Version tested: Xbox 360
Maybe it's just creative fatigue. Maybe it's just an attempt to go with what sells. Maybe it's just another US government conspiracy to train us to be elite super soldiers against an impending alien invasion.
Maybe aliens have already landed and have sucked out the creativity of modern game developers. Whatever it is, the absolute deluge of shooters appearing these days can't be a good thing. Not for the reviewers such as I playing their 15th inside of four months. Not for Joe Public stuck wondering which ones to buy, and certainly not for the publishers who end up releasing less-than-brilliant offerings that are pushed to one side as the genre juggernauts roll over everything else.
Blacksite is, like it or not, just another shooter. It's not a turkey, but nor is it even close to providing the kind of thrills that its heavyweight contemporaries have managed so forcefully during the latter part of this incredible year for games. Quite simply, what probably looked like an exciting, cinematic prospect in the early part of development now finds itself completely out of its depth, unable to bring anything new to the table both in terms of gameplay, nor technically - where it arguably struggles most. It is, also, criminally short, with its six episodes all clocking in at well under an hour each. It you stuck on Blacksite after dinner, chances are you'd finish it before bedtime, with ample time for a toilet break, a quick check of the footy scores and a drink break between episodes.
Undoubtedly designed primarily to appeal to a US audience, Blacksite is nevertheless a thinly veiled attack on the Bush administration, and the climate of military dissatisfaction of recent years. But enough about politics. The game kicks off with a fairly humdrum episode set in Iraq, where you, Aeran Pierce, lead a band of generic military beefcakes on a forgettable mission that culminates with the discovery of some kind of alien infestation. A few years later, it transpires that this same threat has found its way to Nevada, and you find yourself seeking out the source of the disturbances, set against a backdrop of moral dilemmas and often baffling military orders.
With the exception of a few genuinely impressive set-pieces (the ones you'll have seen in the many videos), the thing that'll strike you immediately about Blacksite is how rarely it attempts to stray away from regulation FPS territory. From the word go, you'll look down your sights, easily kill the rather sleepy enemies, then try shooting without the sights and realise there's absolutely no recoil to worry about. Ok. (Dakka dakka dakka death.)
You'll also start to mentally note down a whole load of other little oddities, like the hugely forgiving recharging health system, and the amazing number of shots you can tolerate before the screen goes a bloody shade of red. You'll experience the same, predictable waves of AI-free enemies, and quickly realise how easy it is to take them down from distance without really having to try too hard.
The whole 'morale' system will strike you as particularly undercooked, seeing as it really makes no difference whether they're in high spirits or not. Supposedly if the two or three people accompanying you are experiencing low morale they'll be more cautious than when it's high - but you won't really notice or even worry about that. The main problem isn't their performance, it's whether they're currently incapacitated or not. Given that there's not even a cursory attempt to make you worry about their health, all you can really do is look after yourself. If they help out with the odd kill, great. If not, no great loss. They'll wake up in a minute anyway. It's only (the 432nd) flesh wound today. You can, by the way, instruct your team mates to fire on a target of your choosing by hitting RB over the designated target, but there's rarely any point. They'll only blunder in and get killed anyway. You really are better off just doing the killing yourself, and only using your squad for their miraculous ability to open doors that you can't.