The memory restrictions of Xbox Live Arcade games might have increased over the years, but that does not diminish the technical impressiveness of Zombie Studios’ Blacklight: Tango Down. When watching this first person shooter in action, the detail and the smooth visuals make it a dead ringer for a full-fledged $60 game, easily surpassing many Xbox 360 games in graphics and performance. If given nine more months of development time and considering the franchise ambitions that Zombie has laid out for Blacklight, the studio probably could have added a hashed out story mode and more expansive multiplayer maps. Instead they chose to join the now-dense ranks of this summer’s high quality DLC titles. In many ways it makes sense since there aren’t any original FPS IPs in the DLC space (at least none that this writer can recall), so why not be one of the first?
The post-modern menus and loading screens (which resemble works from 1990’s U.K. design firms) runs inline with Blacklight’s overall look and setting. All 12 multiplayer maps and the 4 Black Ops maps depict a near-future world of urban chaos, relying on tried and true environs like war-torn city plazas, near-derelict subways, trashed bridges, and an expansive series of rooftops. As with any well-designed multiplayer title, the layouts of the different maps lend to different strategies depending on the modes.
Aside from the obligatory Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Retrieval (ie. Capture The Flag), and Domination (ie. Conquest) modes, there are four other play formats that add substantial replayability to Blacklight. The self-explanatory Last Man Standing and Last Team Standing modes add a “survival” aspect to the Deathmatch-style set up. Detonate is one of the more addicting modes and involves planting a time bomb at the enemy’s base. Black Ops, Blacklight’s story mode, is played against the AI and can be played solo or cooperatively with friends.
The aforementioned futuristic design extends to the player’s arsenal, where Digi and EMP Grenades can digitally and visually disrupt nearby players, making them venerable to attacks. One standout feature is the Hyper Reality Visor, which allows the user to see through walls and other impediments in order to spot friendlies, enemies as well as health and ammo stations. Of course these can only be used for short periods of time before recharging and managing the usage of the HRV without overly relying on it will be key in setting oneself apart from the competition. It should be noted that the tiny fonts used throughout Blacklight (in the name of post-modern artistic expression) should finally push a few gamers to finally get rid of their aged CRT televisions since much of the lettering is near-impossible to read without a high-definition TV.
The recent lucrative trend of weapon customization has certainly not been lost on Zombie Studios. By taking pages out of the Call of Duty and Borderlands playbooks, Blacklight offers an array of armory options to tailor loadouts for submachine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns and assault rifles not to mention secondary weapon sidearms, additional equipment and armor. Adding yet another level of customization depth are the Weapon Tags, which are cell phone-inspired trinkets that modify a player’s stats. Many of these add-ons have to be earned (or bought) though, which of course encourages the consumer to keep playing.
Should Zombie Studios holds a session at GDC 2011, the room will be packed with DLC and indie developers wanting to learn developer’s smoke-and-mirrors secrets that allowed them to pack so much content, detail and performance in 704 megabytes. The fact that Zombie’s staff is mostly made up ex-Monolith developers (Shogo, F.E.A.R., Condemned, No One Lives Forever) shows how much experience counts in game optimization (among other talents). What Blacklight: Tango Down lacks in originality, it makes up for in relative depth and technical wizardry.
(This review was based off a 6-hour session with the game’s Xbox 360 version, which involved at least 2 sessions of each multiplayer mode and completion of 3 Black Ops missions at the Normal difficulty setting, rising to the rank of 9 (Staff Sergeant II). 2 out of 12 achievements were unlocked for a Gamerscore of 10. A download code was provided by Ignition Entertainment for review purposes.)
Developer: Zombie Studios
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3
Released: July 7, 2010 (Xbox 360) / July 14, 2010 (PC) / TBA (PlayStation 3)