I think the effect of dosed rewards in modern day shooters and FPS games is fascinating. They draw us in with the illusion that we’re some badass space marine, Navy SEAL or action hero when we’re nothing more than monkeys pulling on levers for digital morphine shots.
Call of Duty, Team Fortress 2 (ever since it became Hat Fortress), Syndicate, Tribes: Ascension and so forth. A lot of games rely on more and more complex inventory and stat systems, and it’s no longer enough to understand map control, aiming and paying attention to your enemies’ movements. Oh, no. What you do now is select specializations, configure your abilities and equip various item combinations depending on what stats you want to cap or, in more elaborate cases, mathematic formulae.
Don’t get me wrong. The continuity element when developing your virtual alter-ego is interesting and in a way I assume the idea of being somewhat stronger after every victory offers you a dose of motivation when you want to attract the masses for lengths beyond a week. Especially when the game itself is free to play and you rely on microtransactions to cover your production costs. Such as this case right here. On the other hand, the stats and powers you can customize radically alter what’s required of the player, sometimes in fairly discriminatory manners.
Thus, I launched Blacklight Retribution expecting to cringe every time I was going to meet elements I deeply dislike in the genre, or at least those who grew tiresome throughout the I-don’t-know-how-many-similar-shooters streak. To my surprise, my prejudice regarding Blacklight was systematically dismantled.
My first contact with the game took place about an hour after getting it thrown in my lap by Bossman. Given the fact that I didn’t know much about the game, the terribly boring and probably randomly extracted title (from a poll that includes „Ascension”, „Absolution”, „Redemption” and other such stock titles) didn’t inspire much trust. Truth is though, I’ve seen better games with worse names.
A login screen and a tutorial later, I was calling my friends to convince them to download some shooter with a completely unmemorable name, because – „trust the master” – I added pompously, there’s something to it. You see, trying to understand the map structure and fighting with the initial handicap that restricted me from “getting” the mechanics entirely, I discovered a lot of small, extraordinary perks. Brilliant ideas, if not groundbreaking, without which Blacklight would be nothing more than a futuristic Call of Duty with lousy ballistics.
For instance, the spatial awareness aspect was drastically improved through an element we usually only use in single-player campaigns: you can see, for a brief period, where every enemy, ally and gear console is through the walls. You can thus anticipate attacks, formulate strategies and avoid traps.
The tool that allows this Predator-like vision is called the Hyper Reality Visor and loads up fairly fast, but there’s a very smart balance in its parameters that won’t let you abuse it, though it’s what sets the game apart most. It’s basically a developer sanctioned and balanced wallhack that renders camping obsolete and greatly increases up the game.
Then there are distances and scenery – the maps are neither too big nor too small, in the sense that once you get their format, you’ll always have enough time to dash between control points in the Domination mode and still won’t lose too much time looking for action and would-be victims. And the environment – well, there’s plenty of suggestive background work in Blacklight, without being too dense or flashy that you wouldn’t see the enemies due to the props.
Even the neo-industrial theme doesn’t seem so out of style (though we’ve been wearing it from Quake onward, with dabbles through Unreal Tournament, Half-Life or, in more recent times, Syndicate), mostly thanks to the geometric efficiency and the natural melding of wide spaces with tight corridors that are way ahead of any level design I’ve seen in contemporary FPS games. And then there are the lighting tricks – Retribution is the first game ever in which I got blinded by the sun and soon shot straight in the face, though I had aimed at my opponent’s helmet mere moments before.
In its own right, the way you interact with doors and consoles has an interesting interactive element – you have to pick left or right, correlating the number in the chosen direction with the one in the middle. A simplistic, stupid puzzle, sure, but when you’re being shot at with the full arsenal of a small African country, I really doubt you want to be solving the Google puzzle in order to cap the control point.
However, the map texturing isn’t so stellar – some portions feel very rushed and visually, the game isn’t really homogenous. Certain elements look spectacular – the player models, the guns, the additional gear (and it’s all fully customizable), but others – the muzzle flashes, the explosions and the bloom aren’t on par with the other elements.