With any new motion-sensing device, you’re bound to run into a developer’s project that simply doesn’t grasp how to properly use it. Last week, it was Hulk Hogan’s Main Event, a completely disconnected – and awful – “wrestling” game that was better left sitting on retail shelves. This week, sad to say, we’ve run across yet another Kinect title that had potential, but squandered it due to too many errors in development. That game is Blackwater.
Now, it’s easy to compare an independent development like this to, say, Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3 and say it absolutely pales in comparison. Even on its own merits, Blackwater can’t justify its existence, mainly because it plays so hideously, whether you brave the effort using motion controls or try your luck plugging in an Xbox 360 controller. Either way, you’re facing an uphill battle that isn’t worth your time or money.
The game focuses on a squad of commandos who fight to save some Middle Eastern cities from terrorists while dealing with a storyline “ripped straight out of the headlines” – you know, if the headlines came from, say, the absurdness of National Enquirer. Seriously, Blackwater’s story has so many holes in it, it would barely qualify as a straight-to-cable production for Steven Seagal. And what’s more, unlike the other military games, we never really feel any connection with our characters, nor what drives them. Because of that, we could really give a damn whether any of them survive the continuous ambushes they run across.
Upon starting up Blackwater, it’s noted that the developer, Zombie Studios, used Unreal technology for the in-game engine. Once you get into it, however, you’ll really have to squint to even notice. Character models are completely lackluster, whether it’s an innocent guy getting up in your face, the soldiers fighting the battle, or the generically designed soldiers you keep running across. The environments are equally bland, mostly consisting of terrain you’d find in any given second-grade military simulation. That’s not mentioning the unacceptable frame rate and glitching problems – it’s as if the game shipped without going through a test phase.
The audio is just as laughable. The dialogue teeters on movie-of-the-week quality, with characters barely driven by what’s happening in game. The music is just below average, without any good military themes to back up the action. Also, all the guns sound the same – even the more powerhouse rifles fail to leave their mark.
All this would be fine if the game had any sort of redeemable gameplay, but this is where Blackwater fails the most. No matter which option you choose, you’ll find a dull, slow-moving experience, one that will leave you completely frustrated.
Now, let’s say you just use a regular control pad. The left analog stick controls the on-screen cursor, and the right moves your character – or rather, inexplicably GLIDES your character – in and out of cover. This would be a novel concept, if it were done right, but it’s not here. See, even behind cover, enemy soldiers shoot you, and sometimes they’re so dumb as bricks that they don’t deserve to hit you, but they do anyway. As a result, you’ll die, even if you manage to perform the right actions. Aiming takes too long when it comes to reticule movement, and there’s no quick reload option. You have to hit the button every time.
With the Kinect, Blackwater is even worse. Trying to maintain a steady movement with the cursor is ridiculous, and even when you shift your body properly to get into cover, the game doesn’t always read it accurately. As a result, you bite the big one, even if you’ve got your game plan figured out. It’s as if you’ve got lightning reflexes, but are always stuck swimming through molasses.
Oh, and one side note – the game has no checkpoints. So even if you do get a good way through the stage, if you die, you start all the way over at the beginning again. Thanks, guys. Way to be fair.
As for online functionality, the only thing Blackwater features is leaderboard support. You can challenge friends to their best scores in the game, but when we tried to do so, they were practically empty, save for a few patient types who didn’t go bonkers playing the game. Other than that, there’s no direct competition. For a $50 effort, that’s bound to leave many folks upset. Especially when, for $10 more, they can have a military shooter that comes with everything they could possibly hope for, online and off.
Blackwater is just a tired, miserable mess of a game. Whether you use a controller or the Kinect, you’ll find that the gameplay simply never measures up, and the presentation lacks the dedicated work to attract hardcore military fans. If you must have a desirable Kinect shooting experience, go with Child of Eden. No, it’s not military-based, but we guarantee it’s a hell of a lot more fun.