We all knew it would happen: Along with the Kinect, the completely controller-free motion-gaming peripheral, a slew of out-the-door titles would release. Many of these games are nothing more than a collection of themed mini-games, glued together by some sort of hub or loose story concept. Among its sports game brethren, Deca Sports Freedom takes a similar approach, while offering a slightly more “edgy and alternative” selection of sports to choose from.
On paper, Deca Sports Freedom sounds like it mixes some alluring sports ideas, like paintball, archery, kendo, and dodge ball, with more standard fare, such as tennis, beach volleyball, boxing, and skiing. Figure skating and snowboarding round out the list of available athletic events to compete in on your own or against your friends. The concept is sound, and the game distinguishes itself from its direct competitor, Kinect Sports, by offering a (mostly) unique listing of events, except for boxing and beach volleyball, which are present in both games. More importantly, to the casual back-of-the-box-browsing shopper, Deca Sports surpasses Kinect Sports by offering ten (!) events, versus the other’s six.
All the Right Moves?
Motion-controlled games live or die based on their control and playability more so than just their content, and this is Deca’s biggest flaw. I found in my time with the game that the controls were not exactly UNresponsive, but rather responded…differently…than I intended them to. For example, while playing tennis, I executed the standard motions for volleying the ball across the net. My avatar, on the other hand, would either wildly flail the tennis racket about in front of him, or stand stock-still, possibly exhibiting a graphical twitch or two, while my opponent’s serve zoomed right by. During serves, it was sufficient for me to make a vague hand gesture above my head, and my avatar would crank a rocket straight into my opponent’s corner. And for those fancy-pants who like to make their opponent eat it with a well-placed backhand, forgetaboutit! This seems to be too much to ask of the game. I know the Kinect is capable of better than this; I’ve seen it respond well in titles like Dance Central.
Meanwhile, executing my moves in beach volleyball worked decidedly too well. No matter how flubbed my actual movements were, as long as they were timed well, Deca interpreted them as me popping the ball up, which was inevitably followed by my partner setting me up for a spike, and me literally hovering in mid-air to slam the ball across the net. Every time. Without fail. Now, I’m all for the opportunity to set up a nice, juicy spike for the other team to chew on, but there should be some chance of failure – after all, this is an athletic competition, and there should be a realistic flow to a match, not spike after spike after spike. The avatars in this sport move across the sand on their own to wherever the ball will land; as long as you time your motioning well, you will make contact – although it often looks as though the ball rebounded from your ankle rather than you actually making contact with it.
The game’s motion sensing becomes very finicky in the menu screens as well. All too often I was forced to return to the previous menu because I inadvertently made some selection or other without meaning to, either because I was scratching my head or I didn’t move my hand fast or slow enough to choose the desired option. And boy, does this game have menus! Menu after menu; an endless succession of them. Don’t be surprised to spend more time navigating through menus to get to a specific event than in the event itself. Oh, and loading screens: You’ll go through about two or three on your way through the menus, before a round can even start. If you have a soft spot for menus and loading screens, you won’t be disappointed here. This would be more acceptable if the menus actually had a pertinent and important function, but often you will be led to a sub-menu jus to answer (for the fourth or fifth time) whether you’re left or right-handed, or just to remind you of what roster you chose two menu screens ago! The endless waiting was, by far, the most annoying part of this game, and will ensure that any kind of chance at providing fun and enjoyment as a party game is quickly killed.
Penalty for Unsporsmanlike Conduct
Graphically, the game is pleasing to look at. Nothing is bursting with realism, but then again that’s not what you’d expect of an avatar game world. The various game arenas and stadiums are colorful and detailed. They’re not broken or hideous, but, due to the limited physical size of the various event fields, not particularly impressive, either. The color palette is generally bright and cheerful, if not quite as tropical as Wii Sports Resort. The soundtrack features forgettable and repetitive adrenaline-pumping faux-techno beats, which you’ll likely tire of during your first slog through the menu-swamp.
Even though the game’s presentation is somewhat unremarkable, the AI takes first place in terms of ludicrousness. Your computer-controlled opponents rarely act in situationally appropriate ways. Either they are able to make unrealistic saves and plays (beach volleyball), or they seem to be oblivious of what’s in front of them and react with the speed and agility (and athletic ability) of roadkill possum. The latter is most harshly evidenced during dodge ball and paintball, the two events I had looked forward to the most. Sadly, there’s absolutely zero challenge in the odds you’re facing in these events; especially your adversaries in paintball seem to be suffering from multiple coma-like symptoms, as they will often refuse to shoot you even if you’re plainly in the open, standing still, with their entire team facing you from about ten feet away. The only enjoyment to be derived from paintball is to see how many players you can pick off while standing exposed at the enemy spawn-zone.
Ironically, there’s one sporting event that almost does it right: figure skating is the only mini-game I found any enjoyment in. During this event, you must match the on-screen poses displayed for you on the ice as your skater glides through them to make him execute different poses for points; hold your pose to make him hold his pose. Imagine a contextual God of War-like button-pressing battle scene, minus the blood, monsters, and evisceration, and using your body instead of a controller, and you’ve got an approximation of what the figure skating event is like. I can’t help but think that developer Hudson would have been better served incorporating dynamic, on-the-fly poses like this into their other events. It might have provided some salvation for events that could be fun with a proper way to control them.
On a final note, there is an option to play any of the game’s sports online via Xbox Live against opponents, but the games themselves aren’t any different from the single-player or multiplayer modes. The only noticeable difference if you decide to go online is an extra slew of menus to wade through, only to find it almost impossible to be matched up with another player. Yeah, the functionality’s there, but good luck finding anybody willing to still play this game, not to mention the exact game mode you’ve also selected.
The Final Verdict
Let this game keep its back-of-the-box appeal, since that is where the ideas in it actually sound good. General unplayability, a plethora of motion-sensing problems, and menus galore mean that the only enjoyment you’ll get from this game is that distinctly sadistic pleasure of watching the ones you love struggle through it, and occasionally chuckling exasperatedly at the goofy ways you managed to succeed despite your best attempts.