Blackwater Shoots Itself in the Foot
Well, that kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
I’m still kind of in the dark, I really don’t know what I did. One night, Rigger82 calls me over to his house and hands me this… Maybe it was payback for the time I stenciled “USMC” across his driveway, or maybe that time I scored a headshot on him in Battlefield 3 with a tank I stole from his base. Either way, payback is a bitch. I’m sorry.
Blackwater was released just a few weeks ago on October 25th. I’m not quite certain what prompted former Blackwater USA (now Xe Services) CEO Erik Prince to approach 505 Games and Zombie Studios with this idea, and I sure as hell would like to know who thought this one through and said “Hell yeah, that sounds good!” Scratch that, I don’t want to know, some mysteries are better left unanswered. As games go, well this one strikes new ground. I have never played anything so bad, it made me want to channel Darth Vader and force choke the developers. This is no soup sandwich, this is a full six course meal of horseshit, and you get the choice nugget.
Some time ago, following a few rather public incidents, Erik Prince resigned as Blackwater’s CEO. The company was rebranded Xe Services, and continues to operate as a Private Military Company. Prince retained rights to the Blackwater name, however, and decided to relaunch the brand…as a Kinect game. Well, to be fair if you visit the new Blackwater website, you can also get a coffee mug or a tactical Blackwater beer koozie. The Blackwater towels aren’t up yet, and you can find a picture of a knife, but those aren’t available either. They take Visa, Mastercard and Discover.
The story is set in a fictional North African town of Harri in the equally fictitious country of Limbano. You control Agile-22, a four man squad of Blackwater operatives who, from looking at them, are all related somehow to a Fallout Bobblehead. The team consists of Devin, Baird (whose name constantly sounds like “beard” and since he has one, is fitting), Smash (who has the obligatory Security Contractor bald head and goatee) and Eddi, who remembered his name is supposed to have an “e” in it, but not how many. The team drives up in it’s convoy of Black SUVs, because those never stand out when you are in a tactical environment, and meets with their point of contact, a Sikh in cammies. I don’t know, could happen, he’s not wearing any U.N. insignia so I figure the local North African Sikh community is proud, but they might be riled to find out the voice actor is probably the same guy who does the voice of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in The Simspons.
The first mission involves escorting an aid convoy. During the scene, the members of Agile-22 joke with each other. Smash stands in the open sun roof canopy of his SUV, one hand on his hip, shotgun resting over his shoulder in a fine display of muzzle and tactical awareness. “Hey, I’m riding shotgun, WITH a shotgun!” he says, and the crowd goes wild…The jokes just keep on coming, but the humor remains behind.
The convoy comes under attack, and you can almost hear the sound effects guy rattling a piece of aluminum while saying “boom” in the microphone. What follows next is a quick engagement with an army of look alike insurgents, all wearing khaki tactical vests and red shirts. The bad guys move in and out of screen like sliding range targets as your player feed confirms your score, +10 Militia Killed…The game moves on to several other missions, all aimed at protecting aid workers and dignitaries amid the backdrop of internal strife in a nation overrun by a warlord.The various scenarios are all fairly realistic, in that they could happen, but the delivery is rather like watching the Three Stooges read the Gettysburg Address. Sadly, what might have been a decent FPS title for the Kinect ends up becoming a chest thumping, media whoring propaganda piece that ends up sucking hind tit on a bull.
Blackwater uses the Unreal Engine, and I am thinking Epic should find a way to disavow any connection to this game whatsoever, or at least institute a new clause in their licensing contracts, call it “The Blackwater Effect.” The characters all look like they were drawn for a 1970s cartoon, with heads so disproportionate to their bodies they look like dashboard collectibles. All of the models are flat, featureless, and look interchangeable with any number of other characters. The explosions are laughable, as well as the claims that the game features a destructible environment. If this were the first title by developer Zombie Studios, I might be tempted to give it a pass, but it is not. What they need to do is fire every damn person who worked on the graphics, and replace them with finger painting 4 year olds, that way the quality will improve a bit.
Whether it is the bad, over the top acting, or too dramatic music, this game should serve as a training tool for gamers and developers alike as glistening example of what not to do. IF, after this review you simply have to go out and buy this game, do yourself the favor and disable the subtitles. Hearing the voice overs is bad enough, but reading them is the next thing to torture. And me without my Kinect waterboard…
In addition to the standard Campaign mode, we are blessed with Quick Play and Competition maps. The Competition Maps consists of three different map areas, and are able to accommodate players numbering from 1 to 8. I didn’t have a chance to try this one out, so I can’t speak on it, turns out there are not a lot of folks interested in playing Blackwater. In Quickplay you can access any of the maps you have already played, or go to the Training Camp to learn the controls.
Blackwater uses the Xbox 360 Kinect sensor, but you can also play with a standard controller. Using the Kinect to play the game is like trying to open a can of peas with one chopstick and a can of Wesson. It’s sloppy, unresponsive and pointless. The aiming reticle jumps around so much, anyone not watching you would think you are having a seizure. The point of aim is way off, even after tuning the sensor and working within the game’s menu to adjust settings, I still found that pointing my hand AT the target did not translate to an accurate aim. Bottom right somehow is the middle, and I wonder if instead of my hand, the game is programmed to track my elbow. Switching over from the Kinect to the standard controller is no good either, your aim improves and the reticle stops dancing like an overworked stripper, but you lose the ability to move in the game effectively. By the time it is all done, you wish your controller had a wire so you could choke someone out. When you do somehow manage to get close to what you are aiming at, it locks on and you fire after a pause.
That brief pause part, that is what bothers me. The game’s home page touts employing realistic tactics to handle potentially lethal scenarios. The only thing realistic, is that your expectations should be low. The pause in between acquiring your target and actually putting rounds downrange is enough to infuriate anyone who has ever handled a weapon.
The only value in this game is comedy, or perhaps the joke you will get out of it if you buy it for someone else. At 30 bucks you can kiss my ass.
Final Intelligence Report
The development team of Blackwater, as well as the supposed technical consultation that went into this steaming pile of tripe, have taken all their hard work and given us something to laugh at. This game is an insult to the gaming and military community. Erik Prince has tried to give the Blackwater name a better image, but instead turned it into a bad joke delivered by a stuttering comedian with lockjaw.
Consultant, writer and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future
Posted: 11/17/11 09:17 PM ET
As Mayor Bloomberg's forces swooped down on Occupy Wall Street, news reports described the "hundreds of police and private security guards" who had re-taken Zuccotti Park. Those private guards were used against public citizens who had been exercising their civil liberties in a public area.
That's not just wrong. It's un-American.
This incident holds an important lesson for anyone who loves our freedoms: when something public is made private, our liberties are privatized, too. And privatized liberty isn't liberty at all.
Zuccotti Park. New Yorkers knew it as Liberty Plaza Park for nearly half a century. Like other sites in New York, the plaza was created through an agreement between the city and a private company, United States Steel, that wanted to erect a building that exceeded the city's height limits. So the city made them a deal: you can take up more than your share of the public skyline, but in return you have to give the city some open space at ground level.
This wasn't a gift. It was a fair exchange between two parties, a private corporation and the people of New York. The people gave up a chunk of their skyline, and the owner agreed to provide an open -- and, by agreement, fully public -- space in return. New York City makes these deals fairly often. The plazas created by these agreements are called "privately owned public spaces," or "POPS," and the city has lots of them.
The Mayor may want to read that phrase again: it doesn't say "privately owned private spaces." Both the owner and the city are obligated to keep them for public use, in the public sphere, with all the laws and freedoms that apply to public space.
The park's current owner, Brookfield Properties, rebuilt the park with private donations after it was damaged in the 9/11 attacks. With Mayor Bloomberg's permission, they also overstepped tradition and the bounds of propriety by renaming the park -- not for the thousands of innocent people who died that day, but for their own chairman.
The symbolism is perfect: they replaced a treasured word for freedom with the name of a rich guy who'd done nothing to create the park. With the Mayor's blessing, they literally privatized the word "liberty."
Like I said, perfect. Tragic, but perfect.
Brookfield overstepped its bounds when its CEO sent the mayor a letter saying that the Occupation "violates the law, violates the rules of the Park, deprives the community of its rights of quiet enjoyment to the Park, and creates health and public safety issues." Those aren't decisions a private company, even an owner, should make about a public space. They are judgments an elected official makes on behalf of a free citizenry.
This week Bloomberg and Brookfield have used the park's semi-private status as an excuse to invade a public space with a private security force. Whoever these guys were -- besides rude and uncivil -- they served as a kind of Blackwater militia, but targeting New Yorkers instead of Iraqis. (At least Brookfield says it fired the guard who called a citizen a "faggot.")
When it comes to privatization, it seems the Mayor has boundary issues. He has repeatedly used the park's private ownership status to claim that the public has fewer rights there than it does in other public spaces. That's false. But then, that's the problem with "public/private partnerships." The "public" partner always gets rolled the public one.
But then, that's how these people are. Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile. The lesson of Zuccotti Park is: never give them an inch.
Thin Blue Line, Thick Green Wallets
News reports noted the presence of two different groups, New York City police officers and private security guards, but in some ways that's become a distinction without a difference. The NYPD is frequently rented by the same Wall Street banks that broke the law, crashed the economy and got away with it. As Pam Martens reported in Counterpunch, Rudy Giuliani created an operation called the "Paid Detail" unit that turns New York's Finest into a "rent-a-cop" service for anyone with the money to pay for it.
And who has more money in New York than the banks? As Martens reports, companies like Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, and the New York Stock Exchange have rented the Thin Blue Line with the cash from their Thick Green Wallets. Even after the Stock Exchange was found to have illegally taken over public streets and walkways and "created a public nuisance," nobody was fined or arrested.
But then, it must be hard for a cop to arrest anybody that he sometimes has to address as "boss." Maybe that's one of the reasons why a retired Philadelphia police officer, Capt. Ray Lewis, was willing to be handcuffed and arrested by fellow officers during the protest. Capt. Lewis called their rationale for arresting him a 'farce' and promised to return.
(photo by permission of the photographer, Lauren Thorpe)
New York isn't the only city that rents out its police force. But the financial capital of the nation bears moral and civic responsibilities that Mayors Guiliani and Bloomberg have disrespected and violated. The photograph of Capt. Lewis is like an image of law enforcement's honor, handcuffed by the mercenary instincts of Gracie Mansion's two most recent occupants.
But then, why would Michael Bloomberg be expected to understand that privatization is undemocratic? He "privatized" the electoral process, one of our most sacred democratic institutions, by buying himself the mayoralty. And he spent unprecedented levels of campaign cash from his personal billions to do it. Then, when he didn't like the term limits that the people of New York had decreed for their mayor -- well, he "privatized" that, too.
But this isn't really about Michael Bloomberg. Despite his reputation for healthy self-regard, even the billionaire mayor is only a symptom of a much larger problem. Rich people have been buying elections for so long that it's become the newest form of self-indulgence, conveying even more status than a Citation jet or a private island. Public office is the newest must-have item for the excessively vain and excessive well-to-do, a kind of vanity press for the self-published authors of their own meritless political careers. Bloomberg is merely today's most conspicuous, extravagant, and fiscally irresponsible member of an increasingly ordinary club.
You don't have to be a billionaire to run for office these days, of course. But if you're not, you'll spend most of your time begging them for money. No wonder the 1 percent call all the shots in government. They own it.
I've always thought it would be a good idea if elected officials wore the insignia of the corporations that sponsor them, the way race car drivers do.
Republicans want to privatize Social Security and Medicare. The Bush and Obama Administrations have privatized law enforcement on Wall Street by asking banks to police themselves. And during the devastating San Diego fires, residents learned that AIG had created a private fire department that saved the homes of its clients while other nearby houses burned.
Privatized police. Privatized fire departments. Privatized prisons. Privatized armies of Halliburton and Blackwater soldiers. When for-profit companies perform government functions, they'll do it in a way that makes them money. That's not hard to understand, but our "leaders" keep doing it anyway.
Why? Because they've privatized their consciences, too.