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September 2018

Black Day

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Developer: Helios Production
Release Date: 2018


PC Preview - 'Black Day'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 19, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Black Day is a singleplayer tactical military simulation that allows you to personalize the game experience by setting different variables such as equipment, number and types of enemies…

The military-themed shooter is something of an evergreen trend in video games of the last two decades, whether it's a first- or third-person shooter, a realistic setting or a sci-fi one, or a small or big development company. In a way, shooting fans have come to rely on it like comfort food, since they what they're getting. At first glance, Black Day seems like just another military-themed shooter, but it has a gimmick that makes the game feel rather fresh.

That gimmick is customized randomization. It starts off innocently enough, as you can outfit your soldier in all sorts of gear, as nothing affects you positively or negatively. From there, you can choose between Spec-Ops for solo play or Factions War, which groups you with friendly AI. Once that choice is made, things really open up.

For starters, you can choose your map, each one dictating the theme, such as sci-fi or forest combat in Eastern Europe, but they're all quite sizeable. All those maps come with the option to play them at night or with inclement weather, like rain and fog. Next, you can choose your weapon loadout from a variety of military issue pieces, like assault rifles, pistols and sniper rifles, all with different firing modes. Then you can specify the finer details, including the enemy spawn rate, special enemy types and vehicle presence. You can also choose how many objectives you want to complete on a single run. All of these choices tailor the mission difficulty and how much XP you'll gain, which becomes important later. Once all of that is set, you're dropped into a satellite view of the map, which only shows the location of each objective and which waypoints you can choose from. Select a starting point and an extraction point, and you're good to go.

The randomness comes from the fact that you can't choose your objectives during a session. You can choose how many objectives you'll undertake and whether they'll be non-violent, but you can't set up specific tasks. One session might ask you to occupy a territory, hack a computer, and rescue a hostage. Another session in the same area might ask you to hack a PC again, but this time, it's accompanied by an assassination mission and sabotaging a weapons cache. The objectives also change per life, so dying and restarting a stage presents a new set of tasks instead of attempting to do the same ones again. The good news is that completing any objective will net you XP, so you'll get something for your trouble, even if things go pear-shaped toward the end.

XP is essential for leveling up and unlocking new maps and guns. The maps are pretty crucial since the layout remains static for every playthrough, and the map count is currently rather small. Admittedly, while the XP required to unlock stages seems reasonable, the amount of XP earned per objective is small, even if you turn on every modifier to make things more difficult. As a result, expect to do a bunch of grinding to unlock even the cheapest stages.

The gimmick is done well and is appealing because it provides a sense of unlimited replayability, since no two runs are ever the same. This would've been perfect for co-op multiplayer, but since that isn't in the current plan for the game, only solo players will benefit. Early Access means that things aren't going to be perfect, and the game is still being fleshed out with weekly updates.

Bugs are expected for a game in alpha status. Almost every object has a case of pop-in, with some very noticeable level-of-detail changes happening very close to the player. Play in bad weather, and you get the sense that it's raining due to the sound of thunder since no rain is ever seen in-game. Character models either have bad animations or sometimes slide around when taking cover. The audio often stutters mere minutes after a stage has begun. Again, all of these are expected since the game is still in alpha status, but it's something to be aware of.

What's more puzzling is the actual shooting mechanics. Play the game from a third-person perspective, and you'll mostly shoot at the environment if your body is close to an object, despite what the crosshairs tell you. Play from a first-person perspective, and the shooting accuracy is much improved, although the transition from normal camera distance to a zoomed one is too quick and jarring. Unless you're looking for ultra realism in your experience, you'll miss some elements that are seen in almost all other shooters. You have no indication that you're being hit or what direction the bullets are flying from, and there isn't a solid indicator that you've hit or killed someone, so you'll never know whether they're dead or have simply moved into another position. It also doesn't help that the current AI can sometimes go brain-dead, including more than a few instances when they ran past the player without retaliating or ignoring gunshots altogether.

The game is still in alpha, but Black Day shows promise. The constant updates provide a good balance of new features and bug fixes, so there's no fear of abandonment. Even though the customized randomization doesn't have too many options yet, its implementation is good enough that it'll take some time before boredom will set in. The bugs and other issues may give some players pause, but it's certainly worth keeping an eye on Black Day to see how it shapes up as it marches towards its full release later this year.

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