Suprisingly Competent Blackwater Kinect Title Could Be It's Own Greatest Victim

This week was the first time we heard of publisher 505 Games' Blackwater, an FPS that would cast you in the role of Blackwater Worldwide mercenaries.

The topic seemed thorny - the mercenary company, now renamed Xe Services, has been at the centre of a multiple of controversies and the subject of highly critical Congressional hearings. Blackwater has been linked to the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians, and the alcohol-fuelled fatal shooting of a security guard in the employ of the country's vice president. According to 505, the game was designed in consultation with former mercenary agents, and with Erik Prince, the founder and former head of the hot-button security contractor. Some gamers have been piqued; a NeoGaf thread devoted to the topic of the game was titled "Somewhat murderous scumbag PMC Blackwater gets an FPS." Is 505 Games trying to court controversy?

As promised in the initial press release, Blackwater was available to be played at E3, and what I found - rather than some more fuel to stoke the controversy - was a surprisingly competent title. It's not bound to turn the world upside down, but the more ticklish thematic elements have been played down, and what is left is a well-made Kinect title that brings interesting ideas to the table. Unfortunately, Blackwater may find that it has more to lose than to gain by its unsavoury real-world affiliations.

Blackwater is an on-rails shooter that has you alternating between the perspectives of four different mercenary soldiers, each with a certain specialization. In the portion of the game I experienced in the demo, I operated first as a commando, and later as a sniper. While you do not choose to play as just one type of unit, the game will occasionally allow you to choose from one of multiple alternating paths, each of which might emphasise one form of play. What makes the game most intriguing, naturally, is the way in which the Kinect functionality is implemented. Your movement through each environment is automated, and you'll find yourself pausing before multiple props against which you can take cover. Stepping to the left will cause you to take cover behind the left-most surface; step to the right you'll cover at the right-most surface. You use one of your arms to aim the cross hairs of your firearm. Instead of mapping a particular movement to the firing of your gun, the designers have opted to have your gun fire automatically when it hovers long enough over an enemy target.

Far and away, it is the auto-firing feature that gives the game character. As opposed to a twitchier cover-based experience, the Blackwater demo forced me to behave cautiously, and with consideration. Efficiency was key - I had to determine which enemies were top priority, and time my movements so that I could scroll over each enemy just long enough to take them out, limiting my own exposure to interception fire.

"We didn't want to create a Blackwater simulator, but a Blackwater game", the representative from Zombie Studios, the team responsible for the game's development, explained to me. The cautiousness imposed by the auto-triggering is the studio's attempt at marrying a certain amount of realism to the parameters of a title that is meant to be accessible to a wide audience, and fill a languishing niche on the Kinect marketplace. He acknowledged that the game is a highly exaggerated, concentrated bit of Blackwater lore - it's more Hollywood than Reuters. Set in North Africa, it concerns a high-tension conflict in which the Blackwater team must rescue a UN envoy that has been taken hostage by the operatives of a malicious warlord. At any rate, the story wasn't emphasised during my time with the game; I was encouraged to wave my arm if I wanted to bypass the cut scenes altogether.

What does one do with a game like Blackwater? The shooting was satisfying, fun and challenging. And - what we've all been wondering - at no point was I required to fire at any innocent civilians, or commit any other atrocities. It was Blackwater Worldwide scrubbed clean of all negativity, and - frankly - of specificity. It was the Blackwater brand attached to a game that might as well have borne any other. This game felt like nothing but a vehicle for an admittedly interesting control-scheme. If it reached out to the real world, it did so unnecessarily - and likely at its own peril.

The coming months will tell how the world decides to regard Blackwater, when it arrives on the Xbox 360 supporting both Kinect and conventional gamepad-controls.


    "As opposed to a twitchier cover-based experience, the Blackwater demo forced me to behave cautiously, and with consideration."

    Given how Blackwaters behaved in theaters of war so far with civilian and friendly casualties it's in complete contradiction to reality then? ;)

    What's next, an Abu Ghraib simulator?

    I've played most good FPS games from Wolf 3D to the present, and this is in jaw-droppingly bad taste.

    (from post above) "..the more ticklish thematic elements have been played down.."

    "Ticklish"? What sort of weasel-word is that? Is the fact the company in question killed civialians in Iraq, just a marketing inconvenience?

    There's only one thing that made me smile in the article, the fact that 'Blackwater' will have an 'autofire' feature.

    (And in the *game* too.)

    Cocaine, orgies followed by running around the streets naked shooting at random stuff??

    Sounds like a game to me.

      Lets not forget child prostitution!

      Blackwater was proven innocent of killing civilians and it was proven that they were fired on first in Nisoor Square. These guys aren't murderers just Marines and soldiers who got out of the military and found a job to make use of their training. As a condition for contracting with the Department of State they are not allowed to make any statements until their day in court, that is why everyone thinks their monsters. People only hear the made-up negative crap.

    this sounds like propaganda for a bunch of thugs and is morally reprehensible. If the developers are using the blackwater name for publicity then it is an mature attention seeking excess. if however it is a concerted effort at PR from blackwater then that is just plain evil. those people are responsible for the deaths of scores of innocent people. The latest offense is that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the united Arab Emerits have hired them to put down any pro democracy rally's that might arise. Stay classy games industry

      I meant immature not mature

    Screw Blackwater, same as they screw their employees and their families.

    I'm sensing a lot of negativity here

    As interesting as the titles sounds, and as thirsty as I am for more Kinect games, playing as representatives of Blackwater leaves a really, really bad taste in my mouth. The crimes they've been charged with are just the ones they've been able to prove, they've been suspected of a lot more, and to make matters worse they've given actual soldiers a bad name. They're an oasis for the disgraced and the dishonorably discharged.

    Yes, let's glorify the activities of a bunch of paid thugs with no accountability for their horrible actions.

    Mercenaries and soldiers of fortune in general have been glorified in games for the longest time, as it's a great plot element for geopolitical nonsense narrative. But to specifically identify THIS group? Shame.

    If you want to play what should be an identical sort of game without having to support thugs then go get ARMA 2: Private Military

    It is really a game to me

    Frankly I'm surprised Nintendo hasn't outright veto'd the game from being accepted into their library given the history of those involved. It's not the thing family-friendly gaming companies generally want to be associated with.

    Do you get to kill women and children? Do you get to keep the heads of your fallen enemies as trophies? I'm just wondering how close the game characters resemble the actions of actual Blackwater/Xe employees.

    Hmmm. I wonder if any of the readers here know how many Blackwater contractors have died in this war? Or how many contractors total have died?

    Or do contractor deaths count?....

    The other hypocrisy here is that the Army or Marines have killed way more civilians in this war, and yet everyone celebrates games like Call of Duty or Modern Warfare?

    But I guess when private security companies like Blackwater actually defend themselves in a war zone and civilians get killed on accident, that it is worse than if the military did the same thing?

    Oh, but it gets better. Games like MAG or Army of Two are fictional depictions of mercenaries, and everyone loved those games. Even the music was awesome. Yet all of a sudden when a private security company that does this stuff for real steps up with a game, that somehow 'that game' is a bridge too far? Pffffft. Give me a break.

    I guess the point is, is BW has fought and died for you. They even have a memorial at their facility in Moyoc, North Carolina.

    I say thank companies like Blackwater and their brave men. Because if it wasn't for their contributions and sacrifices in this war, all of you 'gamers' would've had to have traded in your game controllers for a real weapon after being drafted for the war effort.

    Its a game with a title of a well known security company, that's it. It wouldn't have the same appeal if it was named aegis or triple canopy because most people outside of the private security circles don't know the names. Its just a game for you to have fun with named as such because its a familiar name and a little edgy due to the past they have. I think you guys are just a bunch of whining sissies looking for something to complain about.

    Overall i just purchased the game and i've actually very pleased from it aside from all the hate that it is getting. The game is fun and responsive unlike other kinect games, so far theres a lot of weapon selection and its just a fun game overall. I recommend it and dont know why people are hating on it so much honestly. Sick game.

    Touche. Great arguments. Keep up the great spirit.

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