Blacklight: Tango Down PS3 Review

Publisher – Ignition Entertainment – Developer – Zombie Studios – Genre –  FPS – Players – 1-16 – Age Rating – 12+ – Other console/handheld formats – Xbox 360

My initial reaction to the cover-art of Blacklight: Tango Down was, “Equilibrium style futuristic warfare eh? Sign me up!” 10 of my earth pounds for multiplayer goodness without all of the trim… sure, why not? Unfortunately my fantasies of shooting motorcycle helmeted goons will have to remain unfulfilled for the time being. While Blacklight is a decent piece of gunplay, its sights are set too high and it has ultimately ended up as a shadowy corpse in the wake of the top shooters on the market today.

Blacklight is essentially a mosaic of modern first-person multiplayer shooters with an (attempted) original setting. Taking Zombie Studios’ previous work with the U.S. Army into account, including an old favourite of mine Spec Ops: Rangers Lead The Way, the departure from a modern setting is a positive step, but it’s still seeped in Army rigor and current technology. ‘Science Fact’, rather than science-fiction, lays the ground work for this grimy, dystopian former Soviet state setting and cyberpunk story. Not as if there is actually a story – that’s just a vague collection of text files in the menu. Quite how they are going to squeeze a comic and film out of this derivative post-apocalyptic yarn is a mystery to me but I’m prepared to be proven wrong. Let’s face it, do people really need an excuse to kill each other in virtual arenas?

The HRV is very useful, however in this situation I really hope there is a wall there.....

Blacklight certainly doesn’t seem to think so and nonchalantly pushes the story into the background leaving the gameplay to do the talking. The Unreal 3 engine is not showing its age too badly here and is well employed; it’d be understandable to mistake Blacklight for a full retail title at first glance with only a few murky textures here and there. Also notably the sound has been excellently produced with an immersive sound stage for my 5.1 system; bullets whizzing over my head and into my chest with satisfying delivery. All of the usual game modes have been copy/pasted from leading titles, as has the levelling and unlocks system, carrot and stick model that fuels Call of Duty sprees for hours at a time. New attachments for fire-arms including new scopes, magazines, barrels etc can be earned through gaining experience in-game and help to give an edge over other players. There is also the interesting addition of a charm which is attached to the primary weapon and dangles about unconvincingly to the physics engine. This gives an extra boost to one of three stats: damage, speed or health, although the game doesn’t explain this and there still seems to be contestation online about what the icons mean. Considering that this is the main cited feature of the game it seems amateurish to neglect this.  While there is a lot of room for customisation due to the ridiculously high number of attachments, the juggling of 3 stats is not particularly engaging and doesn’t seem to give much of an advantage during play.

Having said that, the gameplay is certainly the standout element; the pace is a little slower with the focus on tactical play, good luck there however as barely anyone uses headsets. Enemies can be taken down relatively easily with a few chest hits or a headshot so cover is literally life-saving, even with the starting weapon setups and you can deliver a satisfying bang with each pull of the trigger. While the selection of game modes is uninspired with team deathmatch being the most popular, at least they work and will be familiar to any shooter fan. Unique game elements such as the HRV (X-ray specs) which allow enemies and supply crates to be spotted through walls is surprisingly balanced. The cooldown is about the right length and being unable to fire during use seems like a fair compromise. This concept of technological warfare also gives rise to digi-grenades (effectively flash and smoke) as well, which interfere with the HRV helmets. The former inflicting a blue-screen of death on players complete with system reboot and the latter creates a sphere of error messages which can’t be seen through. It’s all very apt and plays to the modern cyberpunk feel but ironically can’t mask the bland game design.

If it weren't for the ridiculously over designed HUD I'd have mistaken this for the Unreal mod Tactical Ops.

Granted, a handful of the maps including Zeropoint and Dropzone really set up the atmosphere well with smoke and great lighting and are great fun. Sadly, the same can not be said about the rest. Unlike the brilliantly focused Battlefield 1943 with its tight class system and limited map selection, I feel Blacklight takes on too much and ends up spreading itself too thin. Not only is the visual style the typical dark fudge of current-gen graphics but the game really lacks any sense of identity, neon armour bits and dodgy defence electronics aside. The maps are practically all mirror images with some general cross over areas and feel flat and uninspired. I felt like I was playing lasertag at a local entertainment centre not waging war against a mortal foe; the corpse disintegration not helping in the slightest. To make matters worse, some of the maps were criminally unbalanced even more so than Counter-Strike’s Italy or Assault. Slumlord was the standout offender where the Blacklight team  would consistently get brutally spawn camped in every game I played. While guns are suitably meaty the combat never engaged to the visceral levels of Halo, MoD2 or even F.E.A.R. Combat, the melee in particularly being floaty and lacking that satisfying put down crunch. This could be down to netcode; I consistently had LAN spikes when in close-proximity to other players but regardless it distanced me from the carnage. Add to the equation an overly invasive HUD, a frankly embarrassing single player mode and laborious menus, the future is indeed looking grim.

Blacklight: Tango Down does what it says on the tin and provides a cheap shooter experience, emulating some of the big boys. It has visual polish to spare, sounds great and can be satisfying and exciting at times. However, the over-contrived weapon mod system, dull map design and glitchy online performance make it difficult to recommend. It begs the question of what downloadable games should provide, an experience that can differentiate itself from retail titles or one that creates the same experience at a fraction of the cost? Regardless, Blacklight is a cheap generic shooter which might tide the fanatical shooter over during a lull, but I’d recommend looking elsewhere for a fix of multiplayer warfare. And to be quite honest, I think I might have to have stern words with the next studio to bring out another post-apocalyptic game.