Unveiled only a month ago as part of Microsoft Studios’ pre-event press conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, Wreckateer is an Xbox LIVE Arcade title designed specifically for Kinect. Tapping-in on that magical line between destruction and family friendliness, Wreckateer brings a familiar flavour to videogames for the very first time.
Bringing together the traditions of family board games and the ‘gamification’ that translation to virtual presentation often brings, Wreckateer will immediately offer a welcoming presentation to any child of the 70’s or 80’s. More so if that child had ever found themselves attempting to establish an indestructible wall in the classic board game Crossbows & Catapults, which incidentally had no board. In Tomy’s plastic playset, players had to destroy their opponent’s castle by firing small plastic disks from elastic band-powered weaponry; here in Wreckateer, players have to destroy their opponent’s castle by firing virtual boulders from virtual catapults.
The closest comparison already available in videogame form would be Rovio’s ridiculously popular Angry Birds. The player has a limited amount of boulders to attack the enemy castle, and these boulders can take on a variety of forms: basic shot, flying shot, speed shot, split shot etc. The skill in Wreckateer is learning how these shots can be used to maximise damage on a given area of a building, and the space behind or around that area. There are a number of bonuses that can be earned for skilful shots and special token that when hit will affect the continued path of your boulder – for instance, increasing speed or adding an explosive impact – and all of these tools are called into play regularly throughout Wreckateer’s generously lengthy campaign.
As a Kinect exclusive title all actions are performed by player gestures. Everything is designed to be as intuitive as possible, from the simple swipes of menu screens to the activation command for boulder special features. Of course, Wreckateer does suffer from the typical Kinect issues of being far to fiddly to find the correct positioning and in-game limitations – there’s far more scope to push the human body than an analog stick after all – but once the happy medium between player input and resulting on-screen action is found, Wreckateer performs as you would hope: simple rock crushing action.
Despite being designed specifically for the Xbox 360 Kinect device, there are a number of areas in which Wreckateer feels under developed. The camera is one of these key issues, as there is no option to pan the area prior to taking a shot. This lack of information demands that you pay attention to enemy placements during the destruction sequence, which doesn’t often give the best view possible. Is a double-edged sword in which luck plays just as much of a role as skilful shooting, which is of course not what Wreckateer is aiming to achieve.
In addition to the core campaign are a number of special challenge events that need to be unlocked before providing special, unique rulesets, as well as the multiplayer mode. Multiplayer gameplay is restricted to local play only, which is shocking considering the lack of connection between players. Tackling the same levels one after another, players utilise their own version of the map in a simple high score competition. One might have imagined a more complicated affair given its offline restriction, such as competing directly on the same playing field or perhaps even co-operatively, but no such options exist. In fact, the multiplayer gameplay is so limited that players can’t even progress through the campaign while taking turns, nor can they play on levels which haven’t already been beaten as a single player.
Wreckateer’s visual quality is hardly remarkable, with bland textures and clichéd character design allowing the videogame to be palatable by all, but never outstanding. Just as with The Harvest’s similarities to the Halo franchise, one has to wonder why Microsoft Studios didn’t decide that Wreckateer was worthy of a Fable makeover, as it’s certainly as close to cannon as Fable Pub Games or Fable Coin Golf. The addition of Avatar FameStar promotes Wreckateer into a league that it otherwise may have missed entirely – acting in-line with Achievements in a similar fashion to Ubisoft’s Uplay system but, as might be imagined, specifically for Xbox LIVE Avatars – and combining with the usual array of unlockable Avatar Items to add further depth to the videogame’s composition.
While it’s not exactly a groundbreaking production, Wreckateer ticks a lot of the right boxes. A videogame designed to be family friendly entertainment in which the player is absorbed in a moment and then passive the next, there’s really little to suggest that Wreckateer isn’t suitable for your casual gaming night in. It’s unusual for videogames to have such a short gestation period between announcement and release – especially first-party published titles – but in the case of Wreckateer that’s undoubtedly a good thing: this is a videogame intended to be sold by word-of-mouth, and for those who are looking for something new for their Kinect device it’s more than likely to fit the bill.