Over the last several years, Zombie Studios has devoted a lot of its resources to the so-called "serious" games business, including training products for the US Army. With its latest project, Blacklight: Tango Down, Zombie is breaking out of this serious mindset without straying too far from the military theme.

Blacklight sounds great on paper: a hefty downloadable multiplayer shooter, with 12 maps and 7 game types, set in near-future Eastern Europe and inspired by Blade Runner with a focus on customization. "Over two trillion weapon and armor combinations," quipped a representative during a recent preview of the game's co-op mode, which was held at publisher Ignition Entertainment's Calif. offices.

In practice, however, I found that Blacklight -- at least, in its currently unfinished state -- didn't come together to be a very entertaining experience. What did impress me, though, was the deep weapon and armor combination system.

Blacklight features standard weapon classes, including submachine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns and so on. Each weapon has a base body onto which up to six different extra parts can be attached. So, for example, you can create a pistol with a silencer and a laser sight, or a sniper rifle with an extra magazine and an added-accuracy barrel. Additionally, there are grenades and mines to play with, including a unique "digi" grenade (more on that in a bit), and various armor loadouts and "camos" (colors) to choose from.

Your weapons and armor contribute to three main stats: damage, speed and health. So building out your individual character is theoretically about balancing these three characteristics, as it suits your play style. Additionally, as you play, you can find random "weapon tags" that boost your stats. As the Ignition rep explained, "Your weapon is your persona in the game -- it's how you play the game."


Regardless of how you balance out your stats, you can't run and gun through Blacklight's co-op missions. Step out into the open, and within a few seconds, The Order (your enemy -- a rogue group of mercenaries) will gun you down. The game has to be played tactically, requiring your squad to go slow and figure out angles and enemy placement before you coordinating an attack.

To help you, Zombie has imagined a future technology called the HRV -- or Hyper-Reality Visor. Basically, it's your HUD, which can be activated for 10 seconds or so with the press of a button. While in this visor mode, you can reveal enemy, health and ammo placements -- but you can't use your weapon. So the idea here is that one person jumps into HRV, and then calls out targets to the rest of the squad.

Unfortunately, as veterans of online shooters know, a coordinated team of random players is a rare blessing (and playing in private matches doesn't earn XP in Blacklight). So, the game ends up feeling a bit stilted and doesn't live up to the expectations set by the expansive customization options.


Blacklight does feature some nice aesthetic touches. The levels have been decorated with a variety of colors, and glowing neons offer a slick contrast against the otherwise dark urban landscape; even if the graphics are a little blocky. I was told the game is currently a half-gigabyte, and while the assets look good given this limited file size, Blacklight is not striving to win any art design awards.

The guns look good, too, and the digi grenade I mentioned above sets off an especially cool effect. Upon exploding, this grenade releases a cloud of "digital" smoke and resets the HRV of any player it hits. If struck, you experience a "blue screen of death," and then a quick restart of your on-board visor system. It's a nice original touch to the classic stun grenade mechanic.

While I was only able to play one of the four included co-op missions, I wasn't very impressed with the AI, which, obviously, won't be a concern in the core 8-vs-8 (human) online modes. We'll get to see some of those at E3, which might provide more incentive to invest in Blacklight: Tango Down when it's released this summer on XBLA, PSN and PC for $15.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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