BlowOut is an all-out throwback to the classic Contra-style shooter that pits you against hordes of angry alien mutants and equips you with the latest in futuristic weaponry so as to give you the age-old thrill of killing everything in sight. Unfortunately, it offers very few thrills, and instead, an overly cumbersome control scheme and some insanely convoluted level designs suck just about all the fun out of what could have been an entertaining shooter.
BlowOut has a plot, but like many shooters of this ilk, it's pretty much meaningless. You play the role of one John "Dutch" Cane, a cigar-chomping, gruff-voiced space marine who, as a part of a special unit, must infiltrate a mutant alien-infested space station called the Honour Guard. Of course, not everything goes according to plan, and at the outset of the game, Cane is on his own, left to navigate the many twists and turns of the space station and eliminate the mutant alien threat. This plot never really comes into play, and the focus here is almost solely on the action.
BlowOut features 10 different levels, each of which is rife with twists, turns, elevators, destructible walls and floors, and, of course, evil mutants. Initially Cane will only have a basic machine gun at his disposal (albeit one with unlimited ammunition), as well as a basic map screen that slowly becomes more clear as you progress through a level (a full map can be accessed at a data point contained somewhere inside every stage). As time goes on, Cane will gain access to seven additional weapons: a shotgun, a grenade launcher, a nailgun, a missile launcher, a minigun, a flamethrower, and an impulse cannon. Some weapons are more effective on certain enemies than others, but for the most part, each gun packs a pretty mean punch.
BlowOut's controls are fairly simplistic, but they're not especially easy to get accustomed to. The default controls have you controlling Cane by pressing the left thumbstick in the desired direction, and aiming is achieved by pressing the right thumbstick up and down. Where your actual shots go is shown by a targeting reticle that appears in front of Cane, and you can press the right stick down to lock onto an enemy. The default controls in the PS2 version of BlowOut actually had you both moving and aiming with the left stick, which was a much bigger hassle than it needed to be (though you could switch to a right-stick aiming function by fiddling with the controls). Aiming with the right thumbstick is definitely a little easier on the Xbox than on the PS2, but it can still be a bit unwieldy at times. The remaining controls include the right trigger button to fire your weapon and the left trigger button to make use of Cane's jetpack, which essentially acts as your jumping ability.
Decidedly more problematic is the game's level design, which is so disordered and labyrinthine in nature that the action almost becomes second to the dubiously necessary task of just trying to figure out where you are. The maps are quite useful when trying to locate items like color-coded keys for certain locked doors and elevators to get to different floors, but it's still pretty easy to get badly turned around. Additionally, the game requires a seriously healthy dose of backtracking when it comes to finding certain door locks and keys. Essentially, it's almost required for you to seek out every single room in the level, so as to avoid having to run halfway back across a level just to pick up a key you didn't even know you needed until that moment. There are a few secret passageways behind destructible walls located here and there to shorten up certain sections and hide various power-ups, but they don't help much.
BlowOut's action does make up for some of the game's problems, but not to any major degree. As stated before, you'll be plowing through a heavy assailment of mean and nasty mutants who want nothing more than to eat you alive. The variety of weapons at your disposal makes getting rid of them an amusing exercise, and being able to fly around past their attacks with the jetpack adds a bit of variety to the whole endeavor. There's a healthy roster of different enemies to blast through, each with its own specific method of killing you, and each level is capped off with a classically styled boss fight. The only real detriment here is the aforementioned issues with the controls, which can make fights against heavy swarms of mutants far more problematic than they really should be and makes dying far more of an inevitability than it would be otherwise.
Although it's easy to draw comparisons to games like Contra when describing BlowOut's look and feel, the game is actually more like a mix of Crack Dot Com's classic PC shooter Abuse and Konami's old-school arcade shooter based on the movie Aliens--in fact, the whole game feels almost like one big love letter to Aliens, from its insectlike alien mutants, to its musty, industrialized setting. The look itself is OK, but it never really alters itself in any capacity, and it becomes highly monotonous by the time you come to the umpteenth room that looks, well, pretty much like every other room in the game. The game uses a 3D graphics engine, but since it's a side-scroller, it runs much more like a 2D game. The animation is mostly smooth, and there aren't any real performance problems to speak of, but aside from the fact that it performs well, there's not much to really praise about BlowOut's graphics. Though the introductory cutscene in the Xbox version is different from, though less visually impressive than, the one featured in the PS2 version of BlowOut, there's really no difference between the two versions' graphics, to the point where they literally look identical when compared side by side. The Xbox version does support 480p displays, but it really doesn't look all that much better when using it.
The sound design definitely keeps with the minimalist approach the rest of the game takes. There's a little bit of dialogue between Cane and one of his marine buddies, who helps guide him through the space station, and although it's all very campy, it can actually be fairly amusing at times. As for the sound effects, the usual array of gun and explosion effects are teamed with lots of alien growls and screams, and none of it really stands out in any meaningful way. There's music too, but again, it's not anything especially memorable.
There is something to be said for what BlowOut tries to do, but that statement doesn't make up for the fact that the game just isn't interesting for very long. Originally, the game was set to include a level editor, which may have provided some lasting value, but that appears to have been omitted in the final product. BlowOut may seem enticing to any of you classic shooter fans looking for a quick trip down memory lane, but to be perfectly frank, BlowOut probably won't instill any feelings of pleasant nostalgia and will sooner frustrate or bore you to the point of noninterest. In addition, the Xbox version of the game actually costs more than the near-identical PS2 version, and it doesn't provide any better visuals or additional modes to back up the higher cost. Ultimately, unless you've already played every other game available in this genre, you should look elsewhere for your gratuitous action needs, as BlowOut doesn't deliver.