Blacklight: Tango Down
With the massive release of Modern Warfare 2 last year, multiplayer shooters have sort of dug their claws into our collective consciousness, so to speak. Sure, there’s always been a community for it – Quake, Counter-Strike, and other excellent titles have made sure of that – but never before has it been such a cultural thing. You’d be hard pressed to find an 18-36 year-old in the Western world who hasn’t at least heard of Call of Duty these days, which means, naturally, that there’s probably a huge perceived new market for multiplayer shooters. Blacklight: Tango Down is one such shooter. Zombie Studios may have struck while the iron is hot, but is the game itself sharp enough?
For starters, Blacklight has a few things going for it right off the bat. It’s budget price is an absolute steal for a title with this kind of polish – the cyberpunk art style and tightly-wound gameplay rival – if not beat – several games that cost three times as much. Granted, getting a game on the cheap does mean a few sacrifices: there is no campaign to speak of, and the amount of options specific to PC players are slim to say the least.
A lack of singleplayer adventure is hardly a problem, though; Blacklight‘s atmosphere is instantly appealing. Resembling a mix between Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner, the game pits your team of faceless future-soldiers against another team of faceless future-soldiers (depending on which side you’re on, naturally). It’s hardly thought-provoking, but it oozes style. There are unique and genuinely inspired touches: for example, flashbang grenades cause your helmet’s HUD to crash and reboot, complete with a Windows-esque blue screen of death. There are some co-op missions called Black-Ops, but those aren’t nearly as interesting as the competitive multiplayer.
Blacklight is a classic run-and-gun shooter, where bullets pretty much mean instant death and players can jump and sprint around like nobody’s business. There’s no subtlety to the gameplay, and that’s a good thing: it’s all about who can shoot the fastest, and since everyone has the ability to see through walls, there’s no chance of a camper ruining the fun. Outside of the game, though, there is a degree of nuance: guns are fully customizable, with parts being tied to your persistent multiplayer rank. Stocks, magazines, sights, and even keychains can be selected to customize each gun, and the wealth of options guarantees enough freedom to be fairly unique. At the end of the day, the high damage rate in Blacklight means any gun is dangerous – but the modding system means that most players will be able to make a weapon that fits their style of play. The game includes several objective-based modes, but the meat of the play is focused on Team Deathmatch.
The downside to all of this is Games for Windows Live. Yes, it’s not technically part of the game, but it needs to be played through it, and it causes enough problems to be annoying. For starters, there’s no server browser; everything is set up through matchmaking. As of this writing, this process is sketchy at best. Either not many people are playing, or the system is buggy – whichever it is, it’s disappointing. It’d be some comfort if the PC community was playing with the Xbox players to fatten up the player-base, but right now, Blacklight can feel like somewhat of a ghost town. It’s also impossible to join a match in progress, meaning inviting friends can be something of a hassle. As it stands right now, the framework supporting the multiplayer is really hurting Blacklight; a shame, since the game itself is so good.
Blacklight is a strange beast to review. On one hand, it seems like the best thing to do is spread the word about an entertaining old-school shooter with a neat twist to weapon design. Not enough people are playing it! They’re missing out! On the other hand, though, I realize that Games for Windows Live and a lack of server browsing makes the front-end a bit of a disappointment. Maybe they should wait until that’s fixed. Depending on your patience, Blacklight could be the best fifteen bucks you’ve ever spent on a game, or a frustrating waste of cash.