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Is Blackwater the first real hardcore Kinect shooter?

There's more to 505 Games' latest than a bad attitude

Some games ask a lot before you can love them. Final Fantasy XIII took a round 20 hours to drip-feed you its delights, obliging you to put up with that crime against decency known as Vanille in the meantime. Dark Souls smacks you in the face with an Asylum Demon before you've even got your hands on a non-broken sword.

Blackwater's worse though. It looks like a PS2 game, taking seconds to draw brick textures that resemble watery blocks of tofu. It sounds like every horrible '90s Hollywood action film ever made piped through a vocoder, delivering butch witticisms in a growl that inspires manful awe the same way the Tellytubbies inspire athletic sex.

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There's a soldier called Smash who at one point brags "I'm riding shotgun with a shotgun". And an African aid worker with big cleavage who speaks ceramic-cut English. And all the enemies wear gold-rimmed sunglasses, and build their cars and machinegun emplacements out of oil drums. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that it's made by a real-life Private Military Corporation yet.

But once the scarring initial impression fades, you're left with a surprisingly smart, fun not-quite-shooter. I say not-quite-shooter because while the view is first-person and bullets make the screen flush red with damage, you're never actually pulling a trigger. You control a targeting circle with an out-flung palm, instead, directing the fire of the man under your command. To reload, just drop your hand.

For all those pungent gales of testosterone, Blackwater's implementation is delicately pitched between 1:1 control and on-rails action. You move through each area automatically, stopping at scripted cover points to clear out another hornet's nest of goons.

As in other arcade shooters, paths branch depending on your performance and a handful of mid-mission choices, like which man you play and where you take cover. Taking cover is handled literally: you lean and duck to stay out of harm's way, frantically huddling like there's a wasp in the room and you're wearing a toffee necklace.

Latency makes the ducking and shooting a fraught business at times, as you tap your feet while the reticule swims across the screen, and having to wait for said reticule to fill before firing commences is an occasional pain. But it's more or less the right kind of fraught, the sense of being pressured rather than hindered. Some enemies have a red outline, indicating that they'll draw a bead on you faster: take these chaps out first, and you'll buy yourself a moment to look for Point-Blank-esque collectables, like toy radios and statuettes.

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Let's be frank: Blackwater's not going to unseat the Gunstringer as Kinect's premiere shooting experience. Nor is it going to win awards for originality, sensitivity or the capacity to use multi-syllabic words like "originality" and "sensitivity". But there's fun to be had here, more fun than you're expecting. Given a willingness to laugh off the rough bits (and a similarly forgiving friend or two), this could be a solid budget pick.

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