The plot of Blacklight is straightforward, in as much as it barely exists. Play for a while and it’ll be apparent the game is set in the near future, but that’s about all you’ll get. Sure, if you dig around the game’s help menus or Zombie’s website you’ll find a vague backstory that sets up the Blacklight team as the good guys and a similarly-clad group called The Order as the bad guys; but in reality without a single-player campaign or any shoehorning of plot into the multiplayer, it counts for nothing. The only reason the story — or lack thereof — is worth mentioning at all is because the developers seem determined to push the Blacklight “universe”, which is set to include comic books and a movie, as well as at least one sequel to the game. But in the context of establishing a franchise, this game contributes very little indeed.
That’s because Blacklight is really all about one thing: competitive multiplayer. If the aim was to create a fully-featured package, then they’ve certainly ticked the right boxes: an experience-based levelling-up system, extensive weapon customisation, seven standard FPS game modes, and a dozen maps to play and learn.
There’s a separate co-op mode entitled ‘Black Ops’, which pits up to four players against The Order (and a number of zombies), but it would be wrong to think of this mode as any kind of campaign. It’s a linear, storyless experience. A single player can attempt it, but the difficulty isn’t scaled down accordingly so it’s really best played with friends.
Zombie will feel that providing a multiplayer FPS shooter for the price of a few pints should tempt enough people to make the purchase, and thereby create a vibrant community. But gamers are a fickle bunch; if the core mechanics and online service don’t deliver, they won’t hesitate to look elsewhere for their shooter fix.
Blacklight doesn’t look like a full-priced FPS, but neither does it look like a £10 downloadable title. All in all, Zombie have done a competent job of creating the fictional city of Belik. The maps have a convincingly glum, dystopian aesthetic, which is consistent with what little we know of the backstory.
The ‘Hyper Reality Visor’ (HRV) that your player-character wears overlays the visuals with a distinctly game-like filter, responding to respawns and certain weaponry with an impressive distortion effect. Particularly notable is its response to the Digi Grenade, which on explosion produces an eye-catching pixellated dome. Such touches give Blacklight its character, but they are few and far between.
However, criticising how the game looks could be considered a little churlish. Zombie have managed to create a game with more than adequate graphics and sound, and that should be enough given the price tag Blacklight carries. There would surely have been careful decisions about where investment is made, and it would be right if Zombie decided to concentrate on the mechanics rather than attempting to beautify the game any further.
There is, however, one real annoyance in presentation: the game’s loadout screens are extremely unintuitive. The ‘Armory’ (where weapons are selected and modified) is an unexplained mess of icons and options. But given that the time it takes for most weapons to kill an enemy lies somewhere on a scale of “immediately” to “instantly”, going with the defaults early on probably won’t harm your chances.
Sensibly, Zombie have stuck broadly with the tried and tested control systems employed in its rivals’ games. Despite that, it could never be confused with Call of Duty, Halo or Battlefield. Both movement and aiming feel less precise than they ideally should, and there isn’t the sense of contact or impact that’s so important to drawing players into the skin of the character they’re controlling.
The only twist on the established formula comes in the shape of the HRV, which enables you to briefly see enemies and health bonuses through walls. The concept fits well in the context of the game’s near-future setting, however its implementation is questionable; there’s a pause during activation and deactivation that leaves you vulnerable, so it’s only really practical from a safe distance. For a new player getting to grips with the maps, that will be fine — upon respawning it’s helpful to activate the visor and get a sense of where the action is — but it’s unlikely to prove useful for a Blacklight veteran.
Having said that, you may find that doing anything at all upon respawning is an impossibility; too often you’ll be dead within seconds. Exploitable fixed spawn points were once the scourge of shooters, but they have been all but eradicated in recent years. Blacklight revives them with aplomb, and it’s incredibly frustrating. Matches can be ruined by just two or three opponents taking up key positions around the spawn area and eliminating the recently dead as soon as they re-enter the fray.
The health bar at the bottom of the screen might lead you to believe that you can sustain a number of hits before dying, but this is rarely the case. It’s too easy to make a kill with nothing more than a pistol, and some of the higher-powered weapons are utterly devastating. In any case, your health vanishes so quickly that the bar is mostly redundant.
This unhappy combination of easy camping, high weapon damage and smallish maps results in a quick spawn/die/respawn cycle that may deter any player who prefers a more thoughtful approach to their shooters.
As an exclusively multiplayer FPS, this game will last as long as there is a community playing it. The delay to the PSN release (put down to “Some PS3 features … taking longer to get right than originally planned”) led to Blacklight hitting the virtual shelf approximately a fortnight before Call of Duty: Black Ops, which will no doubt divert the attention of a large proportion of the genre’s fans. It may be a tough road ahead for Zombie’s budget offering.
The only alternative to adversarial multiplayer is the co-op mode, which offers little for the long-term, and due to the difficulty it’s simply too frustrating to tackle solo.
It’s not that Blacklight isn’t competent. It is. But the narrow focus on competitive multiplayer means it’s just begging to be compared with the AAA titles it’s trying to emulate – and against those, it doesn’t hold its own. Inaccurate aiming, spawn camping, confusing menus and a host of other niggles combine to undermine the experience.
A further frustration is the long wait times once an online game has been found. Regardless of a game’s lofty ambitions, there are certain expectations that come with downloadable titles, and one of those is that the player should be able to hop-in and hop-out. That is rarely possible in Blacklight.
Many will argue that Blacklight delivers more than you would expect for a £10 price tag, and they would be right. But it’s important not to confuse cost with value; if you don’t enjoy the game or there’s no-one to play against, then you’re unlikely to find consolation in the knowledge you’ve got more content than you might have expected for a tenner.
Capture the Flag!
- Includes all the key features of retail-price multiplayer shooters
- Some interesting visual effects
Killed by a Frag!
- Inaccurate aiming
- Little to deter spawn camping
- Tacked-on co-op mode
- Incomprehensible loadout screens
Blacklight: Tango Down PS3 Review
Zombie Studios’ intention for Blacklight: Tango Down couldn’t be clearer: distill a retail game’s FPS multiplayer experience into a £10 download. But the narrow focus on competitive multiplayer means it’s just begging to be compared with the AAA titles it’s trying to emulate – and against those, it doesn’t hold its own.
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