Review: Blue Estate

BlueEstate

Comic books are a passive activity. Opening the book and turning pages are the extent of the activity related to reading a comic, so it makes sense that they often translate well from one passive medium to another, like movies, without much effort by the participant. Taking a comic book and bringing it to life in a video game is a whole different animal. Fortunately, He-Saw has managed to tackle the challenge of bringing a comic to life in video game form while staying fairly true to Viktor Kalvachev’s original work. Of course, making a comic book an interactive experience is a bit easier when the focal characters involved are gun-toting killers looking to either rescue a friend or kill an enemy. Mix together the static narrative nature of books, the wacky universe of the Luciano crime family and the mechanics of an on-rails shooter, and you get a fun video game romp that is often just as hilarious as the comics.

Backing up a second for those who may be unfamiliar with the books, Blue Estate is a pulp noir crime comic that fits right in along with the likes of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Roy Devine, Jr. is a wannabe private detective who narrates the action from the perspective of retelling the history of one of his cases involving Tony Luciano, the misfit, hothead son of mob boss Don Luciano, and Clarence, the Don’s clean-up man. While the comic series tells the tale of one of Roy’s cases, the Blue Estate game provides a different set of escapes set in the same universe. Acting as a narrator to the events, Roy’s nerdy wannabe detective charm provides an embellishment of the truth in a way that only an excited fanboy could. His view on events adds an exuberance that often gets interrupted by a pause in the action via a UI overlay comment from the developers. This method of breaking the fourth wall adds yet another dimension and nuance to the experience.

Blue Estate takes place in a crazy mob world that tickles the funny bone with its dark humor. Playing in that world from a first-person shooter perspective is a blast–though obviously if rail shooters aren’t your thing not having full control over where the camera is pointed like a true FPS will surely drive you nuts. I like how He-Saw has taken direct aiming away from the analog sticks, and instead makes use of the DualShock 4’s gyroscopic capabilities to control targeting. Aiming takes a little getting used to initially, but the subtle shift and tilt of the controller to pan the targeting cursor across the screen provides an intuitive means for taking out five or six enemies in rapid succession without much effort.

High point totals are achieved for each level based on being able to keep the combo counter going by killing enemies in succession without taking damage, while performing special call-out modifiers like headshots and nutshots award bonus points. When multiple enemies pop out, the game will flash a yellow circle with a growing diameter over certain enemies to highlight the most immediate threats. Taking out the enemies with the yellow circle will also earn “On Time” points if they are killed before the circle fills up. Should the circle indicator fill, the enemy’s shot will cause damage. Various objects in each level can also be shot as a form of collectible. Ceramic cat dolls, flower pots, helium balloons and other items that stand out just enough to be obvious targets yet fit within the context of the level add one more layer the the high score hunting. The trick with keeping combos is to hit every target on the first shot, which is a lot easier said than done. Some enemies are easy to take out before they even aim a gun at Tony or Clarence, because the cover they are hiding behind is nothing more than pots or thin wooden structures that can be destroyed. Additional challenge comes into play based on what enemies are wearing. If an enemy has any sort of armor, a blue shield briefly flashes on their body to indicate that the shot was deflected, which means you have to be more precise to pinpoint weak points in their defenses.

Boss battles also add to the over the top comic violence, but the results are mixed. For example in the second level, the boss almost seems ripped from the mocking pages of South Park‘s parody of North Korea’s leadership. The encounter is set in a room that loops between vantage points while Tony tries to shoot the blindingly fast Korean mobster. SlowMo targets allow Tony to enter a sort of “Bullet Time” mode for brief moments to whittle down the boss’ health. A few levels later, Clarence faces off against a similarly staged boss set in an obvious parody of a KFC chicken plant. For me, boss battles are overplayed tropes from old game design that still get needlessly forced into modern games. Staging similar boss battle mechanics (albeit in a different scene and with a different boss) feels cheap and reduces some of the charm the rest of the game builds up.

In addition to using the gyroscopic controls of the DualShock 4, Blue Estate takes advantage of the touch pad. Some enemies will come charging with a baseball bat or sword, and swiping whichever direction is indicated on screen sends that character flying back with a melee strike. During the levels starring Tony as the playable lead, his aggressively tall, slicked-back bouffant will occasionally fall into camera view as he gets knocked around. Sometimes the hair is just a nuisance and enemies can still be seen through the dangling locks, while other times the whole screen becomes obscured by his luscious do and must be cleared away by swiping up on the touch pad. In levels where players control Clarence, a similar screen masking technique is employed by either having a fierce Chihuahua hump his leg, or sewer water blur his vision. Swiping on the touch pad will clear the screen obstruction, but often times doing so will also shift the alignment of the crosshairs and force you to adjust your grip on the game pad. Pressing L1 will quickly recenter the crosshairs to the middle of the screen, so thankfully re-adjusting doesn’t take too much time to compensate during a heated battle. However, the hair swiping mechanic is overused and in certain situations having to bother with the touch pad becomes a drag. Taking out the final boss is a particularly challenging feat that almost requires three hands. An albino Rastafarian who throws blades that Tony must attempt to duck or swat away by swiping the touch pad was too much for my uncoordinated gamer hands to contend with.

Even though the humor of the overall world is the main draw here, Blue Estate is a highly polished rail shooter that does a good job of drawing from the rich comic book universe it’s based on. Playing couch co-op is a blast as both players can take out any enemy on screen at any time, firing away to see who can rack up the higher score by keeping their combo going longer. Shooting feels good in the game, even when aiming is sometimes thrown off by the automatic camera movements or the need to recenter the crosshairs. The gritty mob world also just fits perfectly as the backdrop for this style of game. Fans of on-rails shooters should find plenty of fun, and fans of the comics should get a kick out of seeing their favorite characters brought to the video game screen.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Dark, gritty humor
+ Local co-op is a blast
+ Gunplay feels good
+ Comic book world and characters brought to interactive life

Cons:
– Touch pad swiping is overused

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation 4 via PSN (also in development for Xbox One Kinect)
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: HESAW
Release Date: 6/24/2014
Genre: Rail Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-2
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.