Kinect's had a few quirky shooters so far — step forward The Gunstringer and Child of Eden — but nothing so conventional as Blackwater. Dubbed a "first person experience" by its publisher, it's the first war game we've seen on Kinect, and carries with it all the pleasures and pitfalls you'd expect from that mantle.
Blackwater isn't interested in being Call of Duty Kinect — it's an on-rails arcade shooter through and through, a military Virtua Cop or Time Crisis. Your character moves along a set path and you highlight targets with your hand, hovering over them for a few moments to take the shot. You can duck and lean side-to-side to take cover from enemy fire, kick away oncoming melee attackers and generally act like the big shot action hero you'd expect.
In keeping with the game's arcade leanings, stages are over in a few minutes, with a score attack element hoping to entice you to return: streaks of kills, headshots and shooting bonus targets — statues, posters and radios — all earn you points, with a leaderboard after each mission showing how you stack up. The score system isn't significant or developed enough to make it a real incentive to return to previous missions though alternate routes, activated by hovering over orange markers, at least pep things up a bit.
In fact, Blackwater is to be commended for maintaining a fairly lively and varied pace: you switch automatically between squad members, from sniper Eddi to trigger-happy shotgun man Smash, with the others mostly favouring assault rifles. This game is at its best as Smash; the shotgun's reticule is pleasingly wide and chunky, suiting the broad strokes of Kinect's hand tracking. It's less satisfying looking down the sights of a more precise gun, even though the same aiming system powers all the guns, but the game flicks between characters fairly frequently so you're rarely stuck with one weapon for more than a minute.
The speed at which you're tugged between characters and shoot-outs papers over some of the game's cracks, but the enemy AI isn't so easily concealed: opposing forces gladly wait their turn to fire, with a thin outline changing from yellow to red as they start to wake up and squeeze the trigger. Some groups can be dispersed by taking out the leader, but it's generally a case of "shoot everyone, move on" — for all its variety of characters, quick time events and brisk pace, it's mindless fare that rarely musters the sort of thrills that make games of this genre worth playing.
The single-player campaign is over in seemingly no time — a couple of hours in our experience — but you can replay to find all of the hidden objects, set a new score or try out a new route if you really feel like it. You're more likely to try out the multiplayer mode that lets you and a friend compete for the best score on a handful of stages. It's hardly winning stuff, and you'll probably not come back for more once you've seen everything once or twice.
After years of arcade light gun shooters that actually use a gun accessory, it was always going to be difficult fitting the genre to the hands-free sensor. Despite quick time events and a body-based cover system, Blackwater still feels like a gun game missing a gun.