It's strange: You hear good things about EA Sports Active 2.0 and really bad things about it.

So, what's up with that? And would it be better to buy Your Shape: Fitness Evolved for Kinect or EA Sports Active 2.0?

Well, I ended up buying EA Sports Active 2.0 for Kinect two days ago. I had first bought Your Shape: Fitness Evolved and used it for 1.5 weeks now. So, after using Your Shape:Fitness Evolved (which I will abbreviate YS:FE in the following) for a week (approximately 30 minutes every other day) and EA Sports Active 2.0 (which I will abbreviate EASA2 in the following) for 3 days (2 full 20 minute workouts), let me share my first impressions.

Please note that all of these are just my personal opinions. I hardly do any sports and see these programs as a way to get me motivated to get back into shape without having to call a babysitter for the kids every time I want to meet with a trainer. So, you may disagree with my views here depending on what's important for you. Also, the fact that I have used EASA2 and YS:FE for just a relatively short time should be and indicator that I may be overlooking stuff here. But given that several geezers think about getting Kinect for Christmas or this Friday, I felt I'd rather put my finding out now than wait for a few more weeks.

I aplogize for the length of this post - but I had a lot of thoughts I wanted to cover. If you don't want to spend the time reading everything, you can just read the first sentence of each section and the entire "Overall" section.


Menu/Interaction:

Clear winner is YS:FE.

I find myself using the controller a lot in EASA2. Even if I hold my hand really still, the hand icon in EASA2 keeps moving around a lot and the menu items seem to be too small and too close together for good motion-controlled navigation in EASA2. It works slightly better if you stand really far away from the camera. But it's still not great.

And now immediately to the biggest bug in EASA2: Voice Recognition. OK, officially voice recognition for Kinect is not supported here in Australia, but it still allowed me to enable voice recognition and folks in the US seem to experience the same problems with it as I do. After about 5 minutes into my first workout session I had to turn voice recognition off again. The game would constantly jump back into the Tutorial screen in the middle of an excercise - or open the Jukebox. And that with no noise in the room - just the audio from the game. But apparently it interpreted it's own trainer's comments as voice commands.

Also, EASA2 has the big problem to be an EA product. Why is that bad? Because of EA's servers and the fact that every EA game seems to require to talk more to these servers than to interact with the player. Today when I started the game, the game seemed to be frozen again after I selected/confirmed my profile and my save location (i.e. harddrive). If that happens, do yourself a favor and don't restart the game. It won't help. It's just that it takes the game forever (a minute or more) to read your profile and to interact with the EA server (for whatever reason). So, the fact that the progress indicator is stuck doesn't mean that the game is frozen. Pay attention to the water in the background: If you still see the waves moving, it means that the game is not frozen but just waiting for responses from EA's servers.

Talking about starting the game: It's really annoying that EASA2 takes a long time to load (i.e. 30-40 seconds or more) - and it doesn't change if you install the game on the harddrive - indicating that it's probably again just waiting for responses from EA's servers. Also, it's annoying that if you "opt out" of sharing your workout data with EA and it's third party partners, it will ask you to "opt in" every time you start the game.
 

Set up:

Clear winner is again YS:FE.

It's not only impressive to go through that whole body scan thing in YS:FE, but I also spent a lot less time setting up my character in this game and getting started with some excercises. One thing that was really annoying in EASA2 was that it asked for your height and weight while having "imperial" measurements set as default. (That's probably not a problem for most folks here. But even after having spent 9 years in the US, I am still more comfortable using the metric system, than the imperial system. Also, my scale here only shows kg, not lbs. Yes, we use the metric system here in Australia.) So, I had to convert my metric numbers to imperial. Only after I was done with that initial set up I was granted access to the main menu which had the Help & Options button in which I could change the setting to "Metric". But surprise: After changing that, the game reset my weight to a default value. Also, it's funny to see how EASA:2 asks for your height and YS:FE simply uses Kinect to measure/estimate your height. Finally, I don't give a damn for the character creation (choose your face, T-Shirt,...) etc. in EASA2. I actually prefer YS:FE's version of the character.


Workouts:

Clear winner is EASA2.


The variety of excercises seems a lot more balanced in EASA2. You actually have to bring your hands down on the floor from time to time. I have yet to find one excercise that requires me to touch the floor in YS:FE. Also, there is a lot less repetition in the excercises in EASA2. Try the "Nice and Easy" workout program in YS:FE. It gets really annoying: "Let's do 8 squats." "OK. Great! Now, as the next excercise I've chosen Squats for you. So let's do 8 Squats."... WTF?! Sometimes YS:FE even repeats this 3 times. The workout generator in YS:FE seems to randomize the excercises in a workout without any regard to the previous excercises that were randomly chosen. You see that some users of EASA2 did complain about having to do straight planks right before push ups - but that's not nearly as bad as what YS:FE does to you.

Also, another big plus for EASA2 is that it starts every program with a bit of warm up/stretching-excercises and ends it with a bit of cool-off/stretching excercises. That cannot be found anywhere in YS:FE. Of course, YS:FE constantly suggests that you can do a ZEN workshop for cooling off. But it's not integrated into your workout program.

Additionally, EASA2 actually allows you to either select a predefined program or - and this part is completely missing in YS:FE - it allows you to define which area of your body you want to work out (full body, core, upper body,...) and how much time you have for the workout. The system then creates a program that fits these criteria. Again: That's not a feature available in YS:FE.

Finally: This may be a small thing, but it's just another difference between the two games: EASA2 actually reminds you to go and drink some water in the middle of your program. I haven't seen YS:FE do this so far. Of course, EASA2 could again learn something from YS here: If the game tells you "Go and get some water." it should be smart enough to see that you just left the room to go to the kitchen to get some water. But no. While YS:FE immediately complains "Where do you think you're going?" if you leave the play area, EASA2 completely ignores the fact that you're done and continues on with the next excercise. There isn't even a short break implemented that actually would allow you to go and get some water when the system tells you to do so.
 

Feedback:

Clear winner is YS:FE.


The system seems to do a much better job actually tracking your whole body and giving you very specific feedback. Sure, at times it can be annoying when you know you're doing the excercise correctly but the game just has difficulties detecting certain parts of your body correctly. And sometimes I feel YS:FE is too unforgiving if you get just a little bit out of sync/rhythm. But most of the times, the feedback in YS:FE is very useful.

In EASA2, the feedback seems to be more limited. Nothing that really hurts the system, but a bit more specific feedback would be appreciated. In the warm-up and cool off excercises, EASA2 doesn't track your body at all. You can actually leave the room and the game doesn't complain. Sure, EASA has the heart rate monitor - and it seems to work reasonably well. So that has some other benefits.
But for the actual movements, I think EASA2 can learn a lot from YS:FE. Especially, if you care about Yoga/Zen excercises, YS:FE seems to be the better system as it better leverages the capabilities of Kinect.

By the way: It seems that EASA2 is doing a better job, if you place the camera underneath your TV. In the first session I placed it on top of the TV and the game would at times have difficulties tracking me correctly when I do push ups or run in place. In the second session I placed the camera underneath the TV (and did all the kinect tuning before starting the game) and the game seemed to be able to track me better. The disadvantage is that having the camera underneath my TV requires me to stand even further back than if the camera is on top of my TV.


Motivation:

Clear winner is EASA2.


The program actually starts by setting some goals for you. You can redefine them. You can view all of your statistics over time. A calendar is included. The goals actually can have time limits (e.g. do x number of excercise sessions this week, or excercise for four hours this week). The predefined programs are set for a given time frame (you have a 3 week and a 9 week program) and you can choose which days in the week you want to excercise. (Note: If you buy the game and want to use it immediately, make sure you set the current day to be one of your excercise days. My problem was I wanted to keep Wednesdays free, so I set it to be a rest day. But I bought the game on a Wednesday and wanted to try it right away. The game wouldn't let me, because it's a rest day. So I had to go back and change the schedule - something which you can even do in the middle of your 3 week or 9 week program.) In EASA2, you can also create workout groups to which you can invite your friends and share your workout experience. I haven't tried that yet though. All of these features are accessible through EA's webpage (which at it's current stage is a beta version... it's mostly functional though).

YS:FE on the other hand doesn't really provide any motivation to the user to come back and excercise again (other than the XBL achievements). Sure, YS:FE also has a webpage in which you can set a goal. But compared to EASA2, this functionality is really limited (e.g. I couldn't find a way to set a time limit for achieving goals in YS:FE). Also, the lack of a calendar in the game really is the main factor for why this game loses a lot of points in the "motivation" section IMO. The calendar was the main feature that made me come back to Wii Fit (even though that game/system wasn't great).
 

Overall:


Despite the bugs and the annoying "Contacting EA server" messages, I prefer EASA2 over YS:FE. I know this may come as a surprise after everything I said above. But I just see EASA2 keep me more motivated to actually come back and excercise. Also, the range of excercises seems to be wider in EASA2 and I feel EASA2 challenges my entire body more than YS:FE. Do I regret buying Your Shape:Fitness Evolved? A bit - but then again I and my wife will be certainly using it for the Zen programs. I just wish Ubisoft and EA would combine their efforts and bring out a YourShape:Sports Active that uses Ubisoft's body tracking and interface, and EA's workout programs/excercises, trainer and motivational tools.


Another note regarding EASA2:
You can find a lot of complaints about EASA2 here and here.

Let me just quickly comment on some of the main complaints that you see in there:
  • Menus and Jukebox constantly popping up: Turn of voice recognition! That solves the problem. The voice recognition is bad and interprets the in-game trainer's commands! I never had that problem re-appear after I turned off voice recognition.
  • Game doesn't recognize player anymore - needs time to re-recognize player: Improve your lighting AND don't stand too close to the camera. Make sure you go through all of the steps in the Kinect Tuner. Also, for the floor excercises: Don't get down onto the floor before the game actually tells you to do so (you'll see a text message)! If you get down too early, the camera is not prepared to follow you and will miss the fact that you sat down on the floor - therefore thinking you left. Also, make sure that, during the water breaks, you still face the camera while drinking water. If you keep your back turned to the camera for too long, the game forgets who you are until you turn back to the camera. And then you have to confirm again that it's really you. But that only happend to me twice so far (once each day). So it's not such a big deal, IMO.
  • Game freezes too often: Be patient! It's an EA game. It's probably not frozen, but just waiting for responses from the awfully slow EA servers. Let the game sit there for a minute. Don't restart it. It'll take that long again after you restarted it - so that doesn't help. Pay attention to the background: If the water still moves but the progress indicator doesn't, it's still running and not frozen. BTW: These long waits (30 seconds plus) that give you the impression the game is frozen usually only happen when you first start the game or when you go in to create your own music playlist for the game. Otherwise, I haven't had to wait too long. Yes, you still have to wait for server responses every now and then, but those waits usually aren't longer than 10 seconds and they NEVER happen during a workout session (at least not so far - knock on wood).
Let me know if there's anything I forgot to cover that you'd like to have some info about.