Okay, so you’re a little strapped for cash after the holidays, and you’ve been considering Zombie Games’ free-to-play Blacklight: Retribution . It’s slick, futuristic, fast-paced and above all else, it'll ideally offer plenty of mindless entertainment for a very low price. However, you’ll only be satisfied if you want nothing more; if you’re looking for some form of next-gen innovation, or a shooter that breaks a few rules and tries new things, you’ll emerge disappointed. You didn’t risk much in the way of cash, thankfully, but even so, there are better games out there.
Visually, the game falls well shy of expectations. The textures are iffy, animations can be all sorts of herky-jerky, and even outdated collision detection issues will crop up during your play time. That’s especially annoying because after all, aren’t we talking about the highly advanced new hardware that is the PlayStation 4…? What happened? It’s not all bad, though; the level design is actually pretty inspired and you can tell the developer put a lot of effort into your detailed surroundings. Blacklight ’s atmosphere is really quite effective. Sadly, depressing glitches are common and can indeed affect the gameplay.
The sound suffers from the same technical instability. The special effects are erratic and even when they’re crisp, they’re relatively underwhelming. The soundtrack is mostly generic, with only a few shining highlights, and there’s a distinct lack of intensity. Crazy fast-paced shooters should be infused with a kickin’ original score that amps up the action, and the combat effects should be spot-on. But Retribution just reeks of a low-budget production, even though it doesn’t necessarily qualify as “low-budget.” It simply doesn’t have the requisite spit and polish we’d want to see. Again, this is all the more pronounced because it’s a PS4 game.
Hey, I like shooters. I really do. I had some fun with the new Blacklight game; it just never coalesced into something gripping. Usually, once you’ve played a good game for an hour or so, you start to become more involved; you’re either emotionally invested in the story or characters, or you’ve become fully immersed in a believable, interesting virtual world (or, in rare cases, both). No such luck here. The second and third hour felt very much like the first, and despite a few alterations from the norm – a hacking mini-game comes to mind – it’s just absurdly repetitive. Shoot that dude…now shoot that dude. Rinse, repeat.
I’m aware that unfortunately, a similar complaint can be applied to any shooter. However, at least other FPS adventures have positive components Blacklight doesn’t: For instance, the production values are typically much higher in titles like Call of Duty , Battlefield and Killzone . Such experiences are also augmented with at least a semi-decent campaign, which Retribution doesn’t have. When you get into the multiplayer nuts and bolts, the effort from Zombie Games does excel in some ways, but it still can’t compare to the deeper, more robust (and more popular) multiplayer entertainment offered by the big boys. Competition matters.
On the plus side, the action is fast and fierce. You spawn quickly and there are multiple modes with which to experiment. You’ve got the standard Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag, along with the popular favorite, Kill Confirmed. None of these are innovative but they all work quite well, and you’re guaranteed to have at least some fun. The most inventive mode is actually Domination; you’ve seen the name many times before, but there’s a twist to this straightforward mode: You have to hack nodes via hacking mini-game; the key is to keep your cool while bullets are flying past your head. However, despite the appreciated spin, more could’ve been done with this concept.
By far the most attractive components of Retribution are the slick tools and weapons. There’s a visor that lets you see enemies through walls, for example, and although it may sound like a cheating device, the developers added the element of risk. See, you have to engage and disengage the visor; you can’t be involved in battle with the visor enabled, which means you can’t sit there, scanning away, for any length of time. Take a quick look and move on. There’s also what appears to be a small mech, which you can hop into and subsequently terrorize opponents, and entertaining weapons include the flamethrower and rocket launcher. In short, there’s plenty of firepower and action; it’s just light on personality.
There are a ton of guns, suits and gadgets, and you can use ‘em whenever you want. Of course, there’s one thing to remember: Many of the best pieces of equipment can only be rented using in-game money you earn playing matches. It just takes a long time to earn enough credits to pick up the crowd-pleasing weapons and pieces of equipment, which leads us to the real-world money. Yes, it’s just easier to shell out the bucks and get what you want. The game basically compels you to do so, as you’ll have to sit there forever to earn enough credits to snag every accessory and attachment you desire. And although you might think we’re only talking about a few bucks, we’re really not.
Permanent unlocks cost more than you think. Even one gun can cost over $3 and given the sheer amount of equipment available, you could easily spend quite a bit on just one preferred loadout. You don’t start with much. Quick-swap loadout slots cost $5 apiece and if you start spending like crazy on guns and other goodies, you’ll easily spend $30-$50 in a shockingly short span of time. This is precisely why I never once bought into the term “free-to-play;” I knew from the outset that in reality, nothing is “free” about it. Well, not if you want to experience the full game the designers have created. It’s all the more irritating when the game isn’t even that good . It’s fun but I definitely don’t want to spend any hard-earned cash on it.
And that’s part of the problem here. If the game is really special and has tons of variety and potential, I can see paying a little if the initial acquisition cost was nothing. It’s too bad that Retribution doesn’t have the chops to convince me to pay for the goodies. On top of which, even if I did want to grind away and earn all the necessary credits, there don’t seem to be enough people playing. Not many have the PS4, anyway, and obviously, those that do are likely playing other games (perhaps due to the less-than-complimentary reviews this title received). Now, it’s even less likely that I’ll earn what I need via traditional method. Feels a bit like manipulation.
Blacklight: Retribution has its moments. It’s quick, occasionally rewarding, and if you’ve got a few friends to play with, you can definitely have some fun. The control is fine and despite those technical imperfections, the game flows along relatively well. It’s just largely underwhelming and this free-to-play structure isn’t attractive. When the game fails to reach certain heights, when it’s not giving you much in the way of “wow” moments, why on earth would you pay for equipment that really feels mandatory? It’s just that much more irritating. I suppose if you got really involved and you appreciated the sheer amount of available content, you wouldn’t mind. But I did.
The Good: Accessible, fast-paced and sometimes satisfying. Lots of available content. Plenty of customization options. Slick, futuristic weapons and equipment.
The Bad: Technically unimpressive and even unstable. Generally underwhelming gameplay. Not enough people playing. Free-to-play structure is difficult to swallow.
The Ugly: “And you want me to pay for that…why?”