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Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Blitz Games
Genre: Sports
Players: One
Platform: Xbox 360/Kinect
Launch Date: 21st October 2011


Developer Blitz Games announced not so long ago that they would be bringing a swimming based title exclusively to Kinect, pretty much as soon as the announcement was made everybody and their grandmothers were laughing at the how ludicrous the idea sounded. Could it really be possible to bring an authentic swimming simulation to a variety of gamers that would also work well on Kinect?

Blitz seemed to think so, and with that they have spent the last few months fine tuning Michael Phelps: Push The Limit, making sure the game lived up to the hopes and expectations that they themselves had set. So how does the game fare compared to other Kinect games on the market. Did the idea really work out as well as they had hoped for, and the question on everybodyís mind is, do you actually look like a fully fledged idiot flailing your arms around in the air?

Only way you're going to find out is if you read our exclusive in depth review as we dissect this title to within an inch of it's life.

Game play - 7/10

Gameplay for a sports title for this type of series many people would assume would be a hard subject to cover, after all it is swimming and when you look at it vaguely your just doing swimming motions in time to a rhythm set by the computer to beat your opponents to the finish line. Whilst that is all but true Michael Phelps Push The Limit does contain a few more aces up it sleeves that the game hopes will drag more buyers in.

The game consists of a single player campaign and a multiplayer segment, with the single player it is just you versus the computer in a one off race where you get to select your swimmer and the venue that you will be competing in. You can choose from four different types of events that you would like to take part in and each of these comes with its own three different styles of rules.

Lets take for example there are the breaststroke, butterfly, front crawl and the backstroke to choose from, no matter which one you choose you will be under a different set of pre determined parameters and each type of race is unique to the other. Once you have chosen which event you would like to partake in you will then have the chance to choose between a 50m sprint where you race as fast as you possibly can do, a normal 100m race where its two lengths of the pool to the finish and lastly there is the 150 Endurance race.

The 50m sprint is where you will start the race normally but without having to worry about your stamina or push the limit bar, youíre main goal is to just go all out and swim as fast as you can do to the finish line. These events are relatively easy and over in a matter of seconds, but they are good fun whilst they last.

Moving onto the 100m normal race, these are comprised of starting the race and having to focus your technique and rhythm on the speed bar at the bottom of the screen. The reason for this is that if you go either too fast or too slow you will burn away your stamina at a fast pace which will leave your character swimming at a slower then usual pace. Once you complete one length you will have to turn around and come back the other way.

Depending on your difficulty the turn at the end of your first length will either be automated and you wont be required to do anything to carry on racing, or if your on one of the higher difficulties you will need to do a motion where you have to push your arm out in order to gain the best possible boost off of the back wall as you can do.

If you push too early or too late you will often find that you will have a bad turn which can be an instant race changer and may leave you without a chance to win anymore. Where as if you get the motion just right and at the right time you will achieve what the game likes to call an optimum turn which will give you a slight boost and may even push you into the lead if you was behind before.




Half man half fish



The 150m Endurance races are next up into the firing line though and whilst these are relatively the same as the 100m normal race type, you will find not only will you have to do one extra added length as opposed to the last race type, but also there are a few different rules or game changes that you will need to take notice of.

The biggest game changer is that once you get to the end of the first length in the pool you will go into a meta game where you have to use both of your hands to build up your swimmers stamina bar, if you fail to do this effectively then you will find your athlete will slow down and start to be over taken, if you are good at hand eye co-ordination though you shouldnít have a problem and should be able to keep the lead with ease.

Once the meta game ends you will then be thrust back into the race where you will have to complete the third and final length in the pool before its all over, now in both the 100m and 150m races on the final length about half way through you will encounter what the game likes to call the ďPush the Limit AreaĒ in this area you can throw out the rule book and forget all about keeping in rhythm to the game, as you will find that in this area you will have the chance to swim as fast as possible to the end of the race.

Depending on how well you kept in sync with the bar at the bottom of the screen will determine how much of a Push the Limit speed boost you will get whilst you are in the Push the Limit area. If you have managed to keep in sync well then you will probably find that your boost bar will be over half filled and will offer you a huge boost in speed whilst in the Push the Limit area. If you didnít manage to keep in time all that well then you will find that you will only get a minimal speed boost which may or may not make much of a difference to the rest of the race.

Towards the end of each race you will also be told to put your arms down and relax for a second, this is because the last feature of the game is called the Reach. In this last section its all about the timing of your hand movement, when you are told to reach out that is all you have to do. If you managed to time it correctly your swimmer will do one last speed boost towards the wall in which the race will end. If your timing was off though you will just finish the race normally with no extra effort dispersed at all.

Lets take a brief look at the career mode now in the game, this is where you will spend most of your time and over the course of your career you will be told you have to partake in three seasons .Over the course of these three seasons there are sixty events that you can choose to take part in, you donít need to take part in all of them though and you can move along as fast or as slow as you want to.

It is best that you take things slowly though because at the end of each race determining on where you finished either first all the way to third you will be granted level up points which will be used to obviously level up your character. The choice is up to you how you level up your athlete and with five different choices available and ten levels of to upgrade for each choice you will have plenty of control over what happens.

Donít be fooled though as combine this element with the difficulty of the game, if you make a simple mistake as to foolishly put stats anywhere and not focus on what areas need improvement later on in the game you will be punished by the games unruly difficulty.

Take the sixty events that the game offers you though and with a few of them being training missions, if you have actually managed to assign skill points successfully and figured out the right balance then the game will be all but over within a few hours. There really isnít a whole lot of variety on offer in the campaign and most of it will easily be breezed through if you did assign those points correctly.

At the end of each season, you will be told to take part in the annual championships which will see you compete against the very best of the best, and these can be brutal with how tough they can be especially if you make the slightest error. If you are good at the game though the reward is quite nice as you will gain further skill points to assign to ready you into the next season which will be a big boost.

The game does feature a few different multiplayer elements with those being split screen, online multiplayer and party play. Unfortunately because of how much of a niche title this is combined with the fact itís a Kinect game the multiplayer is rather dead and you will be lucky to get a game against anybody else in the world. Itís a shame because this game could have been really good online and have that real competitive edge that many multiplayer games miss out on.

Local multiplayer works as you may expect with a player standing on either side of the Kinect and competing head to head against each other to find out who is the best virtual swimmer in the home, but with the added addition of party play you can take this to a new level and choose the rules and arena to play in and have the final bragging rights over your friends and family.

Whilst yes this is a swimming simulator at heart and you canít deny that in any way shape or form, the way it has been handled for Kinect is pretty unique and it actually does work when the Kinect sensor gets along with the game. Sometimes you will find yourself just not moving or going anywhere fast, but with a slight camera angle change you will normally sort that problem out.

The season may be short but some of the other elements of the game will no doubt make up for that, and again you may be forced to play through multiple times until you figure out the right balance that will help you compete fairly and equally to the other AI players on the harder difficulties.




If he swims any faster he's going to take off!


Graphics - 7/10
To look at Michael Phelps: Push the Limit really isn't anything spectacular at first glance, most of the athletes look wooden and stiff and the crowds look even worse. The only real star who got the most attention to detail when it comes to looks was Michael Phelps himself, but even then he still looks like he doesnít quite fit into the overall gist of things.

All of the athletes do look chiselled though and well toned, this adds that layer of realism to the game though that it really did seem to miss out on. It really is a shame that with the amount of resource space that the developers probably had to play with, the final product when it comes to graphical looks on an NPC stand point, the game just looks so shallow.

It's not all doom and gloom though as the arenas that you are made to swim around in actually look pretty good, it came across that these had more time and attention to detail spent on them then the guys you would be controlling whilst playing the game. Whilst there may not be many actual arenas/pools to swim around in what is on offer is of decent quality.

One of my major gripes though was, why did all of the pools just look so dark and dismal, why couldnít there have been more settings where you were racing at day time instead of night. It didnít help the overall look of the game when everything just looks so dismal with the only lighting really coming from the pool lights.

The water effects in the game are actually pretty decent though and whilst you are swimming around you will notice a lot of splashes going on, unfortunately though most of your time will be spent looking at the in-game hud as you will be watching the marker like a hawk to see when you have to start moving your arms to coincide with the beat.

Even though you will spend a lot of your time looking at the in game hud, you will be pleased to know that the screen isnít cluttered with useless information that you don't need to know, the only thing you will see on your screen is your Push the Limit indicator, Stamina and the bar that tells you when to start moving your arms to make sure your not going too fast or too slow. The minimalistic approach helped save and salvage any bad feelings that the gamer may have whilst looking at the visuals.

Whilst the hud may look half decent, i was pretty amazed by how good the games in game presentation and menu is though. Whilst it doesnít have the menu system of a big budget triple a title, it does have a nice approach to how a menu of this games genre should work and operate. When you wave your hand across the screen to make a choice of option, it was pretty good to see that the whole background or menu as had water effects applied to it. So nothing on the main title screen will stay the same for too long.

All around though as stated previously, the graphics and presentation both have high and low points and with a little more time or resources this game could of looked better then it did, what is on offer though is substantial, just donít come into the game thinking your going to be getting the Battlefield of swimming simulations.




These guys had auditioned for Superman roles, what a surprise this was!


Sound - 6/10
When you first load up the game you will be met with some sort of techno dance riff, which at the time will sound pretty decent but you wont be thinking that every time you load up the menu after coming back from a race. So that means for all of you wondering, yes there really is only one music track featured in the game which will get tiresome pretty fast.

When you first start playing you will hear the voice of Michael Phelps himself, not having heard him talk before I wasnít sure if he sounded natural or if he just sounded like he was bored and didnít actually want to be addressing the loyal fans who have gone out of their way to help purchase the game.

The loading screens for the game are quite ambient, even though you will be seeing the loading screens every few minutes and they never change, the music in the background was a nice way of chilling out after you had just had a quick two minute workout. The music was very relaxed but again just like the main track in the game, it never changes, but on this case you wonít get to listen to it as much as the main theme.

The announcer sounded a little over the top, but that can be addressed as a good thing, it helps get the player in the mood to participate in the race and when he tells you to get the crowd on your side, the noise from the crowd is pretty decent even if it is a little on the quiet side.

The pool effects are pretty nice though and this is where the sound design shines, from the gun fire to jump into the pool down to the initial splash when you land in the water to splashing around fighting for first place, it all sounded really nice and it's obvious that a lot of time went into creating the sounds that will make up the majority of the game.

As pointed out in the game play section though if the voice recognition had actually worked with other accents then that of American this could have been a nice little package even if it was on the minimum side of the spectrum.




This guys a winner...If only he had moved from the start line!


Difficulty - 7/10
When a game like this is announced, obviously people will always wonder how the game will play and what the difficulty would be like seeing as you're not actually sitting in a proper swimming pool. The best way to describe the difficulty in this game though is simply put as itís as difficult as you make it.

What Iím trying to get at here is that when you first start to play the game, you will obviously be introduced to the tutorials and how to play the game, now whilst the tutorials do a good job of showing you how to play and the styles you need to use for certain races, putting what your learnt from the tutorials into practice is a completely different perspective. When you first start playing you will more or less come across a few timing issues and you're will have problems figuring out what you're supposed to be doing.

This is mainly down to the bar at the bottom of the screen not being explained very well and the whole point of it is your supposed to pace yourself by moving your arms when the marker passes through the perfect section in the middle. Once you eventually find this out though and adjust to how its working you will find that you will soon find yourself winning events and coming first or second in the majority of them.

This then brings you onto your second problem and that is whilst its all good and easy to start winning the majority of the events in your first season and you start splashing out all of those upgrade credits. If you donít use those credits wisely you are going to run into major problems when it comes to season two and season three.

The difficulty ramps up considerably from season to season and you are going to need to think smartly to be in with a chance of succeeding in this game, if you go in thinking you know it all and that your style is perfect then you will be very much mistaken.

You may have the fastest swimmer in the race but this means nothing if you have left your swimmers other stats at zero. Play the game safe and you will get far but if your reckless then your going to find yourself needing to restart the campaign to progress further.




Syncronised swimming event in all it's glory, wait what do you mean this was pulled?


Achievements - 7/10
This game comes with a total of fifteen achievements to round off the score at the standard one thousand available. At first glance though it becomes apparent that most of the achievements in this game will come with relative ease and most will be gained through the progression of career mode.

Overall you have five achievements that are all career related, some of these will require you to progress and to go from season to season, where as the other achievements will require you to take part in the annual games which are at the end of every season and the last career related achievement comes in the form of racing at every venue in the campaign.

There are a few other career achievements that you may be able to obtain if you are skilful enough, these come in the shape and form of coming in first place in each of the four different race types, each will net you a tasty seventy gamerscore, and a few more of the achievements will come from doing a perfect dive into the pool and a optimum push off of the wall when you come to the one end of the pool. None of these are too difficult to obtain as long as you have focussed on getting your swimmers stats correct.

To finish off the achievement list in the game, their are a few odd ball achievements thrown in for good measure, these come in the shape of hyping up the crowd before you race, this is done by flailing your arms around in the air and pretending to get yourself pumped up. The other comes from jumping the gun and diving into the pool before the clackson goes off.

The achievement list is fairly bog standard with no real originally shown in the form of how the achievements will be gained, but from the rest of the game the achievement list is just there to prove how shallow the game is in some aspects. Whilst yes it is a swimming title Iím sure the developers could of come up with more then fifteen achievables, maybe even added in some achievements for more progression or beating x event. They could of even gone as far as to say max out your swimmers x stat for so much gamerscore, this could of helped the replay ability of the title by making the gamer go through the game a few more times then the once that is needed to max out the achievements.




Pre race victory celebration, shame they all think their winners


Summary
Overall this game isnít for everybody, what the game set out to do it achieved which is as simple as that. The developers may have put out the bare minimum that it required to make a game like this but if there is a sequel anytime in the future Iím sure that their will be lots of room for improvement and enhancements.

Sadly I cant say that this is a must own game for Kinect owners because it simply isnít, the only people that this game will appeal to are the hardcore swimming fans in the world and the easy gamerscore lovers.

Again the game set out for one purpose and one purpose only and that was to be a swimming simulation, when the tracking of the Kinect sensor and the game work together the game is a pretty fun and exhausting workout. But when they donít work in sync the game will just become plain aggravating.



 

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