Firefights for Fifteen Dollars
It’s no secret that multiplayer first-person shooters (FPS), when done right, sell lots of copies. The Halo and Call of Duty franchises both broke sales records in the last few years. These blockbuster games included good single-player campaigns, of course, but the real draw was the ability to take on friends and strangers. It seems that a certain subset of gamers just can’t get enough of shooting each other in the head.
However, it’s also no secret that the FPS market is very, very crowded, and has been since the torrent of “Doom clones” that were unleashed in 1993. We have calculated there to be roughly 2.3 kajillion titles on the Xbox 360 alone in which you can pierce your friends’ bodies with bullets. (The math was rough, but we care enough about you, dear reader, to take the time to ensure accuracy.) So why would you drop $15 on Blacklight: Tango Down, which doesn’t even include much of a campaign? Is its multiplayer really that compelling?
In many ways, the game is indeed quite good. Save for a few weak textures, the Unreal Engine graphics wouldn’t be out of place in a full-price retail game, bringing out the look and feel of a hot, war-torn region. (There’s a story behind that somewhere, but absolutely no emphasis is given to it.) The controls are intuitive for anyone who’s played a modern FPS before, and the audio, from the exciting music to the sound of guns firing, is excellent. Also, there’s a gameplay innovation: You can switch into HRV (Hyper Reality Visor) mode, in which you can see where all your enemies are hiding. However, you can’t shoot while in this mode, and it takes some time to recharge. The best strategy is to use it often, but not so much that you spend too much time being vulnerable and unarmed. The HRV also helps enemy players find each other more quickly, cutting down on the time you spend randomly searching for people to kill.
However, there are two serious problems here: One, aside from the HRV, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before, and two, there’s a lot here that was done poorly.
In terms of gameplay, this is basically just a mash-up of various other FPS games. You’ve got the exaggerated jumping (hello, bunny-hopping!), overpowered melee blows, and instant-grenade button from Halo. You’ve got the realistic look and the low health of Call of Duty, though, for some reason, what little health you have doesn’t regenerate unless you find a health station. The twelve maps are fine, with lots of places to take cover or snipe, but they hardly stand out from all the other maps in all the other FPS’s today. Even the futuristic optical grenades are just smoke grenades that look different when they explode. Basically, there’s a lot of déjà vu here: spawn, kill, die, repeat.
The modes don’t impress either. There’s deathmatch and team deathmatch (with and without respawning), a game that involves finding a bomb and blowing up the enemy’s base (“Detonation”), a variation on capture-the-flag (“Retrieval”), and a game in which your team has to hold onto territory (“Domination”). These are all fine (though the no-respawning modes are over too quickly), but there’s nothing to set Blacklight apart from every other FPS on the market. Weren’t most of these modes included in Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64 ten years ago?
If the developers wanted us to give them $15 and spend time away from our big-budget games, they needed to give Blacklight a bit more polish. There are only a few spawn points in each level, making it easy for cheap lowlifes to camp in front of them and rack up kills. You die a bit too quickly, meaning that you’ll often be sprawled out on the ground before you even get a chance to spin around and figure out who just started shooting at you.
Also, the basics of online mutiplayer are botched. It took us three to ten minutes to get into each match, and we often found ourselves up against far superior opponents who had leveled up several times, and thus, had better guns and accessories. The guns aren’t such a big deal, considering it takes only a few shots to kill someone with the gun you start with, but some accessories, especially the scope, can make it dramatically easier for you to acquire a target quickly, and at longer range. Conversely, this means that the least experienced players are also the weakest. Until you level up a bit, plan on dying a lot, and always remember to pick up the guns dropped by anyone you’re lucky enough to kill.
The single-player game, meanwhile, is so useless it shouldn’t have been included. It’s just four stages, and it’s designed more for four-player co-op than single-player campaigning. You’re underpowered, and the swarms of enemies are frustrating without other players to help you out. We imagine the levels would be a bit more fun with other people, but you can’t be assigned random players for your team, as you can with the competitive multiplayer modes. You can only play with your friends. So, unless you can trick a few buddies into wasting their money on this (we couldn’t), don’t bother.
The basic idea here isn’t so bad: provide gamers a multiplayer experience that competes with the big boys, while saving money by not developing a campaign. That could work, with a fresh and fun concept behind it. The concept here, however, is just to copy the best attributes of other games, and the developers botched too much of the small stuff for players not to notice. When a used copy of Call of Duty 4 goes for $20, there’s no reason to save money and waste hard-drive space (700 MB) with Blacklight: Tango Down. Only the hardest of the hardcore FPS fans need apply.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
This game looks great for a downloadable title, with Unreal Engine graphics that compete with the visuals in big budget games. 4.7 Control
After close to two decades of working on it, FPS developers pretty much have the standard control scheme down pat. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Everything sounds great, from the exciting music to the sound effects. 2.1 Play Value
It’s not bad for a $15 game, but it does next to nothing to advance the FPS genre. You’re better off getting a used copy of Call of Duty 4. 2.8 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.