Blacklight: Tango Down released in 2010 and was met with average scores and lackluster opinions among gamers. Because of this, I wasn’t exactly doing backflips when I heard there was going to be a F2P sequel called Blacklight: Retribution. I expected to be met with another dull, generic shooter retrofitted with a ‘try hard’ futuristic theme and a clunky weapon system that barely got the job done.
Boy was I wrong. Let me be the first to say that Blacklight: Retribution is one of the highest quality F2P match based shooters ever released. It still has its flaws but Zombie Studios have really outdone themselves.
Visuals and UI
Starting with the basics, BL:R is simply a great looking game; much better than what you would expect from a F2P shooter. Dark futuristic urbanscapes are a dead horse that developers have kept kicking for a while now with poor results but Zombie have managed to create a setting and aesthetic that is cohesive, consistent and impressive looking. It’s probably the best looking Unreal Engine 3 powered game I’ve played in a while.
There’s just about every kind of graphical option you could need including FOV control, tessellation level, MLAA, DirectX mode etc; everything except anistropic filtering it would seem. That’s a bit odd to leave out but that can usually be forced through driver settings anyway. Everything seems well optimized and even with near-maxed out graphical options you can still get a hefty framerate. The UI can seem clustered and chaotic at first but once you become familiar with it you’ll have no problem navigating it.
Character customization is really the name of the game here as it’s one of the strongest points of the game. The customization options available are vast while not being unnecessarily in-depth. The characters might look like overweight ODSTs from Halo but you can customize their gear to change up their look and stats to the kind of build you want. There are also different characters to unlock or purchase that serve as the base look and build for the kind of gear you want to slap onto it.
Nearly everything available gives you both a buff in some stats and a debuff in others so it isn’t simply a matter of earning money to get new gear that is better than your old stuff in every way. Although stat tweaking is the prominent focus of the character customization, the visual satisfaction of making your character look cooler isn’t sacrificed entirely for it.
Weapon mods are universal so if you buy a new un-modded pistol, you can just slap most of the same mods you purchased for your assault rifle onto it.
Realism and practicality? Who needs em when you can have this?
In addition to gear and weapons, there are “nodes” you can purchase that give you a few stat points in some areas. This allows for tweaking your character’s stat build even further for the kind of play style you want.
You won’t find any war themed music filled with horns and timpanis here. Instead they’ve ditched the traditional modern shooter soundtrack with something that returns to class FPS roots while keeping a modern sound with some industrial halfstep and drumstep.
As far as gameplay goes, the in-game audio is beefy and satisfying. Guns sound like real metal slugging ammo eaters rather than wimpy pew-pew light guns, hard suits (aka mechs) sound mechanical and intimidating, and positional audio is accurate and realistic sounding. In short, it’s far from a bad sounding game. There are some issues with sound balance though. Even on a volume level of 4/10 which was a decent volume for the rest of the game, I still found that getting hit in the head caused annoying bullet hit sounds that were much louder than the rest of the game and there is no way to lower the volume of them without making the rest of the game too quiet.
The game features built-in voip but so far nobody seems to use it so I have yet to evaluate the quality of it.
Fortunately, almost everything you can buy with real money you can also purchase with in-game money you earn after each match so it would incorrect to call it an entirely pay-to-win game. If you were to invest a decent amount of cash into some gear that is better than what you start with, you would be paying to play the way you want sooner rather than paying to become a one man army. Even with higher level gear and a fully tricked out weapon, you can still be dominated by other players with worse gear simply because they are more skilled than you. The gear in the game affects build and gameplay style rather than pure statistics and ownage potential. How well you do in the game will depend on how much skill you’ve got just like Counter Strike or Battlefield.
One great feature is the option to purchase weapons permanently.
This is obviously the most expensive option but if you have a particular weapon or piece of gear you want to keep but don’t want to keep re-purchasing every week, you don’t have to once you save up enough GP. On the other hand there is still the option to buy weapons for only a day or a week so you don’t have to drop all of your money for a gun you merely want to try out.
There are also options to buy inactive items so you can activate them once you actually need them or so you can send them to friends via the social menu.
Even with all these awesome features, it’s pointless if the game isn’t fun (which it is). Although the gameplay may not have universal appeal, it will definitely appeal to any diehard Call of Duty fan looking for something more strategy based. The game handles fairly similarly to CoD except with the addition of certain mechanics such as the HRV vision which works as a sonar allowing you to see enemies through walls for a short time. It also has weapon switching more similar to Battlefield so if you want to throw a grenade or use your knife, you must select them on your hotbar first. That isn’t saying that this game is a CoD clone because it still varies very heavily from that outside of the core shooting mechanics.
There are currently four gamemodes; deathmatch, domination, king of the hill and team deathmatch. In KotH the capture point moves to a different position whenever it is successfully captured, requiring you to be on the move rather than camp one area the entire match. In DOM you must hack control points through quick number matching which can be pretty difficult considering the speed of the gameplay and the likelihood that enemies could come around at any minute. It requires you to not focus your attention on your surroundings and readiness is essential in a game like this. Throw in the fact that everyone has wallhacks, depots make you stationary as well and the fact that the MRV disables your weapon while you use it and you get a fast paced match that involves quick decisions, good timing and a lot more than just shooting your enemies and being accurate.
Currently there are some issues with server lag that need to be ironed out. Although the latency and hit registration is great when the servers are working properly, they will occasionally take a dump resulting in everyone’s pings skyrocketing and making the game unplayable. This could either be due to stress testing, insufficient server specs or an attack on the servers from some malicious user. It isn’t constant and the network performance is great if you play on the server closest to you, but expect some occasional lag for the first few weeks of the game’s launch.
So does BL:R introduce anything innovative and groundbreaking to the genre? No, but it takes the best parts of existing formulas and it executes them near flawlessly and that is the recipe for a fun and enjoyable game. I tip my hat to Zombie Studios because they clearly put in extra effort where they didn’t even have to.
|Great visuals and sound
Flexible gun and character customization
Good weapon and gear balance
Fair cash shop
Competent server browser
Very fast loading times
|Occasional ping spikes and intermittent lag issues
Imbalanced sound effect volumes
Fairly repetitive aesthetic
Not much variety in game modes