Posted Tue 13th Jul 2010 4:55am by Dennis Scimeca
Blacklight: Tango Down Review
Blacklight: Tango Down in 10 Seconds
A downloadable first person shooter that wants to offer a deep experience with massive customization, but the game's chief innovation is of limited use, and thus it feels too similar to other titles.
Blacklight: Tango Down is an attempt by Zombie Studios to show the potential of downloadable content and the level of game experience it can offer us. Set in a dystopian future where countries are collapsing and soldiers utilize Netwar tactics to access real-time intelligence-gathering, the American covert ops unit Blacklight combats the high-tech mercenary group The Order in an unspecified Eastern European country which fuses the architecture of the old with the high-tech holograms and displays of the new.
This is the story behind Blacklight...but unless you had watched one of the many developer diary videos or other pre-release materials, you wouldn't really know it. The game itself only offers background information through the Help & Options menu, and then only offers the information through bland text screens
Blacklight includes four Black Ops missions which are the closest thing the game has to a single player campaign, as they may be played by one person. They have some semblance of story and involve typical FPS campaign action such as retrieving items, repairing objects, assaulting positions and holding off enemy assaults. The multiplayer gameplay is the heart of Blacklight, however, and the core gameplay mechanics are the same between the two modes.
Blacklight has very tight, narrow maps and enough killing power behind its weapons to keep engagements frenetic and decisive. In this, it feels much like Modern Warfare 2. The weapons fall into familiar categories from modern FPS titles: SMGs, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and shotguns. Game modes are also typical fare: Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, Domination a la World at War and MW2, a capture the flag-type mode called Retrieval, a Detonate mode which requires teams to procure a neutral bomb and bring it to the enemy base to detonate in order to win the match, and individual and team Last Man Standing modes which allow for no respawns.
Spawn points in multiplayer are protected with a pair of automated turrets. Of all the unique aspects of Blacklight, this is the one I appreciate the most. Anything that can prevent abusive behavior by FPS players is welcomed, and the biggest innovation in this game, the Hyper Reality Visor, or HRV, is also an effective countermeasure against snipers and campers.
When the HRV is activated you cannot fire any weapons or throw grenades, but you can effectively see through the map. Friendly and enemy contacts are clearly marked in blue or orange indicators around their bodies, and the positions of health and ammo boxes and strategic locations are also clearly indicated. The HRV is available for short durations and then is drained of power and needs to recharge. You can turn the HRV off before the battery runs out and shorten the recharge time.
I like the Hyper Reality Visor in concept, but it quickly began to feel like just a gimmick, as using the HRV effectively is problematic. When the enemy is at a distance from you, activating the HRV effectively displays their positions on a flat plane, rendering it somewhat useless. When the enemy is at mid-range, this is when the HRV is most effective, because if you know the maps you can get a solid bead on the enemy position. If the enemy is close by however, and you activate the HRV, the chances of getting killed are extremely high because you are defenseless.
The other selling point of Blacklight: Tango Down is the customizability of the weapons, and just how many combinations there are. Perhaps if half they options were unlocked right from the beginning of the game such that I could begin tweaking my loadout immediately this might have factored into my experience, but the game couldn't keep me interested after I realized how much the HRV really doesn't change the way the game is played compared to other, contemporary FPS titles.
I found it difficult to ignore how much the menus and start-up screens turned me off almost instantly. At a guess, Zombie Studios was going for a computer, net-centric aesthetic, with text that resembles what I'd see on coding screens and old-school DOS command prompts. It comes off looking very unpolished, like the real fonts and displays hadn't been programmed into the game yet, and we're looking at placeholders.
The graphics during matches also felt very rough to me. I kept noticing aliasing issues, and there were texture loading problems on several occasions. When a player spawns into the game, they appear first as a pixelated mass and then congeal into the player's avatar. Again, this is the digital aesthetic that Zombie was going for, but it also feels messy and like something that wasn't finished.
The environments are actually very nicely designed for FPS gameplay in terms of available firing positions and choke points, but they look extremely lifeless and unengaging, with a dirty brown/grey palate highlighted with neon pinks and purples on the nighttime levels. Overall, I didn't find the game very attractive.
The muzzle flashes of automatic weapons look like bright acetylene torch flame, which raised an eyebrow. I'm not sure whether they are meant to be firing futuristic ammunition or not, and the only hint as to the answer is the fact that combatants glow and dissolve like vampires exposed to sunlight when they die.
The gun reports sound more like sci-fi weapons than the actual weapon archetypes of submachine guns, assault rifles, etc. It felt like an attempt to hit you over the head with the fact that this is meant to be a futuristic game.
I found the music thoroughly obnoxious. It has a techno vibe and whispering, echoey voices which might be meant to be speaking some Eastern European language. I couldn't tell, rapidly stopped caring, and just wanted it to stop.
The voice work ranges from blandly acceptable to abominable. During the Black Ops mission, a woman who sounds vaguely Russian is issuing orders to the Blacklight operatives over their helmet radios. Why is the controller of an American covert ops team Russian, especially when her accent leaves some of her directions extremely difficult to understand? The responses from the Blacklight operatives couldn't have been more typically gruff and "American soldier meathead-ish."
Blacklight: Tango Down is meant to "show what DLC can do," in terms of delivering high-value content digitially and for a low price. The problem is that we don't need Blacklight to tell us this, as there are already numerous examples, including some superlative first person shooters, to demonstrate the value of DLC titles. Blacklight comes across as a low-budget title that banks on a single innovation, and feels unpolished and raw. Perhaps those are deliberate design aesthetics, but they made the game feel very unattractive such that I wasn't inspired to stick around any longer than I had to.
If there had been a story, that might have made a difference. I had heard so much about the universe behind Blacklight: Tango Down that I actually expected to find a world when I began playing the game, but instead all I got were environments that felt like recycled near-future dystopian sci-fi tropes and in the case of Black Ops missions, encounters with "infected" civilians with no idea as to what they were infected with, and why they were swinging big pipes at me.
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