“If your arm gets tired, switch to the opposite one.” Sage advice taken straight from Blackwater’s loading screens, almost as if the game is admitting “we know it’s physically painful to play this, but take solace in the fact that you have two arms!” We would have heeded such wisdom had we tolerated Kinect’s laggy motion controls long enough to feel any fatigue. Not even switching to a controller could stem the tide of frustration and disgust we were experiencing as every new moment of this on-rails first-person shooter gave us another reason to want to turn our invisible, unresponsive gun on ourselves.
Blackwater for Kinect is a downward spiral of sadness from the moment the first poorly-rendered cutscene assaults your senses. A squad of four maltextured (a word we made up just for this game), pathetically-acted Blackwater mercenaries are on a mission to get from point A(pathy) to point B(oring) as wave after wave of the same five character models attack in a repetitive fashion for the duration of the ninety-minute campaign. Should you die at any point during a mission - whether from a misinterpreted ducking motion or random spikes in AI difficulty - you’ll have to restart the entire level thanks to a lack of checkpoints. Such an extreme fear of death would have reminded us of Dark Souls were there any satisfaction to be had from actually surviving.
Using a controller adds needed reliability to your inputs and therefore slightly lowers your risk of death, but doesn’t necessarily make the game more enjoyable. It takes a full two seconds (we counted) to move the target reticule from one side of the screen to the other with no option to change the sensitivity. Targeting is exclusive to the left stick - the one normally reserved for moving in 99% of games - and there is an odd inversion to the right stick, which is used to move in and out of cover. Still, we preferred cursing at our TV from the safety of a sofa as opposed to Kinect’s standing position, where rage-kicking furniture, windows, and pets became a very real concern.
Above: Look exciting? Because this is pretty much all Blackwater is
To clarify, we’re not judging the Kinect’s functionality, but instead, Blackwater’s complete failure to implement it in any sort of enjoyable fashion. There’s a reason why gesture-based games dominate the peripheral, and why there haven’t been any dedicated first-person shooters created for Kinect since it launched nearly a year ago: the small lag between your movements and their on-screen translation makes taking a headshot at a moving target unrealistic. To its credit, Blackwater’s mechanic of holding your open hand over a target while an on-screen circle fills to confirm the shot may be one of the only ways to play a shooter on Kinect, but that’s a bit like saying one of the best ways to pull a tooth is with pliers.
Our only relief came from seeing Blackwater completely baby-step around any sort of controversy whatsoever. With the recent allegations of the real-life Blackwater’s (now Xe Services) alleged overuse of force fresh in the minds of many, the game’s dynamic of four men against an army of forces removes any concept of oppression, and civilians are essentially absent from the fictional North African town in which the game takes place. We instead found subtle glorification of the company laced throughout, as well as one particular line of dialogue which could be interpreted as a jab to Blackwater critics (see screenshot below). Even so, it’s safe to say only your gamer sensibilities will be offended by this game.
At the risk of alienating the .0001% of the population who are both die-hard fans of private military firms as well as Kinect enthusiasts, we’ll say this: Blackwater is both an insult to gamers and a step backward for the Kinect. We didn’t even get to mentioning the recycled dialogue and animations, the horrendous texture popping, or the out-of-sync subtitles. And a $50 asking price? Must... not... smash... keyboard...