Impressions: Blacklight: Tango Down

BlackLight: Tango Down is a bit of a tricky little bugger. At first glance, it’s a great-looking multiplayer shooter that is, admittedly, something of a rarity on the Xbox 360’s XBLA service.  Powered by Unreal Engine 3 technology, it’s a simple shooter akin to Call of Duty, Bad Company, or just about any other “modern” warfare contender out there, and it seems, at least, that it could stand on its own beside full retail releases. However, scratch the surface and you’ll soon discover that just beneath it’s deceptively shiny surface is a bullet hole-ridden experience that lacks polish where it counts and brimming with generic and lifeless gameplay throughout.  Chances are you’ve already played what this game has to offer elsewhere, and probably – despite its budget-conscious nature – for less money.

Unsurprisingly, this heftily-priced downloadable op offers both campaign and multiplayer. It’s obvious which mode 90% of the gamers who purchase it are going to gravitate toward, so I suppose it shouldn’t have come as any sort of surprise that what can loosely be described as “plot-based” missions are lazily thrown together and ultimately throwaway compared to the “real” meat of the game, and what you really came for: mindless fragging. Each mission allows up to four-player co-op so as not to anger the enraged masses clamoring for social destruction, and can run around thirty minutes each go.

Throughout each mission you’ll toggle switches and move from area to area, sweeping each one clean of the enemies who would have your head…if they weren’t so busy getting tangled in the environments or ignoring your presence. Nameless, faceless soldiers spawn and respawn again through largely uninspired stages that dare you to continue forward without defecting to the multiplayer mode.

A lack of proper tutorials or any real explanation running down how to play the game other than assuming it employs the same “shooter controls” you’re already used to further complicates the experience and succeeds in alienating those looking for a quick stop-‘n’-pop romp. Luckily a quick look through the menu familiarized me enough with some of the game’s stranger mechanics (grenades that dispense domes of “distorted” code and static) and the controls to soldier on.

Fortunately, since the single-player/cooperative mode is so flimsy, if you do waste any time in it, all of your actions and subsequent experience earned while slogging through city streets littered with in-game advertisements (far more than I found acceptable for the $15 price tag) and the run-down ruins of what appears to be some kind of futuristic city plagued by the pesky little bug we know as “war.” Or something like that. It’s not as if this haphazard story mode sufficiently answers any real questions. With that said, it’s painfully obvious that developer Zombie geared all attention toward beefing up the multiplayer mode that would undoubtedly be the real reason any FPS fan would have his or her eye on this title.

Hopping over to the multiplayer opens up a wealth of options that will no doubt be familiar to anyone who’s ever fragged Li in Shanghai thanks to the magic of Xbox Live. A hearty number of game-types running the gamut from the typical Team Deathmatch to Domination and similar objective-based matches ensure that no matter the intent of the player, their specific play style has a place to flourish. Through completing matches and racking up kills (as well as performing different, specific actions), players earn XP that will eventually unlock a cache of new weapons and further customization. It’s prudent to spend time leveling up, as seen in Call of Duty’s impressively deep system, as higher levels mean better loadouts, which in turn mean better munitions and armor.  And you’ll need both if you expect to live for very long because you’ll be dying. Fast.

In each game I eagerly tore into, I found lag was a significant factor in my swift and painful deaths, as I would pepper other players with ludicrous amounts of bullets, only to be clipped with one and fall down dead. I suppose this was in part due to the “hyper reality visor,” which gives players the ability to see through walls and act essentially as a one-man UAV, tracking the electronics on others, giving an obvious unfair advantage. Marketed more as an “awesome” gimmick, I found it to be cumbersome and more than just a little annoying that others could find me so easily. However, grenades that serve as barriers to said visor offer an interesting twist on what is obviously recycled, hackneyed gameplay we’ve seen before and will continue to see until, well, the end of the world. Sure, it’s playable, but there’s nothing particularly unforgettable here that you couldn’t, say, pay $20 for Halo or an older shooter to experience in full retail form.

At least, I thought it was playable until the third or fourth time I booted it up, when the game refused to load and instead froze my Xbox 360. The next time it decided to load, I was informed that I did not, in fact, have the full version, and was playing a timed trial. Perhaps these were incidents exclusive to my experience with the game and such are the chances one takes when purchasing a downloaded game, but they were still a headache and didn’t exactly make me want to keep running back to play around in dull, faux-futuristic wastelands filled with Intel ads that, for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t be there.  It’s also worth mentioning that while my experience was limited to the XBLA version of the game, it will soon be available for both the Games for Windows and PlayStation 3 platforms as well.

BlackLight: Tango Down is an acceptable purchase for a XBLA title, but not one I’d have trouble recommending if you’ve already collected any number of first-person shooters for the Xbox 360.  It isn’t so much a bad game as a generic one, and it’s hard to fault developer Zombie Studios ambitions to create a FPS experience on par with the multitude of Call of Duty, Halo, and Bad Company clones out there, but this really underscores the main problem with the game itself; why settle for a budget version when the real thing is only pennies more, and an infinitely better experience?  They’ve certainly got the visuals down, but let’s hope for better and more distinguishing gameplay to match the next time around.

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