As a genre, the rail shooter has not seen a whole lot of representation over the last couple of generations. In fact, a quick look at the genre list
will reveal only 15 games fit that category. The most recent addition to the bunch is HESAW's Blue Estate
, a Kinect-enabled Xbox One title (brought to the console via the ID@Xbox program) based on the 12-part comic book series of the same name by Viktor Kalvachev. While rail shooters can show flashes of brilliance, they typically fall a little short of expectations of some gamers - after all, it's not that you can explore everything you see, and we're not used to being so confined. Does Blue Estate
rise to the top of the genre pool, or sink into mediocrity?Blue Estate
's action is narrated by private investigator and bespectacled, guy-possibly-living-in-his-mom's-basement stereotype, Roy Devine, Jr. The lead characters, who split protagonist duties are the mostly incompetent Tony Luciano, the son of Mafia Boss, Don Luciano, and the incredibly competent Clarence, who works for Don Luciano in order to stop his mom's house from going into foreclosure. Typical to the genre, the game play is all about getting kills and getting them fast. The longer an enemy stays on screen, the more likely they are to successfully fire a shot and eventually take Tony or Clarence down.
The events in Blue Estate
unfold over seven chapters (chapter one is split into two parts, so there are eight levels) during which players have to take down various mobsters. At the outset, the goal is for Tony to save his girl, Cherry Popz. As the game progresses, it comes to pass that the Don's most treasured horse, named Blue Estate, has been captured by a rival gang, and, instead of turning to his bumbling son, the Don enlists Clarence to recover the steed. The game's story mode can be played in three difficulties - normal, abnormal, and crazytrain, and a second player can join in on the rail-shooting fun.
As with all rail shooters, enemies show up at pre-determined times to try to take Tony or Clarence down. Anyone that has to be shot down is clearly indicated with yellow marker. As the marker fills in with color, that enemy is getting closer to taking his shot, so these visual cues are key in successfully navigating the chapters. Occasionally, enemies will throw items which can be brushed away using gestures. When playing with a controller, gestures are all mapped to the left stick while moving the gun's reticule is on the right stick. When using Kinect, right hand shoots, left hand swipes. Reloading frequently is the key to successfully runs, as waiting till ammo has run out means a reload will take longer. Anyone who played rail shooters in arcades will likely instinctively know that reloading your weapon just requires lowering your gun hand off-screen, which is a fun callback. The goal, at the end of each chapter, is to get as high of a ranking as possible. By getting kills quickly, earning combos, using gestures, and finding collectibles, players can earn high scores and attempt to earn up to a four-star ranking on each stage. Four-starring each level will also pop an achievement
While the game has seen release before on the PlayStation 4 and PC, the Xbox One edition comes with a brand new mode of play, the Arcade Mode. In this game mode, the player is challenged with getting through the game's levels accurately and quickly. Each play starts with a few seconds on the clock (time varies based of difficulty) and each successful kill earns more time. As each group of enemies is taken down, the level will fast forward to when the next group of enemies will appear. The more time spent in fast forward will lead to more points at the end.
In Arcade Mode, your ammo is effectively infinite, though avoiding getting hit is the key to better weaponry. At the start, Tony or Clarence, depending on the level, will have a handgun with 24 bullets. If all of those bullets are spent before taking a hit, the weapon will be upgraded to a new weapon with a fresh clip. These upgrades go all the way up to a golden AK-47, and you'll even be awarded with an achievement
if you manage to get the Golden AK-47 on all of the levels on abnormal difficulty.
The fast and frenetic pace of the Arcade Mode is the highlight of Blue Estate
's gameplay. It will require skill - and some memorization - to master, but it is possible to do so. This is a credit to the game's controls, which are responsive and even forgiving in both the traditional, controller-based environment and when using Kinect.
Where Blue Estate
is certain to generate the most commentary (and controversy) is the delivery of its story. The humor relies heavily on stereotypes of many forms (Italian, Chinese, Jamaican, etc), blatant sexism, and other low-brow gags (like those Chihuahuas throughout the game that take a liking to your lower extremities). If you're the kind to be offended by such things, Blue Estate
will offend you. You also won't find it funny at all. The scripting doesn't take on subtlety at all and is completely unapologetic - women are objectified and brash, insulting stereotypes are uttered. On the other hand, the humor isn't always in the toilet. The writing is very self-referential, and one of the characters even accuses another in-game of using stereotypes. Whether or not that acknowledgment makes things better or somehow worse is of course up to the player, so keep your feelings about such things in mind before plunging into the game.
The achievements provide a fair level of challenge, but be forewarned: a basic playthrough of the game won't net very many achievements as only a handful are unmissable. In fact, nearly half of Blue Estate
's achievements are tied up in the new Arcade Mode. The list is well done, as it challenges the player to tackle different difficulties and encourages working on different facets of gameplay, such as accuracy, accruing fast forward, and getting S ranks. Surprisingly for a game developed with motion control in mind, there are no achievements for using Kinect, though there is one for co-op play
. Co-op in Blue Estate
is local only, and can be done with either controller or Kinect. There is also an achievement for collectibles
. Obviously, you can't walk around and explore environments, so collectibles come in the form of a specific item the player has to keep an eye out for and successfully shoot down in each stage. There are eight of these items per level and while most will be clearly visible and leave you plenty of time to collect them, some will require more twitchy reflexes, so it will most likely take multiple plays of each chapter to collect them all.
In the interest of full disclosure, I walked into Blue Estate
with zero pre-conceived notions about the title. I mean, really zero. I didn't know of its PS4 release or the game type or the comic it's based on and I had a blast playing it. The campaign is short, clocking in at about 4-5 hours, but there is a ton of replayability to be had in the Arcade Mode. I laughed out loud on multiple occasions, too, though was very aware while doing so that others might find what I was laughing at questionable. If you grew up on arcades such as Time Crisis
or House of the Dead
, Blue Estate
will put you right in the mood to revisit those titles. The game is not without its flaws, however. The soundtrack is largely uninteresting and even somewhat grating at times as you hear the same repeated beats while fighting waves of bad guys (though other sounds and voice acting in the game is top notch). Also, outside of the Arcade Mode, there's nothing that presents the game with more depth. You can't, for example, find a hidden away weapon if you perform really well on a stage, everything that's clearly presented is just what you get. The largest misstep actually comes with relation to the Kinect. The Kinect tracking in Blue Estate
is mostly fantastic, but the game doesn't really attempt to challenge the player by introducing too many elements. Initially, this is refreshing, as it's simply "point at the screen and it does the work for you" with the occasional swipe to pick up an item or brush back your hair. The fact that the game really only presents that and nothing further is somewhat disappointing, as doing so would have added more depth to the Kinect experience, and it seems further like a missed opportunity when considering the game was built with motion gaming in mind.
If Blue Estate
had come out as just the core campaign, it would still be fun, but hard to recommend. With the addition of the Arcade Mode, and at a price of $12.99 (marked down from its initial release price on PS4 of $19.99), Blue Estate
becomes an easy recommendation, and is something you can definitely enjoy on your own or with a friend. I must stress that Blue Estate
for everyone, and that's entirely based on the presentation of the content - If you go into the game thinking "but I really LOVE rail shooters, I'll get over it!" and get off-put by A) the fact that there is a very-much objectified woman on the game's menu and B) her name is Cherry Popz, please don't put yourself through trying to enjoy it. If you can, however, deal with the type of humor, or are just a fan of it, you won't be disappointed by the game itself. Blue Estate
doesn't try to reinvent rail shooters, but it's very good at being one, and the challenge of getting top ranks on everything will keep players wanting to come back for more.The reviewer spent six hours with the Blue Estate, completing the campaign mode and obsessing over getting an S ranking on the first part of Chapter One. The game was played with both the Kinect and a controller for purposes of this review. This Xbox One copy of the game was provided courtesy of the developer.