Hands-on with Blacklight Retribution's biggest update yet
February 27th will mark one year since Blacklight: Retribution threw the doors of its beta wide open. Since then, it's ranked among Steam's 50 most-played shooters. For the game's first anniversary, publisher Perfect World Entertainment is hoping to keep the free-to-play shooter's success story going with an update called Onslaught, its biggest content push to date.

I recently attended a preview event for Massively to sample Onslaught for myself. Let's start with the small and work our way up.

Bag of stuff

A bag of stuff? Yeah, it's what I'm calling the oh-so-bullet-pointable content that I mention only because I owe it to you, reader, to provide everything you need to know about Onslaught in one place.

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Two new weapons, for instance, as seen in these screenshots. The AK470 is "a modern update to a legendary design of ages past." It doesn't seem to be made of much wood anymore, though. The other is the M4X. These two toys make for a total of 23 guns and over 12 million possible permutations of weaponry in your arsenal.

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The game is also getting a new hero, the Ghost. He's a rogue type with high stamina and high HRV (the visor that highlights enemy outlines on the horizon). He's available for in-game currency, so those of you who aren't happy with the typical "pay-to-win" philosophy will be pleased there.

What else are we getting? Two new maps: Metro and Safehold. Metro's map is a winning formula, a network of subway tunnels (use a shotgun!) that often feed into the open plaza above (use a rifle!).

Finally, BLR will see two new game modes. The first, Search and Destroy, is a game that takes place over 10 rounds, during which the attacking team must plant a bomb at one of two sites. The twist? Bombers are unseen by HRV. The Search and Destroy mode wasn't quite ready to be played when I visited Perfect World's studio last week, but the other, the update's namesake, Onslaught, was.

Onslaught

The Onslaught mode is a clear descendant of the enemy wave modes featured in so many other games, though you'll have to do more than just hunker down and survive to win. "There are a lot of ways to fail," Perfect World senior producer Mark Hill told me during my demo. Having all players downed is an obvious one, but there's also a clock to beat and cross-map objectives to seek out.

Frankly, the addition of Onslaught is a no-brainer. Fighting alongside human players and against AI for a change is a great option. Left 4 Dead and its ilk always did carry a truly different flavor of stress and release than your standard deathmatch, and Blacklight: Retribution is nowhere short of that game's level of polish.

But a couple of things in Onslaught stuck out to me as a bit uninspired. The first is the enemy models themselves. They were made exclusively for Onslaught mode, but they're still run-of-the-mill stuff: zombies, fire zombies, zombie dogs, riot shield zombies... OK, they aren't all zombies, but they don't stand out much either way.

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The other problem lies in their AI. They come at you on what feel like conveyor belts, streaming along in single-file clusters just asking to be gunned down. This is hugely apparent when you flip on HRV (which Hill calls the game's "legal wall hack"). With HRV on, enemy waves resemble orange blobs of many limbs. Often I'd stand at the source of these streams, converting them to mountains of sushi with my katana out and many furious right clicks.

Don't get me wrong; Onslaught mode is worth your time, especially if you're on board with Blacklight: Retribution already. It's hectic as hell and keeps you moving. Played with friends instead of strangers, it should be a fun mountain to climb and a difficult one (my squad and I were wiped out on the ninth of 10 total waves -- bummer).

Besides, Onslaught mode can only improve from here. The mode is brand-new, and more maps are in the works.

ESL integration is on the way

Really, the game is still young in the grand scheme of the genre. Despite that, Perfect World Entertainment has partnered with the Electronic Sports League to make Blacklight: Retribution that much more hardcore. The league approached the game-makers rather than the other way around, offering to provide ladders, leaderboards, and some suggestions on how to fine-tune gameplay.

Most of these ESL-oriented tweaks are coming after the Onslaught update rather than along with it, though some are in the game already. Recoil tweaks were among of them; vertical recoil is now capped and horizontal recoil has been added. Says the blog post announcing the changes, "Net impact? Instead of being able to mitigate recoil by just moving the mouse down, you'll have to adjust dynamically, correcting for both horizontal and vertical recoil."

A wealth of stat-tracking, previously unshared, is also in the cards. At game's end you can learn how many thousands of footsteps you took, for example, or how much GP (in-game currency) you earned per minute.

With new content, new game modes, and ESL integration especially, Blacklight: Retribution is growing up fast.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.
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