Playing in the snow.
The weather has taken a serious turn for the worse and no-one can afford to turn on their heating. So what better way to warm up than play a snow-based sports game on Kinect? I could think of a few better ways, but thankfully Winter Stars from Deep Silver is not too bad. I do wish it had a bit less snow though.
As a compilation of 11 different winter sports disciplines, you may think that you know whats coming. However, the truth is something that I wasn’t expecting at all.
Before I get started on the good and bad aspects of this game, I think it is only fair that I explain it to some degree. The Winter Stars campaign mode, the main point of interest for the single player, has a story. With characters. Y’see, not what you were expecting either.
The player begins the game by being thrown into a downhill ski race which ends in disaster. As it turns out, this sequence revolved around Jake Otis and, after spending some time recovering, he returns to his winter sports team only to find that the manager has left, the sponsors have dropped them and the majority of the team have decided to make snowmen (at least that is what I imagined). Feeling rather hard done by, Jake is about to throw in the towel when the remaining few winter sports athletes convince him that if they work hard, they can rebuild the team. It’s all very heart warming.
So, there you are, the underdogs. But the only way is up, so they say, and you enter the team into the first championship. This is a fairly straight forward collection of four events – Bobsled, Biathlon, Figure Skating and Downhill Skiing. Different characters will take part in different events and the story, in which players learn more about the characters and their relationships, carries on in between events. There is one moment of tension where one character thinks that Jake, who has only just recovered from his earlier tumble, is going to compete in the Downhill, but thankfully Jake had already realised he was not up to it. I’m not saying it is like a soap opera, but…
The gameplay itself offers both a family-friendly control option, which involves very little input from the player, or a standard option. The standard option will have the player using their entire body at different points in the game, to control what is happening on screen. Whilst some of the actions will seem understandable, if perhaps a bit mundane, such as swiping the arms to launch off with the ski poles or leaning left and right to steer, some of the motions are a bit more outlandish. They don’t all work, but I was especially impressed with the shooting in the Biathlon. This involved aiming very carefully with one hand and swiping the other hand down to actually shoot. You then bring your shooting hand back up to reload. The actions that the player has to perform are shown on screen, but it may take a few attempts to realise what is actually required, resulting in some pretty shoddy starts to the events.
It has to be said at this point that the “curse of Kinect” raised its ugly head when it came to precision. Winter Stars actually seemed fairly lenient when it came to the space requirements. But sadly Kinect did have quite regular problems with picking up certain motions. Although this didn’t really take too much away from the experience, when it happens it is frustrating. I even had a few problems with the games well laid out menu, but that is likely more down to Kinect than the game itself.
Beyond the four events mentioned above, the player can indulge in the likes of Snowboard Cross, Snowmobile Racing and Ski Jumping, or Ski Flying as they call it in the game, to name a few. Most of the different events work quite well, offering quite decent variety of gameplay techniques for the player.
Adding to the fun are the multiplayer modes. Players are able to enjoy both local play and online play across Xbox Live and participate in various tournaments and cups, with custom options available, and in various game modes. The game modes are actually quite interesting, with such offerings as Capture the Flag in Freeride Skiing or Rocket Race in Freeride Skiing, Snowboard Cross and Snowmobile. These are all quite entertaining and can give a welcome break from the laughably serious campaign.
Visually, the game looks impressive, with stunning backdrops and well recreated character animation. It is only the terrible story and cut scenes that seem to present the game as a bad, daytime soap opera that break the illusion. The problem is the ongoing story and the relationships between the characters are so bad that I find it difficult not to enjoy them. I cannot tell if they are deliberately rubbish or if it was unintentional, but either way it is hilarious.
So there you have it. Winter Stars is a budget title with some overwhelming flaws to the veneer of the game. But if you can look beyond these flaws, or even enjoy them for their awfulness, the actual events that are offered here are actually rather good, and varied. All things considered, Winter Stars is far more enjoyable that it may seem on first glance. Certainly worth a try.