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BlackLight: Tango Down

Score: 60%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment USA
Developer: Zombie Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 16 (Online)
Genre: Online/ First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

I don't know where it went wrong. I remember hearing the pitch for Blacklight: Tango Down and being genuinely interested about this cyber-dystopian shooter. Sure, the bleak sci-fi setting isn't exactly original, but when it's done right (ex. Deus Ex), it is usually great. Unfortunately for Blacklight, it does not afford the luxury of having the time to set up its rich world before asking gamers to drop fifteen dollars on a multiplayer only affair.

Blacklight: Tango Down makes a strong first impression visually because it benefits from the use of Unreal Engine 3. (It is also the first downloadable shooter on the Xbox Live Marketplace to be built exclusively in UE3.) The character models look nice with their robust customization options and the detail on the guns is quite impressive. And as expected for any game built using UE3, the lighting is great, but all of the textures suffer from slow loading or pop-ins. The big hook for Blacklight's visual style is the implementation of a novel heads-up-display. The HUD mimics what it would be like inside the helmet of a future soldier and uses some neat tricks to accentuate the aspect to its fullest.

The scope of the HUD is limited by the visor's edges, but it also treats the view as if it was digitally recreated on a screen inside the helmet. It's called a Hyper Reality Visor, or HRV for short. The entire on-screen image uses pixilation techniques to make it look as if your view is being distorted or being piped to you from an external video feed. EMP grenades explode in a cloud of blurred pixels masking the blast zone and other grenades can sometimes take out your visual filter altogether, leaving you with a blue screen of death on your screen. There is also a "scan" filter that reveals the direction of all of the enemies on the map but it does not tell you how far away they might be, so exploration and tact is still key.

I wish I could continue to praise Blacklight: Tango Down, but honestly the visual style and gimmicks are the only redeeming factor the game has going in its favor. The generic pseudo-industrial rock background music doesn't work at all and gets old fast because it is the only accompaniment in lobbies or the "game searching" screens which sometimes take upwards of ten minutes to find a game. The guns just sound puny and the voicework might as well be non-existent.


Blacklight: Tango Down attempts to establish an interesting setting with its dystopian backdrop and civil war setting. Two groups of soldiers are at war for their respected factions: the Blacklights work for the government and the Order works for the people. Or was it vice versa? Who cares? The game certainly doesn't or it would have done a better job of explaining why these two groups are fighting, or at least offered a cinematic explanation for the conflict to begin with.

Okay, so the setting is irrelevant if the game plays well. So does it? Well, for fifteen dollars, Blacklight is as bare bones as it can be without actually being free. (Although, there are some free games that do play better. Battlefield: Heroes for one.) Only the two factions are available to customize your character and the typical gameplay modes come standard: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Retrieval a.k.a Capture the Flag, Domination, Last Man Standing, and Last Team Standing. So the big hook is really Blacklight's gun customization and class feature. There are no preset "classes" but they do have special loadouts fit for any situation. The ability to tweak the gun in various ways as you gain experience and progress adds to your arsenal of deadly weapons; which then helps you to kill more players; which then unlocks more customization options. It's a deadly cycle.

Each gun can be tweaked from the type of muzzle, to the scope, the ammo clip, the stock, and even little charms and trinkets to make more your own. The new equipment that becomes available is spaced out in odd intervals throughout your progression, because instead of getting an all new gun, you get a new piece that can be swapped out on your gun of choice like SMGs, assault rifles, and shotguns. This was a very bold design decision, but the lack of any real tangible reward as you progress doesn't offer any incentive to keep playing. It also doesn't help that the online community for Blacklight: Tango Down is mostly a ghost town. And what's left of that is filled with griefers, cheaters, and dirty players.

It would sometimes take up to ten minutes of waiting in a lobby before a match started, and once it starts, the opposing team set out to exploit every single facet of the map they could. As far as I can tell, ALL of the multiplayer maps are small and symmetrical. Very small. In some cases, as you spawn into the round, you are already in the sightline of the enemy in his spawn point. The deterrent from infiltrating the enemy base and spawn camping are turrets that are placed outside the camp that automatically fire on any hostile. Within five minutes of my first match, people were already throwing EMP grenades and bypassing the turrets so they could hide in our team's spawn point and backstab us as soon as we spawned into the world.

I might be willing to put up with such antics from any other game as long as I felt like I had the tools to stop it from happening. At the earlier levels, you simply do not have adequate equipment available to you to combat the higher level players. It's this delicate mixture of negative reinforcement and carrot-dangling that games like Modern Warfare 2 and Bad Company 2 get so right, but in the case of Blacklight: Tango Down, the combination of never feeling properly prepared for the match, being greatly outgunned by players who have spent way more time unlocking new equipment, and the claustrophobic map sizes are what cause the game's biggest flaw: it simply isn't any fun.


There are two ways to play Blacklight: Tango Down. You can go into online lobbies and compete with various players around the world; in which case the difficulty really depends on your patience of learning the ropes until you unlock new equipment. Or you can have a few friends join you and take down a few "Horde Mode" inspired levels called Black Ops. Basically, these are a few maps with a waves of enemies trying to prevent you from completing your task in increasingly difficult challenges. Unfortunately, this mode really has to be played with a team because it is impossible without the extra firepower. You will be outgunned very quickly and you would be lucky to live past the three-minute mark.

Game Mechanics:

I hate to use the phrase "The shooting doesn't feel right" because it claims that the way the guns are handled is such an esoteric experience that it can't be explained. In fact, it just means that as gamers, we take many things for granted when we play FPS games. You never know how much you miss something until its gone and for Blacklight: Tango Down, what is missing is aim-assist. Before you cry out that I am a "scrub" or a "noob" because I want aim assist, consider the following. A computer mouse is a much more accurate device to aim a cursor on a screen than two analog sticks. Sticks are clumsy and slow, which is a kiss of death for frantic shooters which means any competitive console shooter needs aim-assist. Blacklight: Tango Down seems to be missing any form of aim-assist which makes aiming and shooting far more difficult than it should be in a fifteen dollar game. It wouldn't be such a big deal if the controller sensitivities weren't so hard to fine tune. It took me a good two hours just messing with different sensitivity settings with different guns before I found settings I could settle for, but not be entirely comfortable with. Even then, I still couldn't find a good weapon loadout that suited my play style either.

I don't want it to seem like I have it out for Blacklight: Tango Down, because I was genuinely interested in the concept and early gameplay videos I saw before launch. It simply disappoints me that the finished product amounts to nothing more than a generic bargain bin shooter with poor controls and loose shooting. It also has to be noted that the fifteen dollar asking price is providing players with exactly what they pay for: lowered standards.

For me, I just didn't find Blacklight to be fun at all, but I am willing to concede that I might be wrong. Maybe I just didn't "get it." The user reviews are generally very positive and the vocal community chatter in-game heaps praise on this sci-fi shooter, but the lackluster customization options, poor level design, and finicky shooting means this is a game for players looking for a cheap alternative to the heavy hitters that have already proven themselves on the market.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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