Blacklight Retribution - hands-on preview

To say 2010’s Blacklight Tango Down was ignored is probably an understatement. Despite a few good new ideas and a budget price of $15, the game never gained much traction in an overpopulated FPS marketplace. Now, having learned both design and marketing lessons from Tango Down, the developer is back with a new publisher and a wealth of new ideas.

The hugest new addition here is that this iteration is being published by Perfect World, who you may remember as one of the oldest publishers of free-to-play games. And that means that, yes, Blacklight is going free-to-play on the PC. Joining dozens of others in the industry this title will be financed by an item shop rather than an upfront retail price. Built from the ground up to support the new F2P ideology, Blacklight is looking like it will continue the upward boom in quality that the F2P space has seen in the past year.

We sat down for a few rounds with the game and chatted with the lead designer who showed us the ropes. Basically, the new Blacklight takes the core of the last game and throws a bunch of awesome stuff on top (e.g. it’s free.) There’s still the see-through-walls enemy tracking that defined the first game, and now it’s even more critical. There are now giant weapon crates that hold enormous weapons that can’t be acquired by any other means like upgrading or purchasing. The trick is that you’re immobilised for a few moments while you’re acquiring the weapon. If you can get it you’ll acquire a sizeable advantage, but you’re also far more vulnerable while acquiring it. You’ll have to use the (sort of) x-ray vision to make sure you’re alone before you immobilise yourself since those spots are highly likely to be monitored by the enemy.

If you manage to finish the process though you’ll receive a welcome treat. The most sought after is the Hardsuit, which is essentially a 9-foot-tall mech. It’s slow and cumbersome but it comes equipped with a mini-gun and can mow down enemies in a flash. It’s not invincible though. If the other team flips on their x-ray vision they’ll see a weak spot on the Hardsuit. That weak spot will be vulnerable to small arms fire, allowing the enemy to take you down.

The Hard Suit is also vulnerable to another of the big weapons you can acquire: the flamethrower. The flamethrower essentially ignores all of the mech’s armor and literally roasts the enemy alive inside the metal mech.

They’re also getting creative with the item store as well. Rather than selling guns and hats like most other games, we were told that they’re selling personally crafted characters (among other things.) If the player doesn’t want to create their own character, but wants to play, for instance, the sexy female sniper with a pre-built loadout, they can buy that character and play her instead. Of course, other players can completely customize their own characters for free. These characters aren’t any better in competition, they’re just a fun addition for players who like that kind of thing.

If you didn’t pay attention to Blacklight: Tango Down, then you may want to give its sequel another look. It’s looking like a great sci-fi-ish addition to a genre filled with ultra-realistic hardcore modern war shooters.

Aug 27, 2011