The rail shooter has been a staple of arcades for decades, giving gamers the chance to wield plastic firearms to gun down wave after wave of enemies. Their popularity made it natural that they’d make the jump into the home, and while there have been a few successes on consoles, most gamers came to the conclusion a while ago that this type of title is better off staying in grotty fun parks. It seems that not everyone got the message, however, prompting the creation of Blue Estate – a PlayStation 4 release based upon the Image Comics series.
For those unfamiliar with the original, this is a hardboiled crime series set in the Los Angeles underworld that follows a number of sleazy characters, who – sometimes violently – cross paths as they carry out their shady business. A number of the personalities from the books show up in the game – most notably the two protagonists – and these provide a few nice nods for fans of the award nominated series.
Jumping into the first level, you’ll find yourself in the shoes of Tony Luciano, the dim witted son of Don Luciano, who heads up the West Coast Cosa Nostra. Tony has a massive ego and a short fuse, so is understandably upset that his best stripper, Cherry Popz, has been kidnapped by a rival gang. Heading off to the rescue, the anti-hero’s violent retribution causes a chain of events that leads to an all-out gang war, which the game’s second protagonist, Clarence – a Navy SEAL turned hitman – is hired to put a stop to.
Despite the aforementioned references, fans of the source material are likely to be disappointed by the game’s campaign, as it’s bereft of the interweaving story threads seen in the comics. It basically boils down to your character being sent to various locations, such as strip clubs and golf courses – none of which are particularly interesting – to gun down gangs made up of the worst racial stereotypes that you can imagine. As if that wasn’t bad enough, pretty much every female character that you come across is some sort of exotic dancer, and this only serves to further solidify the juvenile humour that permeates the experience.
There also seems to be an overabundance of pop culture jokes, which is perplexing seeing as this isn’t a focus in the comic book at all – and to make matters worse, these gags are consistently unfunny. The groans that inevitably follow these attempts at humour are amplified further by the frequent humourless interruptions from not only the story’s narrator, but also something called the ‘FPS Authority’.
This satirical regulatory body flashes up captions at the bottom of the screen displaying what you can only conclude are supposed to be witty asides – all of which manage to fall flat on their face. On the odd occasions where the humour does work, it’s only because of the interplay between certain characters, with a good example being the conversations between Clarence and his backup team, who, much to his frustration, constantly feed him rubbish information.
Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t come close to rescuing this sorry state of affairs. Sending you along a preset path, aiming is handled by tilting your DualShock 4 controller to move a reticule around the screen, blasting the foes in your way. This works surprisingly well, but since there‘s no way for the game to know where your controller is actually pointing, you’ll keep having to re-centre your sights – by pressing up or down on the directional pad – should you move around too much.
As a result, there are times where you’ll get shot over and over as you try and work out just where the hell your crosshair has disappeared to. This is less of a problem on lower difficulties, but on the highest tier – ‘Crazy Train’ – you’ll be cursing the controls when you lose a life while spending vital seconds recalibrating your sights.
There's also a rather generous auto-aim that means that as long as you get your reticule in the vague area of your target, pulling the trigger will register a hit. This is helpful if you’re chasing leaderboard glory, as you’ll need to build up a decent score multiplier by blowing away your opponents as quickly as possible. You can also enhance your score even further by racking up additional points for head shots, nut shots, or by killing gangsters charging up a damaging power attack, with your final score in each stage translating into a star rating that gives you a small incentive to try and improve your run.
At the end of the day, this game will hold no surprises if you've spent any time with rail shooters in the past, as even attempts to add a bit more depth are largely superficial. Whether it’s the ability to take cover à la Time Crisis, or using the DualShock 4’s touchpad in quick-time events, none of it makes for a particularly compelling experience – even when you’re booting leg humping Chihuahuas at your enemies. While the ability to play the game co-operatively is a welcome inclusion, it probably won’t be enough to encourage you to revisit this three hour experience.
Crude, sexist, and borderline racist, Blue Estate aims low in search of laughs – and still misses the target by a mile. Even fans of the source material will be disappointed as it fails to capture the spirit of the comic, instead squandering its roster of interesting characters in the worst possible way. Should you manage to cut through its juvenile veneer, you’ll actually find a competent rail shooter – the problem is that the complete lack of originality will ensure that your interest will derail well short of its destination.