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Blue Estate prologue review: Bleak motion


Everything about Blue Estate is pared down to the lowest common denominator. At its core, it's a straightforward, on-rails shooter exclusive to the Leap Motion gesture control device, and it's based off of the Blue Estate comic series published by Image.

Blue Estate runs with this premise and nothing more, scraping only the topmost layer of what a "shooter" can be, what motion controls can do, and how a rich comic universe can be translated to the screen. The characters are flat and stereotypical, the humor isn't deep enough to make up for its off-color overtones and the gameplay is painful – literally, my arm cramped after holding it in front of the screen for so long.

Gallery: Blue Estate - Prologue | 10 Photos

Blue Estate stars Tony Luciano, the son of an L.A. mob boss. As the narrator explains, Tony is dumb, insensitive, and he likes to shoot people. Oh, and he's Italian – Blue Estate doesn't let players forget this fact, with Tony regularly spouting off phrases such as "Mama mia!" and "Fuggedaboudit."

Tony is on a mission to save the stripper Cherry Popz from a night club where she's been kidnapped by an Asian gang. Again, Blue Estate doesn't let the important details fall flat – Cherry's stripping is featured in the main menu, which begins in a zoom on her bare backside and loops on her performing a pole dance. During her rescue, you watch her perform another pole dance. Throughout the game, Tony makes a handful of racist comments about the gang members: "Are your ears crooked, too?"

There is no "shoot" motion in Blue Estate – the entire game is played with one finger. You direct the targeting reticle by moving your hand, pointer finger extended, over the Leap Motion. As Tony careens through the halls on his own, his gun fires automatically when the reticle hovers over an enemy or piece of the scenery. The environments are destructible, and accidentally swiping that finger over a wall, a column or a chair can mean a waste of bullets. The pistol has infinite ammo, but the shotgun and assault rifle are limited, and shooting an inanimate object with one of these weapons isn't the best use of resources.

It's reminiscent of arcade light-gun shooters – Area 51, House of the Dead, Time Crisis – but not for the best reasons. Leap Motion is still a new piece of technology and, if it sticks around, developers will eventually learn how to best develop robust games for the platform, but Blue Estate isn't one of these. It plays like the first of its kind, an experiment in shooters with desktop motion controls.

Enemies pop up like squirrels and take their time settling in, and when they finally do start shooting, it takes a few rounds before a bullet finally connects with Tony. This is even when they're standing directly in front of him, snarling about shooting him in the head.

It's not like I want Tony to stand in the middle of a room with a dozen enemies shooting at him, although Blue Estate occasionally puts him in this situation too, even when there's obvious cover two steps away. Tony moves around the nightclub carelessly, sometimes finding cover and other times completely ignoring it. I know he's supposed to be dumb, but he's practically suicidal, and if there were any immersion to be had, Blue Estate loses me here.

When cover is available, an icon appears in the bottom center of the screen and you can take advantage of it by opening your hand. Reloading is a quick swipe down, switching guns is a swipe to the left, and pause is opening two hands above the Leap Motion. These are all fine, but the prompts to learn all of these moves are oddly placed – how to pause, for example, is almost halfway through the first chapter. Once when I picked up the shotgun, I ran out of ammo, couldn't reload, and Blue Estate had yet to teach me how to switch weapons. I knew how from a previous session, and only after I cleared the room of enemies with my pistol did the official "how-to" show up.

Blue Estate prologue review Bleak motion
It's clear that developer He-Saw wants to use Leap Motion in fun ways, but its attempts at innovation are confusing. Tony's hair falls in his face throughout the game, forcing you to swipe upwards while he grumbles. A few moments have enemies throwing bottles at Tony, and if one hits him, the liquid covers the screen and you have to wipe back and forth to the sound of a squeegee. Tony doesn't wear glasses, and he's not in a spacesuit, so I'm not sure how that mechanic makes sense.

Blue Estate doesn't give its audience enough credit, assuming players will get a kick out of shooting enemies in the crotch, watching a strip show and making fun of how people look – assuming we'll forgive poor gameplay mechanics because the game is supposed to be crass. And that's not even counting the more humiliating aspects of Blue Estate.

I'm sure there's an audience for Blue Estate, but I can't pin down where it lies. It's exclusive to Leap Motion, but it's massively more mature than any of the fruit-slicing and jazz-hands games players are used to in the motion-controlled marketplace. Fans of the comic may enjoy a new way to experience Blue Estate's universe, directly from the creator himself, but the game's pacing is forced and its characters ill-developed. I wonder how many Blue Estate comic fans own a Leap Motion in the first place.

The prologue is free for a limited time, so that's a plus.

This review is based on a download of Blue Estate and a Leap Motion device, both provided by He-Saw.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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