The market for online competitive FPS’s is huge. It’s so huge that Bobby Kotick of Activision wants some of that delicious money that currently goes to Microsoft for your Xbox live subscription. With millions of gamers playing the likes of MW2 and Bad Company online, the market is sewn up by a few big players who dominate the market so much they think they can charge subscriptions fees. Is the stage set for a smaller developer to sweep in and steal some of those customers with a budget, download-only competitive FPS?
Developer Zombie Studios has a chequered past and working on the likes of America’s Army and the Saw games hardly recommends them as an exciting and original team. Despite this Blacklight: Tango Down represents an exciting move as it steps into a market currently occupied by only battlefield 1943. This is no retro or bargain-bin release; the Unreal 3 engine is used and production values are high for this XBLA title.
At 1200 Microsoft points Blacklight is cheap but the compromise is that it offers little more than a multiplayer component. Gameplay modes include the basic deathmatch/control point style already well represented by other similar titles and the overall style and feel of the game is highly derivative of Modern Warfare.
A singleplayer Black Ops mode is available to be played solo or cooperatively. When playing this mode the budget nature of the game is at its most obvious as it presents each mission as a self-contained chunk of disappointment. Issues abound with atrocious but hilarious voice acting combining with terrible AI to provide an experience reminiscent of a bad PC shooter circa 2003. Pausing the game doesn’t stop the action, instead bringing up a deathmatch style score screen. Enemies hide in corners or get stuck in level geometry and generally act like the mentally handicapped teammates in Daikatana.
Still, even in this mode there’s some fun to be had. Shooting enemies who charge at you with clubs is reminiscent of the excellent Painkiller. The heft and feel of the weapons is solid and satisfying and the movement and aiming seem responsive and smooth.
The graphics are a mixed bag. Using the Unreal 3 engine means the lighting is good and there are some nice particle effects. Despite this the environments are dull and it seems likely that the artists have made use of many of the art assets included with the engine rather than craft their own world. Its impressive for a download title, but as regards full price titles the closest comparison would be the original Rainbow Six Vegas games in their uglier moments. Unnervingly it often resembles the first few seconds of a big budget title before the high res textures are loaded.
The character customisation and levelling system is pure Modern Warfare. The beginner weapons are good enough to remain competitive online and opponents die after a brief burst of fire. This results in a fast paced and punchy multiplayer mode that’s more fun than first impressions suggest. The only unique aspect of play is a recharging augmented reality view mode that you can use to see through walls and identify ammo and weapons. This predator-style mode seems gimmicky but it aids the flow of the game and introduces an element of strategy to break up the straightforward run-and-gun.
Looking at the game as a whole, it seems to offer decent value for money and is a solid if uninspired multiplayer FPS. There were some issues with finding a host for me when playing at first, hopefully these are resolved in the coming weeks. If they are, you could consider Blacklight to be a decent alternative to Modern Warfare deathmatching. It’s very much a “coke with lime” thing; a similar taste that’s more refreshing to some, and just not right to others.
I gave this game 5 limes out of 10.