There are many like it, but this one is yours.
The name may sound like it refers to one of those ‘special’ Tuesday nights at a dubious floating dance club, but Blacklight: Tango Down is developer Zombie Studios’ forthcoming downloadable online multiplayer FPS, with an Experience system comparable to that in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Set in a morbidly run-down Eastern European city some 25 years in the future, this futuristic-yet-grimy shooter concerns the ongoing urban battles between covert-ops military outfit Blacklight and its bad-guy nemesis The Order. That last group is apparently little more than previously-defected, rogue Blackout members… which, in our optimistically-illogical estimation, somehow brings us that much closer to a shooter pitting S.P.H.I.N.X. against O.S.I. (Hey, we can dream.)
[image1]The developers invited a handful of editors to a multiplayer session at a San Francisco hotel last month. Ostensibly, it was to give us some hands-on time with the game’s multiplayer (against the developers themselves) and the mind-numbingly impressive array of possible weapon configurations. In retrospective reality, however, the purpose of the invitation was clearly to mop the littered, war-torn streets of Blacklight’s crumbling cybergrime slum with what remained of our bullet-riddled asses. Even as such uneven, editor-versus-developer pairings occasionally go, we got spanked bad.
Both Blacklight and Order members have the same base abilities (movement speed, damage capacity, etc.), which is fair enough; it all comes down to how each team’s squad-members choose to monkey with their massively customizable loadouts. If 700 monkeys swapped out assorted weapon-components for 700 years, one of them might— might—come up with your favorite gun-design here. And then you’d have to blow his brains out, before he did the same to you.
There is evidently some kind of excuse for a story here, setting up all this near-future urban mayhem. We have no idea, because we saw nothing of the kind. For us, it was sit down, familiarize oneself with the controls, spawn in, move fifty feet, die a quick and miserable death, spawn in again, and try to make some other schmuck feel your pain. Zombie Studios and Fox Atomic comics jointly announced the game as well as a collaboration on a film and comic series, describing the intended technological realism of the three-pronged franchise not as science fiction but rather as “science fact”.
Blacklight has a very clean, streamlined control scheme, not too sloggy and not too twitchy. Throughout the 12 maps (up to 16 players each), the game is really a ‘classless’ FPS that focuses heavily on the cobble-your-own customizable loadout that grants regular upgrades, one at a time, to individual squadmates as they continue to level-up. The component build-up projection goes like this: 9 stock-types, 15 scopes, 20 or so barrels, 30 magazine variants, and 100+ weapon ‘tags’… and resultant combinations of literally millions of modded-up weapons possibilities. Of course, not all of those possibilities will make equal amounts of sense. A pistol-gripped CQ shotgun with a sniper scope might cripple your enemy’s ability to fight… if he laughs hard enough.
[image2]Further, players can trick out their weaponry with those weapon ‘tags’ I mentioned earlier: These are surprisingly close to what they sound like: Little dangly, decorative trinkets, and charms—devil’s heads, good-luck bunnies, whatever—attached to the sling hooks of various weapons, and analogous to the little plastic Smile Slime doodad your girlfriend has looped through the notch on her ketai. As the Blacklight official site puts it, “Soldiers claim that their trinkets and charms give them more endurance, stamina, health, speed and more, but the medical community attributes such claims to the Placebo Effect.” Whatever the truth of the matter, there are over a hundred of them in the game, all providing scant but real upgrades to their weapon. Each time you level up, you’ll be randomly provided with a new one. Collect ’em all!
While the available weapons themselves are pretty straightfaced—fragmentation grenades, shotguns, sniper rifles, pistols, assault rifles, flash-bangs—there are some grudging, conservative steps into the territory of science fiction. Each player’s character is outfitted with a ‘Hyper Reality Vizor‘; when it’s active (for short periods of time, after which it must recharge), players can see through walls and locate their enemies… as well as friendlies, plus useful health and ammo stations. For the duration of the HRV’s short operation time, it prevents weapons-fire—a blatant fourth-wall-breaking step to keep the game fun and balanced, but a completely forgivable one, especially since there ain’t no all-seeing sissy Map functions here.
My favorite tip of the sci-fi visor, so to speak—just barely edging out the ever-popular deployable robotic auto-turret—is the so-called ‘Digi Grenade’, which when thrown, creates a ‘blast zone’ that is purely electromagnetic. That is, it de-rezzes the viewfinder/faceplate on each soldier’s helmet, rendering him blind as a signal-jammed bat until he moves out of the affected zone or the Digi blast wears off. This is both even more fun (for the attacker) and even scarier (for the attackee) than it sounds.
Blacklight: Tango Down will be available for download this summer, all straightfaced ‘science fact’ weaponry, grungy East Euro settings, grit-electronica soundtrack and all, for X360, PS3, and Windows (PC users, get yourselves a console-style controller—it just feels right).