fine, but then again, when the gameplay is already piss poor, you'll find little reason to play it with friends and family beyond sheer comedy value. Should you play it with family, there are 'Family' control settings that also help in rendering it even more pointless, although granny might enjoy it if she doesn't know any better. Sadly, we do know better and Winter Stars just isn't worth the time and effort.
"If this looks like fun, then you'll love Winter Stars."
It's not even worth bothering if you're in the market for some easy achievements either, because there aren't any. Almost all of them are too bloody hard thanks to the dodgy control system, and each of the eleven disciplines in the game has several pretty bland achievements attached to them that will have you tearing your hair out. There is the odd fun cheevo thrown in, like pulling off a massive 220m ski jump and then crashing or crossing the line in reverse on your snowmobile, but these are too few and far between. The rest of the list is just workmanlike and incredibly boring.
On paper, Winter Stars could have been a fun and entertaining Kinect jaunt for the chilly months ahead, but it's easily one of the most maddening games we've ever played on the device. It's second only to Fighters Uncaged in the race for motion-controlled rubbishness, with few redeeming features and far too many faults to warrant a recommendation. It's a shame, as we rather liked the idea of engaging in some winter sports on Kinect, but we'd rather have a skiing pole forcibly inserted into our rectum pointy end up, than be forced to suffer through another second of Winter Stars.
Swish and swoosh. It all sounds perfectly fine, if more than a little dull. The voice work in career mode is flipping awful though.
The snow and ice is crisp white and beautifully shiny respectively, which is nice, but character models are truly shabby and as a whole, the game looks a bit drab and uninspired.
Playing Winter Stars is a thankless chore, with occasional flashes of what it might have been. The space required for the game indicates that it's fundamentally broken, and no amount of fiddling with the Kinect tuner seems to help. This could have been a guilty pleasure, but buy it, and you'll just feel guilty.
A long, but crummy career mode is the core of Winter Stars, and eleven events are more than enough. Online and splitscreen multiplayer is a nice touch, but when very little of it is actually worth playing, you have to ask yourself why you'd even bother.
Think you can console yourself with some enjoyable or easy achievements? Think again. This is an awful list, with only a couple of fun achievements, while the rest are career-based progress ones, or overly hard cheevos attached to each event. Again, it's uninspired and bland.
Winter Stars is yet another addition to the alarmingly large and growing catalogue of Kinect shovelware currently available, giving Microsoft's device an exceedingly bad rap. There's some potential here, but it's marred by sloppy execution, a naff career mode and gameplay that just isn't fun or engaging in any way. You'd be better off skiing over a snowy precipice into a bottomless crevice than face playing Winter Stars for any length of time.