Monday, August 09, 2010

Blacklight: Tango Down Review

Blacklight: Tango Down, developed by Zombie Studios and published by Ignition Entertainment.
The Good: Enjoyable combat with a frenzied pace, extensive weapon customization
The Not So Good: Terrible matchmaking options, poor level designs promote spawn camping, throwaway co-op mode, most weapon items unlocked initially, display shrunk for non-widescreen monitors
What say you? This futuristic online shooter has plentiful weapon upgrades and frantic battles but a host of port-induced limitations: 5/8

If the reviews on this site are any indication, I like killing people from afar in strategy games and up close in first person shooters. There’s no better place to live out my violent tendencies than on the PC: all of the bloodshed with none of the jail time! Today’s entry into the second half of the death equation is Blacklight: Tango Down, which, despite the subtitle, does not involve South American dancing of any kind. How disappointing. What it does feature is some futuristic online combat, trying to capitalize on the popularity of the Duties and Companies of the world, but in a budget-sized package.

Blacklight: Tango Down gets “dark” and “urban” right, as all of the levels are dark and urban. This becomes a bit repetitive after a while and none of the maps retain individuality. The character models are done well, and there are some fancy special effects when soldiers are killed and the electronic grenades are used, plus little computerized animations when navigating through the menus and loading screens. Each soldier is equipped with a visor that acts as the heads-up display, but it is fixed at a widescreen resolution: those of us with more traditional monitors will have gigantic black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. I see in full-screen, why can’t the game? Blacklight: Tango Down also has the capability of displaying in-game ads, though I did not see any (just blank placeholders). On the sound side of things, the voice acting is only experienced during the co-op mode, and it’s totally forgettable, complete with some weird accents. Blacklight: Tango Down does have nice sound effects for spotting and hitting enemies, trying in with the futuristic setting of the game. Overall, though, I feel Blacklight: Tango Down surpasses its $15 price tag in terms of graphics and sound.

In the future, people shoot other people. In the face. Blacklight: Tango Down features a four-player cooperative mode called “black ops” that can be completely skipped over, since it’s simply a shooting gallery against heavily scripted AI bots. In fact, you can’t even join a black ops game without being invited by a friend first, further restricting the appeal of the four linear missions. The game is primarily designed for competitive play, and Blacklight: Tango Down borrows game modes from most online shooters: deathmatch, team deathmatch, retrieval (also known as capture the flag), detonate (also known as capture the flag with one flag), domination, and last man (or team) standing. I prefer objective-based modes: there is less luck with spawning and more predictable enemy positions. The game supports sixteen players, though you are unlikely to encounter that many foes (for reasons I shall describe in the next paragraph) and games start with as few as six players. The usual fifteen-minute time limit is long considering the quick pace of the game.

Blacklight: Tango Down has some of the worst matchmaking I’ve experienced in an online shooter. A lot of the blame can probably be directed towards the awesome incompetence of Games for Windows LIVE. First off, the game lacks a server browser, instead having quick matches that connect to a player host (no dedicated servers, naturally). You must choose a game mode before joining a ranked quick match, filtering out types that might have more people playing. Why can’t you simply join most populated lobby of any type, or have a checklist to choose preferred modes? Oh, right, because this is developed for the crappy XBOX 360, that’s why. Simply put, you should not have separate rooms for seven game types. Period. You will spend a lot of time creating empty rooms or waiting for people to join and make six competitors, wasting precious minutes that could have been spent shooting others in the face. You can’t join games in progress, either, making the likelihood of finding a successful match for one specific game type quite unlikely. It’s not worth the effort looking for a game in Blacklight: Tango Down.

Like most recent online shooters, Blacklight: Tango Down features extensive upgrades for your killing needs. Each of the weapon enhancements can affect your three ratings: damage, speed, or armor. The add-ons are divided between scopes, magazines, muzzles, barrels, stocks, and camouflage. These are gradually but slowly unlocked as you level up, earning experience rather quickly through combat. Yes, none of the advanced options are available to newcomers, but thankfully I felt like I was never at a distinct disadvantage being underequipped, unlike in some other games (*cough*Bad Company 2*cough*). The game does not highlight newly unlocked items, though, so you’ll have to routinely navigate through the menus looking for the most recent items. As a tradeoff, the game does have pre-set load-outs that do incorporate the new items. There is only one gun of each type (submachine gun, sniper rifle, assault rifle, shotgun, and light machine gun), which is just fine with me since most of the changes would be cosmetic anyway. You are also given three pistols you’ll never use and an assortment of grenades that damage or hinder your enemies; the EMP and digital grenades do cool electronic things like rebooting HUDs and putting blocky “ERROR” messages over a portion of the map. While not exhibiting a large number of weapons, Blacklight: Tango Down does cover all the necessary bases.

Blacklight: Tango Down has a pretty slick presentation, incorporating a futuristic feel through the HUD visor and other touches in the menus. The game has a very fast pace, which is fine, where one or two shots mean death. This is a far more preferable balance than quick kills and a slow pace, which wastes tons of time walking to the combat only to get shot immediately. The automated voices make it easy to spot enemies, and the small level designs place you in close proximity to enemy spawn points, making it very easy to spawn camp in the team based modes. The small oddities don’t stop there, as ammunition dumps and health stations are available but completely unnecessary, and there is a Simon-like minigame for hacking computer terminals that adds nothing to the gameplay. That said, I still enjoyed playing Blacklight: Tango Down when I was able to find a match, as the weapons are balanced where each class has an appropriate role. I liked the submachine gun the best for medium-ranged encounters, while the sniper rifle seems slightly inappropriate for a game of this velocity and shotguns are deadly up close. This game is a good substitute for those who don’t want to invest in a full-priced title and don’t mind the various limitations you get for $15.

Blacklight: Tango Down is an OK online shooter for the price. The fast pace and quick kills makes for a less frustrating experience, since you’ll be respawning early and often and are never too far from conflict. The level design doesn’t help the plague of spawn camping, though, as maps are cramped, movement is predictable, and starting invincibility is limited. Forget about playing the cooperative black ops mode: it’s a simple shooting gallery with uninteresting objectives. Better are the team-based online modes, borrowed from other games but still relevant here. Blacklight: Tango Down features a lot of weapon upgrades to earn over time, but all of the options are restricted from the new player. Thankfully, recruits are still fairly competitive with the initial load out. There are some undesirable artifacts from a console port, like the idiotically limited matchmaking and widescreen display restriction. Still, the slick presentation and action-packed gameplay are a nice mix for the price, so fans of online shooters will find some pleasure contained herein.