With some considering the enthusiasm for motion-controllers to be past its peak, it’s surprising that anyone new would enter that field. Yet the recently released Leap Motion approaches gesture-driven gameplay slightly differently. Rather than watching for sweeping hand actions or full-body motion, the tiny device sits atop your desk and seeks out only your fingers. The rest of you can be as lethargic as you like but as your digits move above the sensor’s beams they’ll be tracked to a fraction of a millimetre and with no perceivable lag.
It’s an impressive piece of technology but new devices are nothing without the games built to show off their strengths. Step forward Hesaw, a French developer based only a short walk from Notre Dame, who are looking to take Leap Motion’s finger flapping fidelity and convince us all that we need yet another input device in our lives.
Set in the world of Viktor Kalvachev’s mature graphic novels, Blue Estate attempts to capture the spirit of the series whilst blending it with an on-the-rails shooter. That spirit is very much that of pulpy crime stories that tend to involve a private eye; busty dames, a lot of violence, and very little pre-watershed language. Within the opening scene you’ll know if you’ll engage with the tone as our lead, a sleazy Mafioso named Tony Luciano, walks into a strip club owned by Korean gangsters, greets the door staff with a few choice racial slurs and is kicked in the head for his troubles. At that point he unsheathes his Desert Eagle and the body count begins to rack up.
You’re led on a merry chase around the strip club, tearing through kitchens and back offices as you hunt for Tony’s kidnapped girlfriend. All the time your hand hovers over the Leap Motion, directing the barrel of your gun with a single outstretched finger, and taking down the constant stream of armed reinforcements that pour from every door. The initial sensation of controlling the reticle as though you were miming a shootout was an odd one. I found myself waving frantically, constantly over compensating as I came to grips with the surprising level of both sensitivity and accuracy. After only a few minutes though it began to feel very intuitive and with my hand travelling just a few inches I could to target any point on screen with confidence.
And targeting is the primary skill as there is no fire gesture; hover over a target for only a fraction of a second and bullets will fly towards the poor sap. The responsive Leap Motion lets you to whip from target to target with nary a second thought and whole rooms’ worth of gangsters can be taken down in a matter of moments if you’ve a steady hand. This proves satisfying at first but after even just a moderate stretch the automation leads to a sense of detachment. As slick as the controls are I couldn’t help but feel I was merely a spotter for a sniper situated permanently behind me, my pointing indicating which fellow should die next. I never felt as though I was firing the gun.
That said, I’ve always considered the actions of aiming and firing in gesture games far more complex than they appear at face value. So often the fire mechanism, if poorly implemented, can be a misconstrued twitch or a swift movement to the other side of the screen. The two are so delicately interwoven that it’s easy to put the player in the situation where there are a large number of false positives. This is evident in the likes of Child of Eden and Gunstringer and how they choose to “paint” targets before a definite flick indicates the shot. That approach however would feel out of place in Blue Estate given the speed and tone and so whilst this auto fire may take away some of the involvement it at least prevents layering further issues on top.
Still, the game needs to be more than just a gesture and Hesaw has interspersed your impromptu tour of the strip joint with little diversions to keep your fingers busy. For one the lead’s hair seems inappropriately groomed for his line of work and on occasion needs brushing from your eyes; on-rushing foes can be punched if they stray too close; and doors can be slammed into the faces of your enemies before they open fire. They are but fleeting distractions however and add little, instead coming off in most situations as forced. The continual interruption of the hair may possibly be canonical but it only ever serves to be an irritation rather than bolstering the experience.
This wouldn’t be an issue if the action came thick and fast but the enemies fly at you in waves, their numbers always manageable and the delays between them fractionally too long to maintain any flow of excitement or a sense of pressure. This is exacerbated by large, colourful circles informing you just which of the onrushing fools will be shooting you first. Whilst this scripted behaviour may be clearly intended to promote score-driven play – enabling players to learn patterns and exploit them for points – it instead practically automates yet another aspect of the game as it’s patently obvious which order you have to paint your targets if you want to survive.
All the time Tony and the narrator crack bad jokes and witter on about how much of an embarrassment Tony is to his father. Though both are voice-acted well and the narrator’s lines are passable, Tony’s sense of humour ranges from poor to racist. This again could be how the character comes across when in the medium of pen and ink but as I had to sit through the umpteenth bad fish pun I cared little for it. The humour as a whole is one of the poorer presentation aspects, and along with the setting could easily alienate players. The pity is that elsewhere the consistently pulpy tone of the dialogue, menus and music ties the rest of Blue Estate together into an interesting package.
But interesting is not enough. Building off of seemingly great foundations with a wonderfully smooth shooting experience and compelling tonality, it stumbles. In the first instance let down by a lack of connection, excitement and flow, and in the second appearing crass without redeeming humour.
Blue Estate seems to have been put together as style over substance. Any minute-long section played in isolation would convey great excitement as you bust you way through waves of grunts, your finger aiming death as you travel, but with little worthwhile variety it’s a missed opportunity.