B-Game might not be an officially coined term, but if it were, it would most likely be used to describe Zombie Studio’s latest Kinect-enabled shooter. Falling comfortably in to the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, this valiant but nonetheless failed attempt to bring hardcore gaming to Kinect, represents an experience low on quality but surprisingly high on entertainment.
Following a collection of four uber-cliched elite troopers as they blast their way through the fictional city of Harri (a city that could well be set in the Middle East, South America or Africa), Blackwater is being sold as a Kinect enabled FPS. The fact of the matter is though, Blackwater is little more than an energetic and less polished take on the Time Crisis series – it’s also infinitely more enjoyable if approached as such. If your taste in games fails to take in anything outside of the Call of Duty’s and Battlefield’s of this world, you can happily give this budget shooter a miss. If, however, you are the kind of gamer with fond memories of lightgun shooters and arcade style gameplay, Blackwater and it’s somewhat simplistic charms might just deliver a couple of hours of good ol’ fashioned arcade fun.
Don’t get me wrong, regardless of what kind of gamer you are, there is a hell of a lot wrong with Blackwater, but like the best B-Movies, its often outrageous faults somehow manage to contribute to its undeniably cheesy charm. The four playable characters, Devon, Baird, Eddi and Smash deliver the truly appalling dialogue with the kind of gusto and commitment that frequently brought a smile to my face (think The Expendables without the big name cast), while the simplistic gameplay, made up almost exclusively of shooting the latest brain dead goon unlucky enough to walk into your line of sight, is the kind rarely found on today’s consoles.
While many argue that to be for the best, I’m still a big fan of quick fire arcade gameplay and, despite its myriad of poor design choices and technical faults, Blackwater does deliver just that. With control of your trooper controlled automatically as you move from one location to the next, Blackwater delivers a Time Crisis-like experience in which once there, you can duck under and lean behind cover. Rather than using the classic Time Crisis foot pedal, Blackwater has you leaning and ducking using your whole body. You then use your arm (complete with invisible gun if you so wish) to hover a reticule over enemies to take them down. Beyond that, there are a few basic motion controls for kicking in doors and throwing grenades, but to be honest, that’s about the entirety of the experience. You can actually use a traditional controller to play Blackwater, but like any lightgun-inspired shooter, doing so immediately makes the experience a largely redundant one.
It may sound like simplistic entertainment, and for the most part it is, but be warned; your enjoyment of Blackwater will be intrinsically linked to how forgiving you are of its many foibles. The motion controls are often unwieldy, the aiming reticule a tad on the floaty side and the randomly spawning enemies capable of putting you in unwinnable situations. This, of course, wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the non-existent checkpoint system. Each level might not be all that long, but having to restart an entire stage after death seems unreasonably harsh – especially given Blackwater’s arcade-style gameplay. Being dragged back to the start for losing a life is one thing, but being dragged back to square one because one of your enemies magically produced a bullet that can shoot through cover is an entirely different story.
Then there is the matter of the technical issues. With framerate drops, freezing enemies and slowly loading textures, Blackwater isn’t what you would call a technical marvel. These problems are even more confounding when you take into account the game’s relatively shoddy visuals. While not particularly bad, there’s very little here to make Blackwater standout from the crowd with mostly uninspired, if non-offensive locations framing the majority of the experience and a host of enemies short on both personality and realistic animations. I am willing to forgive so much based on the game’s budget development, but there are moments of technical deficiency that are extremely hard to justify.
Blackwater then is a bit of a mess, but in spite of its problems, I found myself enjoying my time with it more than I probably should have. Despite its links to new technology, Blackwateris an undoubtedly old school experience. The gameplay is repetitive, the visuals dated and the story and delivery almost ludicrously bad. It is, however, a great deal of fun when played in short bursts and is chock full of what may well be unintentional charm. Many will have no time for it, but for some, Blackwater will prove a pleasant reminder of a simpler time.
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