Blacklight: Tango Down
Zombie Studios has been very ambitious with Blacklight: Tango Down. Their objective was to show that they could produce a triple-A multiplayer FPS game for Xbox Live Arcade. This is no mean task given the money and manpower that went into making games like Modern Warfare 2. The really cheery thought is that they might just have pulled it off.
There is minimal story to Blacklight: Tango Down. You are thrust into a near-future setting as a special-ops soldier for the hi-tech Blacklight organisation. Your task is to engage an enemy known as The Order and defeat them at every turn. This is achieved by gunning down as many of them as possible.
There are two ways to play Blacklight: Tango Down. You can take on the Black Ops either solo or co-operatively, or you can engage in wholesale slaughter in the online multiplayer modes.
Should you choose to take on the Black Ops missions you will find four different missions that can be tackled in any order that feature various objectives and require treading a linear path through one of Blacklight's cleverly laid out multi-purpose maps. You can adjust the difficulty level and decide whether you want to face the levels solo or enlist some friends to help you take on The Order.
The missions are simple enough and usually involve hacking various devices through one of a selection of minigames alongside the many gun battles with waves of Order troopers. The hacking games are actually fairly fun in themselves and are very simple to complete. One involves pressing the coloured buttons in a given sequence while another requires you to line up series of triangles in a row. They are pretty simple but they do give you a bit more of a feeling of actually hacking something than hloding down a given button until a progress meter has filled up.
The combat in the Black Ops is fought against bots who seem to have a fairly rudimentary AI that causes them to fire off clip after clip of rounds in your general direction while strafing, charging your position or crouching behind cover. This is surprisingly effective and provides enough of a challenge to keep you interested in completing the mission in spite of the simplistic nature of the enemy behaviour.
It is also worth pointing out that certainly on solo play the Black Ops are very challenging - even on normal difficulty levels.
Blacklight really begins to shine when you switch over to online multiplayer. There is a good selection of multiplayer modes - seven in all - with enough variety to keep the hardcore online FPS players happy. The modes range from solo and team variations of deathmatch and last man standing modes to retrieval, domination and detonate modes for a bit more fun.
As the names suggest dominate requires one team to hold all the specific points on a map for longer than the other team in order to win. Retrieval is a basic capture the flag-style game with each team looking to capture and hold a canister until the end of the allotted time. Detonate mode where two teams compete to capture a explosive device and plant it in the opposing camp.
The highlight of the multiplayer modes has to be the deathmatch modes. The game is quick-paced, well-balanced and the levels provided are all contsructed in a way that keeps camping to a minimum and encourages a much more dynamic style of combat.
The other significant feature of Blacklight is its weapon customisation options. Taking a leaf out of Army of Two: The 40th Day's book players have the option to customise their weapons right down to the colour of the guns. Naturally, you need to unlock the various weapon components that will allow you the customisation options but when parts become available you begin to see the amazing flexibility that Zombie has built into the customisation system.
One neat feature that they have added for this is the introduction of weapon tags. These tags are little charms that you can attach to your weapons at they will give it a boost in its characteristics further allowing you to tailor you weapons to better suit your style of play. Perseverance is definitely rewarded by Blacklight as you will get the best of the game once you have unlocked a few different upgrades for your weapons and had a go at customising your gear.
Blacklight: Tango Down is a very promising title indeed. The speed of the gameplay is matched by a crisp look to the visuals that has never really been achieved in an XBLA title before.
There are some slight blemishes in Blacklight's impressively polished finish. These come in a rather frustrating form. The matchmaking system, whilst based on the every-popular Xbox Live setup does take too long to hook you up with suitable playing partners with many players going to the trouble of leaving lobbies if they feel that the game is taking too long to find a full complement. Occasionally it may try and match you up with a completely different game mode than the one you requested. It comes as quite an unpleasant surprise when you're looking for some quick deathmatch play and you're thrust instead into a game of last team standing.
The problem seems to stem from the avoidance of dedicated servers. While this is understandable given that this is only an Xbox Arcade title it does diminish the game somewhat, especially if the host takes a huff because he or she is getting soundly thrashed and leaves the game. This does not terminate the game however. Zombie Studios has built in a host migration feature which allows players to keep on playing even if the host leaves mid-game. Again though this leaves you sitting at a loading screen for longer than you'd like when all you want is to get on with the action. It does drop you back where you left off, though.
Problems aside, Blacklight: Tango Down is a superb example of what is possible with XBLA titles. The triple-A quality graphics and slick, speedy multiplayer action brings a new level of polish to Xbox Live Arcade. As well as being an enjoyable title it will really make developers look at the platform as more than just the home of games to play while you wait for your pals to come online for Call of Duty. In fact, if you don't mind the marginally longer waits, Blacklight is definitely a credible and capable alternative to Call of Duty.