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The Firing Line: Blacklight: Retribution open beta impressions

Jef Reahard

So I spent a little time with Perfect World Entertainment's new multiplayer shooter this week.


Yeah, it is strange to think that the company responsible for Rusty Hearts, Ether Saga Odyssey, and about 20 million other free-to-play MMOs has finally jumped onto the FPS bandwagon. While PWE is publishing Blacklight: Retribution, though, design and development of the spiffy sci-fi action title comes courtesy of Zombie Studios.

Blacklight: Retribution - Oh shi... a hardsuit
Blacklight: Retribution is the followup to Zombie's Blacklight: Tango Down title that debuted on Xbox Live and the PlayStation network in 2010. This time around, the dev team is ditching consoles for superior PC horsepower, and it shows via the new game's visuals and performance.

First things first, though. PWE's initial foray into the shooter genre is not quite massive. The 16v16 action is the upper limit here in terms of player capacity, and even though many clueless MMO sites will no doubt label this game an MMOFPS, it's clearly not.

Blacklight: Retribution - Menu screen
It is an above-average online shooter, though, and it looks and plays far better than most free-to-play offerings thanks to the magic of the Unreal 3 engine. And don't worry -- even if you're running a two-year old PC with a bone-stock video card, the game will still throw down quite smoothly thanks to the scalability built in to Epic's engine.

You might miss some of the prettier details, but you won't be losing matches or getting owned on account of dated hardware. Assuming your rig can keep up, the game makes full use of DirectX11, and whether you're oogling the detailed gear and weapon models or marveling over the moisture and image reflection effects, there's no end to the eye-candy in Blacklight.

The setting is a sleek mixture of near-future dystopia and something that Zombie calls "science fact." There's no teleporting or hyperspace jumps; instead, there are plenty of plausible leaps from real-world military technology to the juiced up versions of such that might exist a few years from now.

Like many shooters, BLR takes place in an urban cityscape that Zombie says is a sort of Neo-Tokyo with "a lot of overbuild and a lot of signage." Whatever the label, it looks fantastic, and the environments have a realistic feel not unlike those in Call of Duty and other mega-budget blockbusters. The one downside in terms of visuals is a cluttered menu layout, but fortunately the in-game UI does everything you'd expect a shooter UI to do, and it stays out of your way.

Blacklight: Retribution - Gameplay screen
Blacklight feels somewhat different from other shooters almost immediately. The first thing you'll do in the training instance is a hacking minigame, and while it's nothing terribly involved (the title's main controls still amount to WASD after all), it's nonetheless a nice change of pace from insert-clip-fire-at-bad-guys.

Another thing that sets a BLR match apart is the use of weapon depots, and the escalation that such depots provide. As matches progress, players are able to bring in larger and more powerful tools, many of which can single-handedly turn the tide of battle. Everything from miniguns to airstrikes to hulking mechanized hardsuits is fair game.

If that sounds worrisome in terms of balanced gameplay, fear not; Zombie considered the repercussions at length, particularly where the devastating hardsuits are concerned. When a hardsuit spawns from a weapon depot, it comes with a randomly placed weak spot that can be identified and focused on by enemy players, which theoretically prevents the dreaded I-win button that such an awesome piece of hardware would normally provide.

The HRV (or hyper-reality visor) is another nice gameplay touch, and it's highly reminiscent of detective mode in Rocksteady's single-player Batman games. Pressing V will drop the visor over your normal view, and you're able to use what amounts to tactical x-ray vision for a few brief seconds. You can spot a choke point, a much-needed weapon depot, or a nearby foe, all while safely under cover.

What about thrown weapons? Well, Blacklight has them, and instead of the smoke grenades and flashbangs you may be used to in other shooters, here you'll be tossing around EMPs that literally bluescreen the heads-up displays of your opponents for a couple of crucial seconds. The net effect on gameplay is the same, but it's a subtle and immersive twist that makes BLR more interesting.

In terms of game modes, there's nothing really revolutionary here, and if I were actually reviewing Blacklight Retribution, I might be forced to dock a few points for the sake of the same old capture-the-flag and deathmatch modes. That's not to say the game isn't fun and past-paced, though, and frankly there's only so much you can do in this department if you're making a shooter.
Worth a look
The matches I managed to queue for this week were a great way to kill 20 minutes or so, and the game's light-duty progression elements provide a reason to keep playing beyond visuals and pew pew (it's also worth mentioning the fact that ranked matches have not been enabled in the ongoing open beta as of yet). If it weren't for Tribes: Ascend's pulse-pounding aerial elements, I'd probably be spending a lot more time with Blacklight. As it stands, Zombie's game is certainly one I'll keep on my desktop and check in with regularly.

Given the high-quality production values and the free-to-play price point, I recommend you do the same.

The Firing Line's Jef Reahard has a twitchy trigger finger, a love of online shooters, and an uncanny resemblance to Malcolm Reynolds. OK, maybe not, but at least if he ever kills you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing him, and you'll be armed.

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