These days, it seems like every FPS out there has a gimmick of some sort — and in many respects, you have to have one if you want to stand out from the pack. After all, if every FPS used exactly the same mechanics, there would be no point to anything beyond the standard Unreal Tournament. So what hope does the download-only, budget-priced, Blacklight: Tango Down have in an already crowded market? One hell of a gimmick.
Running off a modified version of the Unreal Engine, Blacklight looks sharp and boasts tight controls right out of the gate. Weapons are varied, and loadouts can be customized to a great extent (more than a million possible weapon combinations, according to the PR guy). What caught our eye during a recent round of hands-on time, however, wasn't a weapon, but an ability that can be used by any player on the map, at virtually any time. If implemented correctly, it has the potential to be a game changer.
Called the Hyper Reality Visor (HRV), it is a virtual headset that essentially gives the player thermal-colored X-ray vision. When using the HRV, you can see through walls, have targets automatically identified and know exactly where the enemy players are at all times. Of course, there's a catch. Not only is the HRV time-limited, but using it also requires both of your virtual hands, so it is impossible to fire a weapon. There is also a short delay when switching it off, leaving a moment of vulnerability between using the HRV and getting medieval on your opponent's ass.
It's obvious that a lot of thought went into the use restrictions because during our, admittedly limited, time with Blacklight: Tango Down, the HRV never felt overpowered or unfair. On the flip side, not only was it imminently useful, but it also helped keep the action flowing, especially given that we were only going at it with four players (two versus two). The final version of the game will support up to 16 players per map.
Because both sides had the HRV on hand, we never had to waste time running around the map trying to find one another. Instead, combat was fast and furious, with little to no lapses between skirmishes.
The HRV also has the side effect of making camping an impossible task. While there is likely a handful of players no doubt annoyed at that idea, we are going to guess that the vast majority of FPS gamers will be thrilled at the prospect of a match where camping is a useless tactic. This doesn't mean that snipers are outdated — on the contrary, Blacklight has a very sweet sniper rifle in one of its default weapon sets — it just means that there's no more hiding in an out-of-the-way nook. You take your shot and keep on moving.
Weapon customization also promises to be a draw in Blacklight: Tango Down. As you progress through experience levels with your character, you will be awarded a random weapon tag, which changes the attributes of one of your weapons. These upgrades can be used to customize the default offerings as you see fit. We're a little skeptical of the sheer numbers, but for now, we'll give the developer the benefit of the doubt. After all, there may be tens of thousands of possible variations of a shotgun, but can they really handle all that differently from one another? Here's hoping that the variety promised is more than just superficial.
In terms of game modes, Blacklight: Tango Down is set to ship with a set of 12 different maps and seven different gameplay modes. We got the chance to look at deathmatch, team deathmatch, domination and retrieval. All are fairly straightforward, though there was one nifty twist on the standard control point formula. Instead of just standing next to a control point and waiting for the flag to change color, Blacklight: Tango Down implements a "Simon Says" type minigame.
That's right. When you activate a control point, the computer flashes a pattern of lights on the screen. You need to replicate that pattern in order to capture the point. Screw it up, and you have to start over. Get shot by an opponent, and you have to start over. Yes, we know that minigames in your FPS sounds stupid, but they're not. The mechanics play out quite well and fit right in with the game's "hacking" theme.
Set for release on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, Blacklight: Tango Down should be identical across platforms with the exception of the PC version offering higher-resolution visuals. No price point is officially set, though the developers said they were expecting to ship with a retail price of approximately $15 (that would be 1200 MS points for Xbox folks).
Blacklight: Tango Down may not have a story mode, but it offers the tantalizing promise of some high-class multiplayer action at a nicely situated low-class price. If things come together the way the team plans, this little shooter could be a surprise hit.
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