There’s nothing worse than a game that’s a blatant, soulless cash-in, designed by committee and shoved out the door to peddle its ungraceful, broken experiences in the quickest possible manner. The Ice Age series of movies have long surpassed any aspirations of creativity and the newest chapter – Ice Age: Continental Drift – sits atop the box office charts, a testament to this summer’s lack of decent kids’ movie fare as well as the absence of the sun itself, driving moviegoers to watch anything to dodge the rain. Pity the parents who have to sit through the movie. Pity more the children whose parents buy them this lazy game designed, it seems, to instil buyer’s remorse into anyone who chose to purchase a Kinect.
Ice Age: Continental Drift - Arctic Games is another shallow collection of mini-games, most of which can be found in superior form in other, better Kinect titles. The only difference here is that it’s filled with all those Ice Age characters you know and love. There’s that... mammoth thing and that... squirrel with the nut. Yes, he was in the trailers! And that annoying, bucktooth... what is that meant to be... a sloth? Unless you’re a die hard Ice Age fan, the characters come across as disengaging, poorly animated avatars. If you happen to be a fan of the movies then they’ll be equally disappointing thanks to below-par graphics and some of the worst writing yet seen in a game. It’s a mishmash of painfully unfunny dialogue and brief vignettes - minute long black-holes of humour that seem more like non-sequiturs than skits.
The bulk of the game consists of various challenges – all skewed around ‘ice’, ‘snow’ and other appropriately cold environments – that aim to test skill but will instead test your patience. Kinect games tend to fall into two brackets – those with controls that work and those that don’t. Arctic Games lowers the bar for games with shonky motion controls – the mini-games would be easy were it not for poor movement recognition, unfairly convoluted control schemes and tutorial screens that appear once yet divulge nothing in their vague, sometimes abstract instructions. For example, a slingshot challenge – something that should be remarkably easy to work out – had a tutorial explaining how to aim but not how to release the projectile. Leaning so far back I was braced against the wall, my arms pulled back to the point of discomfort, there was no explanation of how to launch the damn coconut. Random flailing eventually saw it release but not before the targeting had been thrown off. This is but one example – nearly every game has its own horrendous, game-breaking flaws.
Perhaps the worst challenges involve Diego the sabre-tooth tiger. The first, ‘Glacier Hop’, has you running on the spot, jumping and crouching to avoid obstacles and holding your arms up to stop. Sounds simple enough until you realise that crouching to jump will stop Diego in his tracks. On top of this, some glaciers act as moving platforms, ferrying you to the next part of the level. Trying to stop precisely on this moving scenery, restart running once at the other side and leap off at the same time – all with the Kinect misreading your movement – will see you fall in the ocean and be warped right back to the start. Over and over and over again. The level was meant to be completed in less than two minutes; it took over six. It’s far too complicated for any player, let alone the age group this game so explicitly targets. Many games also require you to lean in order to move around the area or aim – unfortunately this turns out to be extraordinarily imprecise causing your character to skitter about the screen like a ten-year-old on Red Bull. You’ll end up swaying back and forth, failing to do anything but feel seasick.
Rated 3+ by PEGI, you’d think this would be an enjoyable romp peppered with inoffensive humour and familiar characters. Instead, Arctic Games is hugely difficult thanks to the broken controls and any humour evaporates thanks to the unimaginative writing, proving it a tedious affair even for younger gamers. Many of the actual cast have graciously (foolishly?) offered their vocal talents, even though they deliver it with all the enthusiasm of a government enquiry. It’s a shame that the actual actors were roped in to such a car crash of a game – even the Game of Thrones RPG was a step above this, Peter Dinklage! Most of the dialogue is found in the inter-event skits which alter dependent on your having won or lost the preceding game. Either way, you’ll be subjected to humour so bad it might cause permanent brain damage. Sometimes, two skits will follow with almost the exact same terrible attempts at comedy just in case the game didn’t think you sufficiently lobotomised.
The wafer thin plot of the game pits the Ice Age cast against a band of motley pirates. It’s inexplicable why they are pirates, but there’s little point in fretting over it – at the very least it’s mildly exciting. What’s decidedly less exciting is the ‘treasure’ that the whole competition revolves around – a pile of fruit. That underwhelming reward is your prize for enduring one of the most excruciating ‘games’ in recent memory. Despite a wealth of resources available, given that it’s based on a CGI movie, none of the rendered cutscenes have any style and the in-game graphics themselves are even worse. Some of the character models wouldn’t be out of place on an N64, let alone a console in 2012. Cave paintings from the prehistoric era would give Arctic Games a run for its money.
The Kinect has always been trumpeted as a device to make games more thrilling, more immersive and, above all, to provide a new experience. If that new experience is to feel my soul die then, good job everyone, mission accomplished. Ice Age: Continental Drift – Arctic Games is so bad that it lowers the reputation of the Kinect itself. Shovelware has always been present on every console but there was always some degree of playability involved and it never made you feel tired, frustrated and physically drained. With frequent interjections from the insipid characters mocking your inability to win, Arctic Games doesn’t just rob you of your money – it makes you feel inadequate at the same time. It isn’t even something you can buy and leave your kids playing – soon enough they too will feel the frustration, robbing them of their love of Ice Age forever. However, should you find yourself in the company of a mortal enemy, there’s a multiplayer mode you can use as an effective means of torture.
THQ were once the kings of the cheap, crude cash-in but that torch seems to have been passed. Activision obviously set some poor, disheartened team the task of making this game, apparently aiming to dominate the shovelware market as well as the FPS genre. Pray for that team, they know not what they have wrought – their crushed souls and lack of passion is evident in every facet of the game. There are so many better mini-game collections available for Kinect, one even bundled with the device. Spare yourself the money, torment and mortal embarrassment and avoid this game like the plague. ‘An ice cube’s chance in Hell’, or so the saying goes; Hell is definitely where Arctic Games belongs.