Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: 49 Games Genre: Sports Players: One - Four Launch Date: 25th November 2011
Deep Silver and 49 Games have teamed up to deliver their take on this years hottest winter sports. With the developers trying to make a fulfilling story for the campaign and including a massive amount of sports that you can play, does any of the game suffer because of this? To find out what the finished product feels and plays like, as always read on as we take you on a chilly ride in our Winter Stars review Gameplay - 7/10 When it comes to Winter Stars, I want to start the review by talking about the menu interaction that can be found whilst playing this game. Most Kinect games will normally come with the same menu scheme of hover your hand over a circle for a few seconds to select that option. Winter Stars on the other hand likes to be different by offering the gamer a whole new way to interact with the game. I say new, but in reality it isn't as it is the second game to use the system with the first being Ubisoft's Rabbids: Alive & Kicking. The system is the slide and swipe technique of navigating the game just be sliding your arm across your body. What Winter stars does on its own accord is take the system and crank it up a notch by letting the gamer choose directions dependent on what they want to do. For example if you have the option to save or not, you could swipe left for yes and right for no, whilst the system probably sounded good on paper, in reality it really isn't as it comes with its own set of problems, the biggest problems are that not only is it slow and chore some to navigate the games menus, the Kinect sensor can sometimes erratically over react and choose the wrong option.

And the crowd goes wild!
So without bashing the menu system of the game, let's move swiftly onto the story that the game has to offer us, and by now you're probably wondering A sports game with a story? You must be joking right. Well in fact no I'm not and the game does include a story which is actually quite long when compared with its campaign mode that runs alongside it. The story starts off with your soon to be coach, trying to put together a team that will take part in the Winter Stars cup, he himself also wants to take part in the Skiing aspect of the game, but a previous injury is stopping him and his colleague don't want him to risk losing his life by taking out to the snow once again. It's fair to say that he eventually takes the advice and starts to build up an elite team of competitors to go head on with their biggest rivals and with the championship. The story focuses on the highs and lows and the trials and tribulations that they must face as a team whilst working their way through the story. The story itself is broken down into little segments, but the segments all have their own story clip to go with which only helps justify the fact that the game is really long. When you start the campaign you will be met taking part in a championship to win a cup, once you win this you will then be met with a crossroads in the career map that will ask you to partake in one of two challenges. Upon beating a challenge you will then be able to keep progressing towards the end of the story unlocking parts of the map a you progress. This is how the story is done and it can work really well at times. The reason I say it works well at times is mainly down to how you choose to play the game when you first start it up. There are two ways that you can play Winter Stars and they are either normally or in family mode. If you decide to play the game normally then you will have to take part in all of the different games with no sort of assists at all. Playing normally is quite a challenge and will prove to be quite difficult for most players as the control scheme is laid out as If you were actually partaking in the sport instead of your living room. Family mode however is a simplified version of the game and by simplified I mean the game pretty much runs itself with the gamer just needing to do a few actions in order to toggle speed boosts during the games. Family mode is a nice alternative to the way you can play the game and at times can be more fun to play then normal mode especially without the stress. However when playing the story, the cups themselves can be done whilst playing in family mode, but the challenges have to be done in normal mode, and with the name challenges and normal mode being put together, you will find yourself partaking in the challenges quite a lot and replaying them over and over until you manage to fulfil the requirements of said challenge. The game ships with a massive amount of sports that you can take part in, all of them come in normal and family mode versions and whilst some of the sports are fun to take part in, others simply do not work or respond all that well to the way Kinect is set up to operate. With how much you are asked to do at anyone time in a certain sport in normal mode, you may as well have the feeling of doing a backwards handstand whilst rubbing your stomach and tapping your head. Multiplayer is pretty much dead, which means you're not going to find many people playing this game online, this is a shame though as the game let's you tailor your online experience the way you want to play and comes with quite a lot of different options to choose from when playing. Unfortunately because of how dead the online component is, I never got to try out the online aspect of the game so cannot express my views on that matter. But from what I got to play locally, it looks as if it could have been a blast and real competitive. So overall, gameplay wise the game comes with its strengths and weaknesses, some of the sports should have been adjusted more and tailored to fit living room needs instead of expecting you to have the space and agility to do many things at once. If the presentation of the game was better laid out as well and not such a chore to work through then this could have been a nice tidy package.

I can sense a head on collision with a tree
Graphics - 6/10 Ill be the first to admit that the graphics in Winter Stars or nowhere near the best you're ever going to see when playing on your Xbox 360. Let's start with the character models. The character models are all made to look individually unique, and in terms of what they look like when it comes to hair and size of their body they kind of do. However the first four members of your team all look like they were placed with the same in game face modelling. The guys look emotionless and the women look like men, I'm unsure what happened or went wrong when designing these four characters but obviously somebody didn't get the memo to change them up. As you progress in the story you will get other characters that join your team and luckily enough they do start to look individual and different to the last person. The scenarios that the sports take place in are also pretty lifeless and contain some bad textures that you will notice when you crash land somewhere on the course. Its only saving grace when it comes to the graphics of the game is that, some of the sports do actually look really good but others look quite rushed and again lifeless with plastic looking trees and rocks.

Hunting athletes is a new sport in Winter Stars
Sound - 6/10 Just like the graphics department, this is a pretty mixed bag as well. Whilst trying to keep it short and simple and straight to the point, Winter Stars features a nice backing song, and that is all it is. The game features one song that you will hear throughout much of your stay in game and whilst it helps fit the mood perfectly, the game could of done with more songs just like it. Voice acting is where the game really looses points though, I'm not sure if the voice acting was supposed to be intentionally this bad when it came to accents for the characters or if the voices were indeed produced by the guys who made the game hence why none of the accents really stay the same. Some of the dialogue is laughable and sometimes sounds like it was just phoned in and the actor couldn't be bothered to read the lines, nothing about it screams we care for the story so you should also. However the sound effects in game are pretty good and they help fit perfectly in place. Hearing moans and groans from your player as he hits the floor with a thud to hearing the wind whistle past your head as your in mid flight to the ice scraping as you take part in your performance in the ice skating, the sound effects really help capture the sports and I guess ultimately this is how it should be, forget the bad voiceovers and the one track music that plays in the background. A game about sports should obviously capture the sound effects that revolve around said sport, and Winter Stars just about manages to do something correct with the sound and does indeed capture what it could sound like to be an athlete undergoing these sports in competition. Difficulty - 8/10 If you cast your mind back to what I discussed in the gameplay section of the review, I mentioned you can play the game in two different difficulty modes, those being normal and family. Dependent on which you decide to choose then depends on how difficult you want your overall experience to be. Normal mode can be really difficult for some sports such as Para skiing or even snowboarding but easy as pie when it comes to normal skiing and bobsled racing. The controls can be hard to overcome for newer players to adjust to and will no doubt take a lot to memorize and adjust to if you want to do well in all of the sports in normal mode. However family mode really does make the game that much more easier by practically walking you through every step and asking you to do literally one movement every ten seconds or so to make you feel like your still a part of the game. Whilst this is an easy alternative it can be quite boring as you find yourself standing in front of your TV for the majority of the time that you play. The only difficulty aspect of the game if you do however choose to play in Family mode will come in the shape of the challenges in career which will tell you that you have to play in normal mode to take part in them. Seeing as how you cannot progress in the story without taking part in the challenges along the way, you're going to need to hone your skills no matter what.

May look impressive, but you never actually see this view
Achievements - 7/10 Some gamers have gone on to say that the achievements in Winter Stars are stupidly hard, myself personally I think they are only as hard as you make them out to be and some are incredibly well thought out and original and help place you in the game or sport that you're taking part in. Each of the sports come with their own set of achievements and requirements to obtain, some will border on the easy such as taking part in a sport without colliding with anything, if you play in family mode this is almost a given as the A.I controlling your character will normally always take the fastest and safest route to the finish. Whilst some of the harder achievements for the sports come in the shape of performing all possible tricks for that sport within a certain race, obviously again if you play on family mode this should be easy if you're A.I player takes a route with a lot of jumps in, but if not then your going to need to play yourself and not only find the ramps to make the stunts, but you will also need to have the right speed as well. However you do get achievements for progressing through the story, some of the cups that you can partake in carry achievements for finishing first in them, and as you progress the point values start to get larger the further on in you go. If that isn't enough for you either, you also get awarded for partaking in all of the cups in a certain area of the story. Some of the more versatile achievements come in the shape and form of earning fairplay awards during your activities, these are granted for not trying to beat up or damage the other players in anyway shape or form. These are actually more trickier to obtain also then you may expect. There are also achievements for buying all of the upgrades for your team members and for levelling up during your play time, both these achievements will take some time to achieve though because of the lack of experience points you get for taking part in areas of the story. Overall the list isn't a bad one, it does contain some easy achievements which will please achievement hunters but to obtain all forty nine achievements in game will take many hours of playing and skill to achieve, if you're going to try then you better be ready for the long road ahead of you. Summary Winter Stars is the first real game to hit Kinect that focuses on winter sports as a whole and not just one off sports such as Ubisoft's Motion Sports series. Whilst this is indeed a daring prospect and one that 49 Games has tried to pull off, sadly hits the mark in more ways then one. More fine tuning could have been done to make sure the game was more responsive and user friendly to the gamer. Also add in a better graphic system and voice actors and this game could have been much better then it was. Ultimately though it helps fill that void in the games industry that others shy away from. And with that said hopefully, whoever decides to take on the sure to be released Olympic Winter Games will take aspects of the game from Winter Stars and ultimately fine tune it and make it better.


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