When Blacklight: Tango Down released on consoles two years ago it was met with mixed reaction. It did some things right, but it generally felt like yet another shooter that didn’t really stand out. This is why I was a little surprised when a sequel got announced, and here we are today with Blacklight: Retribution on Steam. What is even more surprising is that it is a game that is based on a free to play model. So, how does a sequel to a mediocre shooter with a new pricing structure and support for up to 16 players stand up?
One of the things I enjoyed from the first Blacklight was the Hyper Reality Visor (HRV) that allows you to see through walls and locate enemies, weapon depots, mines, and more. When you activate your HRV you can see through every wall for a short period of time. While using your HRV you are unable to use your weapons, making you vulnerable when you try to locate your enemies. Your HRV has limited use and has to recharge for a short time before it can be used again, so it is only meant to give you a glimpse allowing you a chance to plan your attack from your brief view. Not only is it a great tool to plan your line of attack, but it is also great for trying to counter other players who are using it for the same purpose as yourself.
Weapon customization also returns in Retribution, allowing any weapon you choose to be geared out specifically to match your specific play style. Your main weapons range from Assault Rifles, Shotguns, Light Machineguns and more. Once you pick your base weapon you can then completely customize what seems to be every major component. You can swap out the muzzle, barrel, sights, magazine, stock, weapon tag (small stat bonuses that hang from the gun like a keychain), and camouflage for every weapon. Each category has many options for you to choose from, each boosting or negatively impacting different stats for the weapon itself. Certain weapons even have specific parts that are only useable on those weapons themselves. For those of you out there who just want to grab a gun quickly and get into the game, premade weapons are also an option for you as well; these weapons cannot be customized other than the camouflage and tag.
Easily the biggest change to the series is that Retribution is that it is now free to play, but like any free to play game there’s always a hidden cost somewhere. Technically you can play the game for as long as you want and never spend a real dime of your actual money, but doing so is encouraged since it will save you many hours of normal playing time needed to unlock the items you want much quicker. Items in the marketplace can be bought with one of two currencies: Game Points (GP) and Zen (real world cash).
GP is earned by simply playing the game and doing well. You will earn more GP as you progress through the levels, allowing you to purchase the higher level equipment. Most items and equipment you choose to purchase can be bought permanently, but some have options for you to ‘rent’ them (1, 3, 7, or 30 days), essentially spending less money on them to test them out before committing all your saved GP for a new item. Items have level requirements on them when spending GP, though if you fill your wallet with Zen, you can bypass this level requirement. You can start to see where the lure of spending some cash on the game starts to feel enticing.
Again, technically the game is free to play, and you can purchase the items and attachments with your GP, but you’ll quickly see how much more significant the prices are in GP compared to Zen. This is where you decide if you want to grind the game’s levels for many hours or pay to get an edge early in your multiplayer career. Once you start to realize how expensive the weapons are to fully tweak out with the best gear you are going to face a long uphill grind if you want the best items without any cost. I do admit though that buying and using Zen can get quite costly with $10 giving you 1000 Zen, and that Zen will not go to far when buying the top tier items but it’s still cheaper then buying with GP, virtually speaking. Remember though, with enough gameplay you’ll be able to afford the items you want, but it’s going to take some dedication and many hours of winning matches to obtain.
Scattered around the maps are weapon depots that can be used to buy health, ammo refills, Rocket Launchers, Flamethrowers, and even a giant mechsuit aptly named the Hard Suit. As you gain kills and help with objectives you’ll earn Combat Points (CP). You spend your CP at these weapon depots during the match once you’ve earned enough, but in the majority of the matches I’ve played, people save up for the Hard Suits as they are essentially mobile death with a minigun and a railgun. If you see a Hard Suit on the opposing team, you’re going to have a bad time if it gets sight of you. These mechs can turn the favor of a match very quickly and they can be incredibly difficult to take down if your team is not working together. While the Hard Suit isn’t game breaking by any means, it is quite overpowered and no one ever seems to spend their CP on missiles to take them down. The only complaint I have about the weapon depots is that it can be very aggravating to spend all my CP on a new weapon only lose it by dying shortly after. They should allow you to keep it in your base inventory for that match, or at least more then one death.
In regards to the multiplayer modes, there are those that you’d expect such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill, but there are also a few others that are fun others Domination and Kill Confirmed-like modes. I was quite impressed with the map design and layout as they vary from large open settings to close quarter maps that are enclosed and have many hallways. There are less than a dozen maps, but with multiple modes to play on them on they don’t become tired very quickly. Apparently even more modes are on the way as well; not bad for a free game eh?
I played the base game itself for a few hours without spending any money, and while it took me some time to learn all the intricacies, since not much is taught to you, I started to enjoy it once I was earning some GP and I was able to purchase some attachments that suited my play style. I could finally start to hold my own. As I was writing the review for this game, I got to redeem a code given for my review purposes. This code gave me access to some higher-level equipment, more load out slots, and more goodies. While it was nothing that I wouldn’t be able to earn myself with enough game time, I can say that I had even more fun playing when I had the better equipment. Does this mean you should plunk down a few bucks here and there? If you research and test the pieces you exactly want, then I would say yes, as I found myself playing much better though not being overpowered at the same time. It adds some addictiveness too as there is some desire to keep playing to get that next level, more GP, and get better equipment.
With the Zen cost on many items being higher than I would be willing to pay myself, choosing to play for free does not hinder you. I was quite surprised that I was enjoying this “free-to-play” title more than some of the full priced disc games I’ve recently bought. With the cheaper options to rent items and test them out, you can essentially ‘try before you buy’ if you decide to pay for some upgrades and save yourself some (a lot) time once you’ve found the ones you enjoy.
Usually in free to play games something has to suffer, and that is usually the gameplay, the graphics, or something else. In Retribution it certainly isn’t the visuals as the graphics are surprisingly well done, which is not what I expected at all for a free to play game. The gameplay itself is not only deep from all the customization available but much better than what I expected out of a freemium title. As for the sound, many of the guns never sounded or felt like they had much punch to them and the music was already forgotten by the time I quit the game. So maybe this is the games Achilles heel.
Blacklight: Retribution surprised me in almost every aspect, because to be honest, I was going in with low expectations since it was free to play. I am glad to say I was very surprised with not only the quality of the graphics and gameplay, but how ‘free’ the game actually was. The biggest concern I usually have with free to play games is that they are actually “pay-to-win”. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, and while yes, you’ll have more fun early on if you spend some real cash on the game, you’re not held back by any barrier if you decide to not pay a cent other than your time. Download the game on steam and try out Blacklight: Retribution, as it is a good game and the price is right.