• Blacklight: Tango Down Review Microsoft Xbox360 XBLA

    Blacklight: Tango Down is a multiplayer-focused, first-person shooter available on the download networks, with a heavy emphasis on team-orientated play and in-depth weapon-customisation. Set during the near future, it mixes a dour, dystopian backstory with an inventive mix of technological integration to create a surprisingly rich and immersive environment, particularly for a game with barely any single-player component to help set the scene. Players are endowed with full battlefield awareness thanks to a head-wrapping visor which can be used to detect enemy and key item locations whilst surrounded by the rank, decaying locales of an Eastern-European city in full blown decline.

    Right from the first moments itís clear that Blacklight represents something very special indeed. This is a game made by FPS fans for FPS fans, plain and simple; itís been perfected, refined and tweaked to such a massive extent that absolutely every element of the game gels seamlessly together. This isnít a title that features vehicles or kill-streak rewards or any of that extraneous guff thatís tacked onto a lot of modern shooters, itís simply about outthinking and outshooting the enemy team in a series of fair, balanced confrontations.

    Thatís not to say the game doesnít feature a persistent online levelling system that rewards players whoíve spent more time in the game with additional weaponry Ė it does. But instead of unlocking new weapons, Blacklight actually rewards you with new weapon components. One of the core tenets of the title is that you actually construct your own guns. These are made from five different parts, further augmented by an additional charm bracelet that can be tied on to your firearm, which tweaks the weaponís stats in minor ways. This is at once both fascinating in terms of its intricacy and mind blowing how the developers have turned in a system that provides not only the largest variety of guns seen in any competitive shooter today, but also the most balanced online ranking system that is on the market.

    Guns feature three main statistics that each part can modify: speed, damage and health. But their effects run far deeper than this crude granularity and itís only through real experience with the different configurations that you can understand the effect a part will have on the gunís overall handling. For example the assault rifleís ĎEliteí barrel looks superior to the Composite in all its core stats but try it out in the field and youíll notice that the game counterbalances this by upping the gunís momentum during aiming and turning and thus puts a subtle but noticeable delay into its response when returning the joystick to the neutral position. This level of detailing across the whole range of parts is what makes the simple act of moving and shooting such a deep experience in Blacklight, players have to tweak their own configurations, analysing every part of their playing style whilst also balancing this against the dizzying array of loadouts theyíll be coming into contact with online.

    And while new parts are unlocked as the player migrates up through the 70 ranks available, a rank one newbie will, if they are the better player, still beat a rank seventy veteran. At the end of the day the better players always get the kills, regardless of their ranking, the game just gives you more tailoring options the more you play. Itís not uncommon at all to see people at the highest ranks still running around with some of the starting components in their loadouts. To achieve such refinement, especially given how many potential combinations there are here, with over 13,000 unique assault rifle setups alone, not to mention the other weapon types, is truly an achievement. The only slight niggle in this area are the charm bracelets. The ones you unlock are randomised and some are clearly superior to others with three levels of effectiveness for each variant. But their effects are limited, itís really the weapon parts that are the main determiner in a gunís behaviour.

    This system is backed up by a superb stock of levels. Barring Shadow Market and Wharfare, which while fun, fall prey to far more standard level design, the maps are heavily asymmetric with static team spawns and a high level of interconnectivity between map locations. Thanks to the visorís vision ability allowing the locations of every player to be overlaid on the HUD, albeit at the cost of being unable to shoot whilst switched on, players canít really get away with camping or cheap map exploits. Instead, you have to stay mobile, adapting to the situation around you, making for a very dynamic style of play, which is greatly helped by how smoothly map sections flow into each other. Sometimes this is achieved by vertical layering while at others itís managed by keeping distinct areas blocked off visually but closely physically connected. Meanwhile, their asymmetric nature makes play far more rewarding, necessitating two sets of strategies and leading to some interesting layouts such as Slumlord, where the teamsí spawns are actually on adjacent sides of the map.

    The detailing within the levels is meticulous, with attention clearly lavished on cover placement and angles of fire.The Floodgate map is a perfect example of the designersí careful balancing, using wire fencing to interfere with the visibility from some of the level's high vantage pointsí, whilst offsetting others by leaving them more exposed and vulnerable to enemy fire. Thereís always a way to flank an enemy group or quickly adjust your route to factor in changes in the battlefield situation and this lends the game a very fast-paced flow. The visorís vision mode, rather than dumbing down the action, helps to keep the game tightly focused, forcing the player to predict enemy movements for the intervening period since they last activated it and given that players can be taken down in a single burst of fire, any mistakes can cost you dearly should your flank or rear be left exposed. It also makes the games just as compelling when playing with only two or three players per side, as it helps to keep the action concentrated around a few, select areas.

    One side-effect to this type of map construction is that it is very much targeted towards the team-based modes. Free-for-alls simply donít work and the levels are too tight and small to make the assault modes compelling, with few opportunities to mount an effective defence. The bombing assault type is further hurt by the unreasonably short defuse time provided to a defending team, which makes it nigh on impossible to stop a planted bomb from exploding. One nice feature in the Domination (control point capture) mode is the option to play a little Simon Says mini-game to instantly capture a point instead of employing the more traditional method of waiting for it to switch ownership by standing nearby for a set period of time. Another nice touch is how in team deathmatch the static gun-turrets prevent enemies from entering your spawn whilst the visorís display makes it easy to break out of an enemy cordon should they manage to push your team all the way back, helping to keep the gameplay dynamic and constantly in contention.

    Blacklight looks great, with a nice variety of locales ranging from plush, modern, government-build contracts to industrial areas lit by neon glow and old, decaying, cobbled alleyways. The streets are lined with flickering holographic and neon advertisements and as the player spawns their screen is covered in graphical artefacts while the visor loads up. Worthy of particular mention is how the designers have modernised the traditional smoke and flashbang grenades. In the case of the smoke grenade it instead covers the region with a digitised mosaic and smears error codes all over the HUDs of anyone caught in the blast radius. While the flashbang grenade actually crashes the visorís operating system resulting in a terrifying version of the Windowsí blue screen of death appearing on the victimís display as the system reboots itself.

    In addition to the main game thereís a short, hour-long campaign that can be played by up to four players. Itís made up of sections from the multiplayer maps hacked together and relit with some rudimentary AI enemies thrown in. Thereís only two types of enemies, enemy soldiers who follow basic scripted paths between a few bits of cover and melee based enemies who charge straight at the player but have a nasty habit of getting stuck on the intervening scenery. Ultimately it doesnít work and is an unnecessary inclusion, but doesnít detract from Blacklightís main offerings.

    As a budget XBLA release it would be easy to write off Blacklight as a cut-down FPS entry, only of interest to the hardcore, but this couldnít be further from the truth. If you are in the market for a team-based shooter, this is one of the best on the system; the net code is sturdy, playtime is rewarded with new parts without compromising the competitiveness of new starters and the map design is outstanding. It looks good, it plays great and should be owned by anyone with an interest in the genre.

    First person shooter
    Zombie Studios
    Ignition Entertainment
    Xbox 360
    -Gun creation balanced and detailed.
    -Map design superb.
    -Retail-quality visuals.
    -Robust netcode.
    -Single/Co-op campaign poor.
    -Party support awkward.

    Score: 8/10
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