Blue Estate Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4
On-rails shooters are a wonderful thing. For anyone who was growing up in the nineties they’re bound to have fond memories of sticking some coins in a Time Crisis arcade cabinet or fighting through the House of the Dead on one of their Sega consoles. As a game genre they’re peculiar beasts given all you need to do as a player is point and shoot, but that does make for a rather serene playtime and allows you to focus purely on that all important ejection of metal objects at high speeds. In that regard an on-rails shooter becomes all about the score attack and if done right the time spent trying to get to the top of those leaderboards is a full and enjoyable few hours. With Blue Estate you will find any number of hours or minutes spent with it will be full of frustration, annoyance and general antipathy.
Blue Estate the game is a prequel to the series of comics published by Image Comics a few years back. That series, coming to bookstores as a repurposed graphic novel later this year, follows a clueless private eye who manages to penetrate various criminal organisations. Described as a mix of dark comedy, Tarantino-esque noir style narrative and generally inspired by the aforementioned director as well as Guy Ritchie and Elmore Leonard, the game itself is set prior to the comics and is meant to provide the same kind of enjoyment, laughter and general sense of fun. Now we haven’t had the chance to read the comics prior to this game’s PSN release, but if they’re anything like the game then we don’t want to.
This story sees you play as Tony Luciano, son of the mob boss Don Luciano. You have always struggled to get his respect and given he looks down on you, you’ve decided to set up as a strip club owner. You have managed in that situation to develop a soft spot for one of your strippers, Cherry, who has now been kidnapped by a rival gang. And so begins the game. Your first challenge is to go and rescue her through diplomacy and influence. Of course, the second you walk through the Sik Bros’ club door you can’t finish a sentence without pulling the gun out and starting the shooting proper. It’s for the best really because the dialogue is inane, the jokes fall flat on their face - including written bits of text which pop-up throughout your playtime. These are written with no greater skill than the dialogue but you do have more chance to experience how unfunny it all is given when Tony or someone else is speaking, you’re generally fighting with the controller to shoot someone, get a head shot or get a nut shot (that bit did make us laugh).
Although the lack of quality narrative and dialogue is disappointing considering the heritage of this game, it wouldn’t be a problem at all if the shooting part was in any way good. Unfortunately it’s utterly broken. So much so it’s amazing the game got released at all. Controls are limited to the DualShock 4 controller. So first off we have no Move option despite the fact it’s an on-rails shooter - a light gun game. A baffling decision that can only have been made because the game will ultimately be on other platforms. Oh wait, no, that can’t be it given the DualShock 4’s gyroscopic capabilities are what’s used to deliver that motion control feeling. Then why else would we not have Move controls? Probably because at various points in-game we are asked to swipe in one of multiple directions on the touchpad. Often this serves no purpose other than to pretend the touchpad is an integral part of the game but you do get to use it to stop projectiles hitting you in wild gunfights. So that’s good. Really though the reason why the lack of Move controls is an utter travesty is the same reason that the lack of being able to point your reticule using the analogue sticks is a ridiculous design decision. It’s because the gyroscopic motion controls are broken.
As you start the game up it invites you to press L1 to center your reticule. You do so and then you see the reticule slowly drifting away to the right. Pressing L1 is part of the control scheme for the game as a whole. The game invites you to recalibrate the position of your controller relative to the onscreen action by way of a pre-mapped button. It’s a good job because every time your character moves on screen you need to hit L1 to re-centre the target. Basically the DualShock 4 is not set to work well with this game hence you are encouraged to fix it regularly to continue playing. You’ll often find yourself pressing it even if you haven’t moved as pointing your controller one way then the next means your hands get in all kinds of odd positions (if you’re cradling the controller and rotating it on a central axis, as we suppose is intended. If you move it around it still doesn’t work, but that is to be expected…) so you move yourself back to a normal position and the targeting centrepoint is then somewhere offscreen. Having to use two hands in a light gun game is ridiculous too. It’s so awkward moving the controller when you need to keep your left hand hovering over L1 (and L2 for cover/reload) and your right controlling shooting (R2) or your weapon change (triangle or R1).
The single player game has eight missions and will take a persistent gamer no longer than three hours to complete on normal difficulty. As you up the ante you’d better be ready for a painful time - physically as well as metaphorically - although it is unlikely anyone would want to play the game a second time. If you were to go straight for abnormal difficulty or something other than normal you’ll struggle to get any mileage from this game. If you do want to tackle the tale of Tony Luciano and Cherry the stripper - all the way to golfing with grenades and chihuahuas dressed as English toffs, you could do so with a friend. Yes, two people can sit on a couch contorting themselves into painfully awkward positions and finding they get cramp in their left hand from pressing L1 a gazillion times a minute.
The game has boss fights in an attempt to mix it up, it looks decent but nothing really befitting the new generation of consoles and it sounds fine too. The production values are there, then, but everything about it screams failure. For a game based on a comic book it’s suspiciously tedious and wide of the mark in terms of its humour - although we recognise that is subjective so you might take more from it than we did - but really the choices behind the control scheme mean that it fails in terms of what we’re here to assess; the game. From the moment you switch it on you’re wondering why you downloaded it, and the developers have no excuses. Either their decision to go only for gyroscopic controls via the DualShock 4 was wrong, or: their inability to code and rein in the motion controls to do what they needed to do has left them dressing up their failure as a purposeful choice.