When Zombie Studios launched Blacklight: Tango Down back in 2010, it hardly set the world on fire. Despite a cluster of rave reviews the average score was middling at best; after its honeymoon period sales also seemed to trail slowly.
With that said, in a way, Blacklight still delivered on its main promise; to bring a slick, affordable competitive online shooter to digital platforms, carrying a price-tag that would undercut its FPS contemporaries. The game may not have received the warmest of receptions, but instead of moping about it Zombie Studios went straight back the drawing board, spawning a sequel less than two years later.
With Blacklight Retribution, the team’s philosophy is still the same: deliver a visually-stunning, substantive multiplayer shooter that’s easy on the wallet. However, having dropped Ignition and gained Perfect World Entertainment as publisher we’re not looking at another reasonably priced XBLA/PSN game, instead gamers are getting what could be one of the first free-to-play AAA shooters.
Retribution is an absolute treat for the eyes. Tactical overlays, loading screens (and even menus) conjure up a believable albeit sexy futuristic aesthetic.
The modes on offer won’t have FPS veterans keeling backwards and gasping in awe. We’ve come to a point in online shooters where conventional modes do more than suffice; innovation or something out of the ordinary in the genre is often met with negative feedback or lower player counts. Given that it’s a F2P title this is particularly important for Blacklight, they really can’t afford to alienate their community; it makes sense for Zombie Studios to stick with tried and tested modes such as CTF, TDM, Domination, and King of the Hill.
No doubt, for the first cluster of matches, players will stick to the default loadout just to get a feel for Blacklight’s gameplay. Much like the heavy hitters it’s trying to compete with, Blacklight’s gunplay is sharp and precise, each weapon given a certain degree of bulk to ensure they don’t feel weightless.
Keeping the action streamlined, Zombie has decided against implementing a cover system as well as regenerative health and even the option to duck into a prone position. You won’t have to work as hard for your kills in Blacklight Retribution, but it’s just as likely that an enemy player will put you down too.
Scoring killing and clearing objectives rewards players with XP as well as CP, a currency that can be exchanged for bonus weapons and add-ons when in the heat of battle. Scattered throughout each of Blacklight’s maps are stations where CP can be redeemed for health/ammo packs as well as gear such as the flamethrower and Hardsuit. These bullet-sponging mechs run a charge of 1300 CP and will take 10 or so seconds to deploy, but the waiting time is more than made up for. Hardsuits can occupy tactical positions or go on the offensive using its rapid fire chaingun or insta-kill rail rifle. They’re valuable allies and tough adversaries, though nothing a few well-placed rockets won’t sort out.
As with Tango Down, in Retribution the conventional mini-map has once again been swapped for the Hyper Reality Visor. Every soldier is equipped with one of these rechargeable units that allow players to scan the battlefield for enemies and other points of interest for short bursts. It can be a hindrance at times though the HRV’s tactical advantages are undeniable, not to mention the boost it gives to Blacklight’s futuristic vibe.
Character progression, though inarguably broad in scope, will prove to be the most divisive factor among Retribution’s player base. After each match, players will be receive in-game currency which can be spent on variety of components including armour, weapon attachments, stat-boost nodes, and so on. It’s a very in-depth system and one which allows players to build their ideal soldier piece by piece, but there’s a catch. Unless you are willing to shell out real money or a hefty wad of in-game credit, the only way you obtain add-ons is to rent them either daily or weekly.
Even as a F2P title, Perfect World and Zombie still have to ensure a way in which they can profit from running Blacklight, so from their perspective the inclusion is understandable. Luckily for players it doesn’t take too long to scrape together enough credits to buy permanent attachments and whatnot, and for those who play casually and return every month or so, rental charges for a few pieces of gear can easily be covered over the course of a few matches.
At present, it may not have enough game modes and maps to pose a real threat to its big-budget counterparts (it is still in beta, after all,) but for those running on a tight budget, these compromises can easily be overlooked. Blacklight Retribution is just as polished and substantive a multiplayer game than that you would expect to find on a store shelf; the gunplay is solid, it looks sublime, and offers a staggering amount of satisfaction for those willing to invest the time.