You don't have to be American to have heard about private military contractor Blackwater and its exploits abroad. Branded video games are the latest path of exploration for the group, and while the company has rebranded to Xe, this game still bears the Blackwater brand used for the company's military training services and accessories. During the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo, we had a chance to try out the title for the Kinect, forgoing light guns for bullet-shooting hands as we bobbed and ducked through the on-rails experience.
Essentially, it works like a Kinect-enabled version of House of the Dead, Virtua Cop, or any Time Crisis game, but rather than press and hold a button or stomp on a foot pedal to snap to cover, you'll need to move your body to slide into the game's safe hiding places, or lean to avoid gunfire. It's a physical experience, and if you're hoping to be able to coast through with the odd wave to shush your targets away, this isn't the title for you.
Set in a fictional North African country as a UN convoy comes under attack, Blackwater features a slightly branching path to the story, and at times during our demo we were given events such as avoiding hitting red barrels with stray rounds while shooting baddies for a certain amount of time. Doing so successfully gave us access to an alternative and faster route to the end of the level. Leaderboards will track your clearance speed and weapon accuracy at the end of each scenario, and the development team hopes that it will also foster a community of competitive players eager to best each others' times. Summaries will also show the path you took to victory.
Reticle assist helps snap targeting to enemies standing in front of you, but you'll need to get your hand pretty close to the mark for it to help. Although originally prototyped with finger trigger pulls, gunfire is achieved by simply hovering your sights over the thing that you want to kill long enough for a burst of bullets. Grenades work similarly: you leave your shooting hand pointed out in front and use your other arm to lob munitions forward. Movement and firing need to be controlled simultaneously, and while initially it was a bit of a mental hurdle after playing games that required either whole-body movement or standing still and guiding with the hands, after a few minutes it became much more natural. It wasn't long before we were poking our face out of cover far enough to spot our mark, firing off a few shots, and then jumping back and compensating for the movement.
Developer Zombie Studios refers to the game as a "zero-person shooter" on account of the inclusion of a squad element. While all the action takes place from a first-person perspective, and no gun is visible during play, the game does switch between characters at set intervals. During the game, you will play the part of soldiers armed with assault rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, and sniper rifles--the switches are apparently important to convey the squad dynamic of real military operatives.
The title will ship with 15 missions on the disc, which the studio envisages should take around 20 hours to complete. A basic upgrade system lets you purchase larger ammo capacity and higher accuracy for your weapons with virtual currency, helping to further shave time off your run. Because of the level of physicality required for this game, the title won't support multiplayer, but if you get too tired of waving your arms, you do have the option of plugging in a controller and playing it that way instead.
Blackwater is deceptively physical even for a Kinect title, and while it's not designed primarily as a fitness game, it could be a good way to shed a few extra kilos and get your shooter fix at the same time. Couch warriors need not apply. And remember to move the coffee table and lamp out of the way first, for fear of a man down on the digital battlefield. The game is currently only confirmed to be coming to the Xbox 360. Watch out for Blackwater late in 2011.