Blacklight: Retribution Review

by Justin Baillargeon August 9, 2012 @ 11:16 am


Over the past several years we have seen a prolific amount of free-to-play (F2P) games crop up, from your traditional Asia-based studio to one of gaming’s biggest giants, Valve. Free-to-play titles rely on the sale of in-game items rather than the sale of the game itself in order to create a profit. The business model has proven successful for several studios and has become one of the primary monetization strategies for mobile games.

However, a lot of games that are developed solely for the F2P market lack a lot of “premium” features that we often find in standard game titles. At the start of this year you would be hard-pressed to find a free game that could compete with your traditional brick and mortar game title. Although that was before Blacklight: Retribution was released.

Catch the full review after the break.

The Game

Blacklight: Retribution is a first-person shooter developed by Zombie Studios and published by Perfect World Entertainment as a free-to-play sequel to Blacklight: Tango Down. The game was released on April 3rd and then subsequently released on July 3rd on Valve’s digital distribution platform, Steam.

Zombie Studios has developed the game around the latest iteration of Epic’s Unreal Engine in an effort to deliver that premium, high quality feel and look to their title that most other F2P titles lack. Unlike Epic Game’s own use of their engine, Zombie Studios has created a more futuristic and mechanical world as opposed to Epic’s more organic, dark colored palette titles. You won’t find the standard “next generation” color palette of dark browns here but rather metallic greys, dirty whites and a plethora of yellow accents across the levels. You’ll also find that the weapons share this same aesthetic, providing a consistent look throughout.

The majority of the levels are all similar with nondescript buildings and barebones architecture throughout. You’ll find that most of the levels cater to the various play styles of gamers, from close quarter combat to mid and long-range combat. Unlike Call of Duty, the levels and weapons work well together whether you choose to go with a shotgun, submachine gun, assault rifle or sniper rifle.

The game’s various game modes also cater to the various play styles of gamers. You’ll be able to play KOTH, Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Capture the Flag, or a form of Domination. All of these game types can be found within other first-person shooters as well. I would’ve liked to have seen a few more game types that take advantage of some of the game’s more unique features or even removed some of those features for more traditional gameplay.

A new mode will be coming soon which alleviates one of my concerns in this review. Players will now find themselves defending a scorpion tank and escorting it through various checkpoints in a new game mode, Siege.

The futuristic-setting of the game allowed the developers to create a unique game feature that not only sets it apart from other games in the genre but also changes the entire dynamic of how it is played. The primary feature of Blacklight: Retribution that sets it apart from other games in the genre is its inclusion of what they are calling the “hyper reality visor.” This game mechanic is best described as a “legal” wall-hack. Anyone familiar with first-person shooters may be aware of one of the most devastating hacks, a wall-hack which enables hackers to see directly through walls and follow their opponents every step.

However, Zombie Studios is taking their own approach to wall-hack by enabling every player to use a limited version of it to get a glimpse at their opponent’s movements and locations throughout a match. The HRV can be used for a few seconds at a time before it has to be recharged. Once used the player pulls down a visor, removing their ability to engage in active combat, and gives a real-time view of their opponents’ locations. It then takes several seconds to recharge before being able to be used again.

This in-game wall-hack eliminates the “hunting” aspect of several FPSs in which you spend more of your time looking for an enemy than you do being engaged in actual combat. You’ll be able to jump straight into the action and you can forget about camping.

One of the primary complaints I’ve had about first-person free-to-play titles up until this point have been how awful or seemingly inaccurate their hit detection system is. I’ve been playing PC shooters since Doom and am fairly good with a mouse and keyboard but I couldn’t find a first-person shooter that was free-to-play that hit what I was aiming at 100% of the time. Well, Blacklight: Retribution seems to do exactly just that, my bullets are going exactly where I put them and I never have once blamed the game for my misses. In the video review you’ll catch a glimpse at exactly what I’m talking about.

The weapon customization system is yet one more addition to this game that will set it apart from others in the genre. You can fully customize your weapon as you see fit. The receiver, stock, barrel, scope and magazine are all customizable and will all alter how your gun performs. Each upgrade effects various attributes of the weapon, including spread, range, damage, scope-in time, etc. You’ll have to balance your choices properly in order to get a gun to your liking. You can literally spend hours configuring your weapon or spend a minute purchasing a pre-made gun that you like…if you have the currency to do so.

A close look at the weapon customization screen.

For every complete match you play in Blacklight: Retribution you earn Game Points (GP) which can be used to purchase weapon upgrades, armor upgrades, profile changes or other in-game features. However every purchase is tied to an activity timer which means that once purchased you have “x” amount of days to use the item before having to renew it using your GP for the same cost again. You can sometimes permanently purchase an item for a much larger amount of GP, usually in the multiple thousands as opposed to the couple hundred to use it for a day. Since you earn roughly 200 GP a match it could take quite some time to save up just to purchase one item permanently to avoid the renew costs.

However all of this can be bypassed if you decide to go with the game’s other form of currency, ZEN (a Perfect World currency). As a free-to-play title the publishers and developers must make money back somehow and this is exactly it, micro-transactions within the game. Everything can be bought with ZEN but not everything can be bought with GP. If you are not interested in investing any money in the game then you will find yourself playing for a long time before you are able to afford upgrades.

Another unique aspect of the game comes in the form of the depot station. As you earn points within a match you also earn Combat Points (CP) which you can spend at any nearby depot to replenish your character. These points are separate from your GP or ZEN currencies. There are several depots scattered throughout a level that allow you to replenish your ammo, health or purchase a slightly more powerful weapon. One of the most costly upgrades comes in the form of a “hardsuit”, more commonly referred to as a mech. The hardsuit enables your player to devastate the competition with impressive firepower but with a few drawbacks. With the added firepower you will not be able to use your HRV and will find your movement heavily restricted while in the suit. The suit can be brought down with regular gun fire once you’ve located its weak point or pick up a rocket launcher from the depot and take it down with just two shots.

The game’s user interface though, while sharing in the same artistic direction as the rest of the game, suffers from a few issues. Any new player will be instantly overwhelmed by the various menus and options, especially in regard to character and weapon customization. There’s a dedicated marketplace section where you can spend your hard-earned GP or ZEN as well as a character and weapon customization area in which you can spend more GP and ZEN. This separation of two “marketplaces” breaks from the game’s other consistent aspects. You can’t purchase weapon upgrades in the marketplace and instead will have to purchase them when you go to customize your weapon. There’s somewhat of a steep learning curve with the UI but nothing that can’t be overcome with a little bit of time with the game.

One of the most attractive first-person shooters of this year.

Blacklight: Retribution’s consistent aesthetics and intuitive level design make it one of the most attractive first-person shooters of this year. Its F2P nature means you’ll have to play for hours on end to permanently unlock items or level up your character to unlock more weapons and abilities. The reliance on Perfect World’s servers also mean you may be unable to play the game at times when the servers are down, a small price to pay though for a free game.

However, the consistent and accurate hit detection means you won’t be blaming the game for most of your faults but rather your own inadequacy. I would often find myself yelling at my TV while playing Call of Duty for having lag killed me but don’t recall having that same experience here. The unique HRV game mechanic and creative level design mean you won’t be out of the action for long and that is why I’ll keep on coming back to Blackight: Retribution.

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