The lightgun shooter is a genre of gaming that has been pretty much dead for a long time — at least partly because the tech that made lightguns work doesn’t work with modern LCD or LED TVs. That said, there have been a few attempts to bring it back using alternative methods, most notably motion controls which, while not quite the same as pointing a gun at the screen and pulling the trigger, at least have the “aim and fire” aspect handled nicely, and arguably in a more accessible manner than traditional light guns.
A while back, I picked up a game on PlayStation 4 called Blue Estate. It was on sale for something ridiculous like £2, so I thought I’d take a chance on it as it sounded interesting. It’s based on a comic, I believe, though I hadn’t heard of it, and it doesn’t appear to be necessary to be familiar with the comic to enjoy the game.
That’s because the game is very much an old-school arcade-style lightgun shooter. And it’s cracking fun.
In the absence of a next-generation GunCon peripheral, Blue Estate uses the motion sensors in the DualShock 4 controller to move a gunsight around on screen, coupled with the L1 or D-pad up buttons to recentre the crosshairs if they drift off a bit as a result of you moving your hand position. They drift off quite frequently, but the ability to snap them back into position means that this isn’t really an issue. (This wouldn’t be an issue with the Wii Remote, which recognises its position relative to the television rather than just responding to movements; the DualShock 4, however, doesn’t work in the same way, and thus this method is necessary.)
Playing Blue Estate is extremely simple. You point with the motion controls, you shoot with a squeeze of the R2 button. Occasionally you’ll be tasked with swiping the DualShock 4 touchpad in a particular direction to perform an action like a melee attack or dodging an incoming projectile, but for the most part this is a game about blasting hordes of goons as quickly, accurately and efficiently as possible in order to rack up 1) a big combo and 2) a big score.
Shooting games of various descriptions were often maligned in the early days of gaming as being the most simplistic, mindless types of games, but this absolutely isn’t true; even Space Invaders taught players the importance of performing quick quasi-mathematical calculations in their heads in order to fire their shots at an appropriate position to intersect with the moving aliens as they descended the screen. In Blue Estate’s case, the quick thinking required is less mathematical and more observational: it’s about prioritising targets and responding to things quickly.
One thing lightgun shooters used to struggle a bit with is how to handle presenting a risk to the player without looking silly. Older lightgun shooters tried several methods — enemies not shooting particularly quickly to give players time to hit them before they got a shot in; enemies focusing on melee attacks; in more advanced games like Time Crisis, a cover system — but it could still sometimes seem a bit convoluted. Blue Estate goes for a hybrid approach of these techniques: as you proceed through each level, sometimes you’ll have the opportunity to pop in and out of cover Time Crisis-style, while at others you’ll simply have to prioritise your targets appropriately to avoid taking damage. The latter case is handled reasonably elegantly with an on-screen “warning” system showing which enemy is going to score a hit on you next, allowing you to pick a suitable order to blow your foes’ heads off.
Blue Estate is, despite its extremely silly story, which I won’t go into here, a surprisingly skilful game that has a ton of replay value for score attack enthusiasts. The combo system rewards accurate, skilful shooting, and star ratings in various categories at the end of each level encourage you to try and better yourself in various ways. The basic blasting action is also broken up with several challenge-style objectives in the middle of each level, which task you with everything from quickly shooting enemies that pop up from one of several marked locations to killing a group of enemies in the correct order. There are also some rather wonderful boss fights, which are heavily pattern-based but a ton of fun to fight your way through.
The whole thing has the feel of an old-school arcade game: one that you can “learn” in order to get better at. Learning the position and order of the enemies that show up in each level; learning the bosses’ attack patterns; practising your ability to prioritise and quickly respond to targets in order to chain an entire level together — all of these things prove rewarding and fun, even once you’ve seen the story through to its conclusion. And the story provides good incentive to play through the whole thing at least once, even if you have no intention of score-attacking: it’s genuinely amusing but convincingly written with some solid, fun characters and sufficient justification for each of the game’s characters to blast their way through scores of henchmen.
If you haven’t given it a shot — no pun intended — and you’re a fan of the more arcadey side of life, I recommend Blue Estate highly. It may not be a game you’ve heard of, nor may it be a game that many people are talking about, but it’s a whole lot of fun, and worth your time.