E3 2011 Impressions: Blackwater for Kinect (Microsoft Xbox 360)

It should be noted that I love lightgun games. Love them. One of the reasons I’m okay with all these different movement peripherals is that they have helped revive the lightgun game genre. Of course, the Kinect doesn’t really have a peripheral, as the fact that you are the controller is sort of the point. I was wondering if and how developers would be able to create a lightgun style game for the Kinect. Well, I don’t need to wonder any more, because while Blackwater from 505 Games may not be a lightgun game in the strictest sense, in many was it is a spiritual successor to one of my favorite arcade lightgun shooting games.

The game was presented by a member of the development team, who also had an ex-Blackwater member on hand for the presentation. I’m a little worried about saying anything negative about the game, because this guy looked like the kind of guy who could hunt me down and break me in half. They walked through one of the levels while explaining how the game worked.

Essentially, it is a lightgun game without a lightgun. It uses the Kinect to track where your hand is pointed at the screen, and there is a reticule that moves around on screen, showing where you are pointing. You move that reticule over an enemy and a meter inside of the reticule fills up; when it fills up, you shoot the enemy. This is the part that amazed me a little, because the timing felt perfect. I know it sounds odd, but the reticule fills up quickly, but not so quick as to be instantaneous. I don’t have any proof to confirm this, but I’d bet that the length of time you have to hold the reticule over the enemy is about on average as long as it would take to pull the trigger. It just felt right.

It’s not just a standard rail shooter though. There is cover that you will have to use by physically moving behind it. One of my favorite lightgun games is Police 911 (a game the developer recognized and said he also loved and played to death), which was set in an arcade cabinet where you would have to lean to take cover. This is like the evolution of that cover system, since it’s more than just leaning; you have to move your body to where the cover is, and the Kinect tracks you the entire time. If you stick too far out of cover or move out of it too fast, you will be a moving target. You can just slightly lean out, take a shot and move back into it quickly. The game responded fast to such actions, so it’s not like Time Crisis where you are either completely in cover or completely out of cover.

The developer explained that there would be multiple paths within the levels, and occasionally your actions would determine different ways through it. There are areas to jump across, and if you don’t do well, then you might fall off. Blow up a red barrel and you might start a fire in front of a path you could have taken otherwise. Then there were scripted decisions where you would choose which path to take. There were also different motions shown, such as the jumping, but also actually kicking to kick in a door, and throwing with your off hand to toss a grenade.

Considering the recent trend of modern warfare games, it is almost odd that there haven’t been any games that have used the Blackwater organization name. I was told that they were consulted for input in the game and a lot of the missions revolve around humanitarian actions, such as being called in to save a village from a warlord or evacuating an area, only in areas considered extremely dangerous. It is an interesting take on the usual modern warfare angle.

The developer mentioned that the game would be playable with or without the Kinect, with the joysticks taking place of physical movement for the cover system. They also mentioned that it seemed like the biggest problem people were having was not being able to pull a trigger when trying the demo. They said the final game will ship with a peripheral to play the game with for those who are having trouble with the completely controller-free experience.

As I said, I’m a fan of the lightgun genre, so maybe I’m not being very unbiased here, but I loved Police 911, and the idea that this game feels like a natural extension of that experience, along with multiple ways of control is something that I’m excited about. Hopefully the final game will deliver on what was demonstrated.

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