It seems like this year has been terrible for games so far — at least those that interest gun nerds. Sure, Diablo III completed a trilogy I’ve been waiting for since I was still in grade school, but it didn’t quite slake my bloodlust in the same way that the new Battlefield 3 or Crysis 2 did last year. I mean, Mass Effect 3 was nice but it didn’t have the multiplayer element I was looking for, and Tom Clancy’s franchise is wearing a bit thin. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when my initial skepticism about Blacklight: Retribution was proven wrong…
My first introduction to the first person shooter genre was Quake III Arena (yes, I am actually young enough to only have played DOOM out of curiosity about the history of video games), and I loved it. The thrill of having a live opponent and a futuristic arsenal at my disposal was enough to keep my attention for as long as I could keep everyone else off my phone line. Other games have come close, but none have the same level of fun and enjoyment I felt back then.
When I picked up Blacklight: Retribution I wasn’t expecting much. Steam was advertising it, and since I wanted to take a break from Kerbal Space Program for a bit I figured a crappy shoot-em-up would let me relax and give my brain a break from orbital mechanics. Plus it was free, and who can argue with that? Turns out that crappy shoot-em-up was more than I bargained for.
What I expected was another poorly executed FPS, but what I got was a highly polished and extremely addictive shooter. Other free-to-play games look like they were created in someone’s parent’s basement, but this one looks and feels right. It takes full advantage of the Unreal engine, rendering a rather beautiful futuristic arena in which to slaughter your enemies.
While the game is technically free to play, that doesn’t mean they don’t want your money. You are issued a standard machine gun when you start out, but you can purchase upgrades using either points you earn in the game or cold hard cash. The catch is that only upgrades purchased with actual dollars last more than a day, but if you keep playing and keep paying for the upgrades in earned points, you can keep them as long as you want.
The parts upgrades are actually really well done. You have your choice of sights, barrels, even flash suppressors, and can customize your gun to fit your playing style. Its something that has been done before (like most recently in BF3) but here there are no classes and no platforms — even the receiver is interchangeable.
The price and the customizable guns are nice, but the gameplay itself is what sold me. As soon as I jumped into a deathmatch game, it felt like the first time I played Q3A, but without the suck. It’s a futuristic shooter done right: no plot whatsoever except the bits you can piece together from the scenery, fast respawning, and maps that don’t seem to benefit one particular “class” over the other. There isn’t enough room to be a dedicated sniper, but just enough that you need some accuracy thrown into your gat. “Balanced” is the word I would use to describe it.
The only thing I didn’t really like about the game is the “hardsuits” — mini-Gundams that made me feel like I was in an anime fanfic instead of a futuristic gun battle. They’re slow and clunky enough to be able to avoid easily so I’m not that unhappy about them, I just could have lived without them is all.
If you’re looking for a good way to burn a weekend, this would be it. It’s just a fun shooter where the score is made up and the points don’t matter. All that does matters is having fun, and its pretty darned fun.
Overall rating: * * * *
The graphics are good, but not the best. The game play is near perfect, but the low maximum number of players for such large maps means up to a minute before contact. And I would appreciate it if I could spend a ridiculous number of experience points to have the items I buy with EXP not disappear on me after a day.