Kinect was supposed to revolutionize gameplay. It has - by and large - not. There are a few good ideas (Dance Central comes to mind), but most games released for the accessory have been lackluster at best. Time for a new idea. Enter Blackwater.
Blackwater is the first and thus far only Kinect FPS. You hold your fist out (the camera senses your nub!) to aim. You duck to hide behind boxes. You lean around corners to shoot. You kick to open doors. Pull up to climb ledges. The actual gameplay reminded me a lot of Time Crisis in the arcade, but instead of a foot pedal to duck/unduck, you just do that action in real life. It's pretty nifty.
505 Games actually worked with members of the real-life Blackwater team, a covert group of mercenaries that have been involved in a few, let's say... less than savory controversies involving the deaths of Iraqi civilians. However, 505 Games has none of that. When you see someone in the game, they are trying to shoot you, and you need to use a surprising amount of physicality to avoid getting hit while shooting back.
There are four members on the Blackwater team, each with a specific specialty. The story mode I was playing switched you between them automatically as the level progressed, and you could sometimes choose which character to play as next via a simplistic branching paths system. The most fun soldier to play by far was the sniper. It was a lot more focused and less chaotic than the standard soldier guys. It also reminded me a bit of Silent Scope, and, even with the sometimes-finicky Kinect controls, I was able to pull off headshot after headshot.
Aim is performed in a way I would have personally never thought to do, but it works surprisingly well. You aim with your arm extended, and when the reticle hovers over the enemy for a short amount of time (I think they said half a second), it automatically fires. Your gun reloads when you either aim up into the sky and make a "change clip" motion with your other hand (slapping your palm into your forearm), or you can also reload by aiming down at the floor, House of the Dead, off-screen style.
The ducking, leaning, and jumping was all very visceral. It was neat to feel actually in the game, but this is not the kind of game you'll be able to play all night like you can with Call of Duty. After only 15 minutes or so, I was already getting warm; I imagine if I was playing this at home, I'd start shedding clothing pretty quickly. I can already picture the sequel. Blackwater: Naked Ops!
The movement on the screen, with the ducking and covering and popping out to shoot the bad guys, was spot-on. The aim, however... it always felt like I was aiming a lot higher in real life than I was on the screen. The 505 rep assured me that there are plenty of calibration options to make it feel more 1:1, but that, with the dozens and dozens of interviews they had to do each day, there simply wasn't time to recalibrate the system with each new player.
This brings me to the biggest problem I had with every Kinect game I got to try at E3: I am simply too tall for the sensor to be placed at balls-height. This meant that I would disappear from the Kinect's sense-able areas at least once per level (I had the exact same problem with both Dance Central 2 and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster), pausing the game until it re-finds me. Or, someone would walk too close to me while I was playing, confusing the sensor so badly that it would be unable to detect me again for full minutes. I'm not sure if that's due to the game or the hardware, but given the fact that it happened with all the Kinect games I tried, I'm going to go with hardware.
From what I got to play, it seems like Blackwater is trying really hard just to prove that an on-rails shooter like those from the golden arcade days is possible on Kinect. By all accounts, it seems entirely possible. The problem, however, is that it also feels like a 1990's arcade shooter. If the recent backlash from reviewers over Duke Nukem Forever is any indication, it's pretty clear to me that mimicking a 15-year-old genre isn't good enough; you have to make it relevant to gamers today.
There's still plenty of time before Blackwater releases to make it feel more current and less like a relic of gaming's yesteryear. Come on, 505! Prove that you won't have the best Kinect FPS just because you're the only one! It'd be nice to have another option besides just more fitness games.