Imagine a charismatic young figure skater - a figure skater who, after a troubled early career, seems poised to take an Olympic gold medal for pair skating. Now, imagine that her dancing partner is a cow in a shopping trolley. That's kind of what it's like playing Ubisoft's Fighter Within, the only full-priced Xbox One launch game that requires the new and improved Kinect sensor to function, and perhaps the worst Kinect game I've ever had to review.
There are a number of reasons why Fighter Within is terrible, and in a time-saving twist, some of them are appreciable before you've even glimpsed the game in action, let alone slid the hateful disc into your drive. In terms of the aesthetic and control vocabulary, this is a 3D arena fighter after the heart of franchises like Tekken and Dead or Alive. There are combos, special attacks that require you to fill a meter, countermoves in which you weave around blows in slow motion, environmental takedowns (such as the dreaded "Stick Attack" and "Jump Off Pole"), ring-outs and finishers.
The trouble is, this is also a fighting game where you perform the moves yourself, albeit in an abstracted form - hilariously, finishers see you flicking your ankle up like somebody wiping their foot on a doormat, while the most damaging specials are pulled off by way of frenzied pushing motions, as though you were trying to shove your opponent down an invisible flight of stairs.
Even given pitch-perfect recognition, and the recognition is seldom that, this introduces the sort of latency that would have an Evo tournament pro cramming puppies into the nearest food-blender. There's a reason the people who can perform 100-hit Killer Instinct beatdowns rarely take part in actual karate championships - those people don't want to be constrained by the limitations of their flesh. Fighter Within thus feels like a slap to escapism's face. "Thought you were the ultimate warrior?" it seems to ask. "Screw you. Show us a decent round kick, little man, or suck on this Game Over screen."
Before you can actually play Fighter Within, you'll need to overcome its mightiest opponents: the menu screens, which are broken up into big, theoretically user-friendly button panels that you have to "push" for a few seconds using a sluggish, fretful cursor. Idiotically, voice commands aren't supported save for the Xbox One's global commands. Thus, starting a fight is almost as aggravating and arbitrary a process as actually having one. Nice consistency there, Ubisoft.
In the developer's defence, the recognition can be serviceable at times when it comes to basic punches, kicks and blocks, providing you take care to position yourself at a reasonable distance and resist the urge to flail. More advanced tactics such as throws - a grabbing motion that's often mistaken for a punch - or counters - duck and punch, or block low and kick - are all but impossible to perform with the speed and efficiency even a low-rent fighter such as this demands.
The AI does its best to make things easier for the player by virtue of being utterly awful, rattling out rickety canned strategies, yet often overwhelms you regardless via some kink of misrecognition. Beyond the opening few matches in "Initiation" mode, matches thus boil down to two things: staccato flurries of high and low blows, paring itty bits of health away, and cynical exploitation of the game's idiot-proof "Ki" moves, which allow you to instantly lop off huge chunks of vitality by way of a mid-match cinematic.
No, you didn't read that wrong - there are, indeed, mid-match cinematics, during which you're granted a welcome respite from the onerous job of actually interacting with the game. It's hard to imagine anything more contrary to what it means to be a fighting game, though Fighter Within does claw back a little common ground by way of its story interludes, which are just as stomach-turning and over-played as any you'll find in Street Fighter and co. They give you ample opportunity to really fall out of love with the characters themselves, a mixture of voodoo priestesses, Russian bikini models, the obligatory wrinkled old monk, and a man who sounds like Hugh Jackman's impression of a Cockney, as brought to life by H&M.
Fighter Within doesn't even succeed in terms of the pound-per-hour ratio. There are only 12 combatants to experiment with, all trading on the same basic pool of inputs, an Arcade mode, a story mode and some bolt-on local multiplayer, so you can be angry and disappointed in company. About the nicest thing I can say about it is that it doesn't look too bad: photo-realistic flesh glistens with blood and sweat, and the costumes are rife with physics-driven dangles. But looks don't count for much when the mere act of unpausing a match elicits tears of frustration. Kinect has hit the bottom of the barrel with Fighter Within. Let's hope the rebound carries us up into the clouds.
Some things are best kept inside. A shambolic demonstration of motion control you shouldn't allow within a hundred miles of your Xbox One.
- Looks decent enough
- The concept is flawed
- The motion controls are broken
- The mechanics are insipid
- You aren't getting much for your money