Any shooter that dares to enter the online arena and face the juggernauts has to answer the same question – what does it provide that other shooters do not? Team Fortress 2 has incredibly varied classes, the Call of Duty series has perks and customizable loadouts, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has realism and vehicles. Blacklight: Tango Down is a well-built, (mainly) online-only FPS, but outside of the $15 price-tag, the game struggles to find a purpose.
Blacklight is a slightly futuristic shooter, if only because of the visors worn by the soldiers of the Blacklight and Order factions. When activated, the visor reveals the general positions of other players and supply stations for a few seconds. You can move, but not shoot, and the visor takes a few seconds to recharge. You will also be given digi- and EMP grenades to affect visors, but they serve the exact same functions as smoke grenades and flashbangs. I thought that the future would have more drones, cloaking materials, power-assisted armors, and other technologies that are being developed right now.
Outside of the (pseudo) sci-fi bent, Blacklight hails from the realism school of shooters. Two or three bullets, or a shotgun shell to the back, is more than enough to take down a soldier. Like so many shooters today, Blacklight is the latest adopter of ranks, or levels as they are called in this case. There are 70 levels, and strangely, no lobbies that cater to specific levels. In other words, newbs will get chewed up and spat out, and experts will have to constantly suffer the mistakes of first-timers.
For a game so focused on weapon customization – a feature touted repeatedly by the developer – Blacklight’s selection is sparse. Each class of weapon, including the assault rifle, SMG, LMG, shotgun, and sniper rifle, has only one firearm to use. Instead, modifications are supposed to be the stars of the show. Anyone who has devoted time online to the previous three Call of Duty games knows the addictive nature of ranking up and obsessively tracking when the next weapon will be unlocked. In Blacklight, you’ll never find a new shotgun gift-wrapped in your locker. You get muzzles, stocks, and other mundane goodies to play with.
As long you don’t mind modifying the same gun over and over, Blacklight has a formidable amount of customization options. The shotgun alone has 19 magazines, barrels, grips, etc., in addition to colors and little charms dangling off the side. The customization is much closer to that of Army of Two than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. You won’t find a heartbeat sensor nor a grenade launcher, but you can mix-and-match attachments into your personal franken-gun. Every addition adjusts three sliders for damage, speed, and health, although I had to scour the official Twitter feed to figure that out. The stats are signified by vague symbols, and apparently no one felt the need to explain their meanings.
There are none of the killstreaks or perks/abilities that have become synonymous with rank-based shooters. Such features aren’t absolutely necessary, but players have come to expect greater degrees of personalization in their shooters. Some form of unique skill would have given Blacklight the edge that it sorely needs. Both factions have six sets of armor to unlock with varying degrees of health, damage, and speed. If you haven’t caught on yet, you’re rookie butt and that peashooter you call a gun are going to be pulverized by high-level players and their vastly superior gear.
There are twelve maps that run the gamut of war-torn buildings to corporate parks, seedy alleys, and a train station with deadly possibilities. They are too symmetrical for my usual taste, but Blacklight compensates with a plethora of debris and containers to crouch behind, foliage to hide in, and rooftops to climb atop in search of the perfect sniping spot. The maps are so impressively detailed and complex that it’s easy to forget that Blacklight is a downloadable game.
Up to 16 players can duke it out in the free-for-all Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Retrieval (capture-the-flag), Detonate (plant bomb at enemy base), and Domination. My favorite modes, which we don’t see nearly enough nowadays, are Last Man Standing and the team variation, neither of which features respawns. There is also a one-to-four-player Black Ops mode in which you have to clear a level of enemies. The A.I. is predictable and there are no surprises throughout the four stages, but the mode is good for practicing and gaining levels in the process.
There is nothing overly problematic with Blacklight: Tango Down, nor does it bring anything new to the table. It conjures up memories of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas, Army of Two, and the Call of Duty series, which makes me wonder why I’m not playing any of them instead. Blacklight: Tango Down is nicely priced, but when you already have tickets to see the real thing, why bother with the cover band?