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Blacklight: Tango Down
Graphics: 8.3
Gameplay: 5.7
Sound: 7.6
Control: 8.1
Replay Value: 6
Rating: 6.7

Downloadable games are getting more and more impressive with every passing month. Developers are able to jam more quality goodness into a digital file and due to the significantly lower retail prices for such productions, gamers often benefit. However, while Blacklight: Tango Down looks and sounds a lot like a standard $60 product, the overall execution and implementation of crucial systems and mechanics leaves something to be desired. It ends up being far more frustrating than it needs to be, regardless of whether you choose to play solo or with other people. It’s actually quite strange: technically, the game really excels for a piece of digital interactive entertainment, and everything from control to hit detection to character customization via loadout settings fits the structure. But so many other facets fall well short.

Graphically, Tango Down is an indication of the future; an example of what’s to come from the digital realm down the road. Powered by the Unreal Engine and presenting the player with highly detailed and well-sized environments, one really could mistake it for a full-price retail product. Only when you get up close and personal with enemies and certain environmental objects will you notice a few clarity and refinement issues. The special effects aren’t all that impressive from a critical standpoint and while there is some decent variety in the available maps, nothing really jumps off the screen. That will be the next step for digital productions; the “jumping off the screen” bit. It’s not quite possible just yet, but they’re closer than you might think. The visual presentation here is stable and satisfying, if not especially memorable, and that’s noteworthy.

I’m not the biggest fan of the audio, although the game gets better-than-average marks for snippets of good voice acting and enemy exhortations. The music doesn’t play a large enough role, though, and the track selection is barely even noticeable most of the time. The sound effects also fall shy; the gunfire sounds fake to me, and I had hoped for some appropriately sickening impact effects when bullets strike flesh. In this way, one can indeed notice it’s a downloadable title but as I just said, there are some definite highlights. The voiceover work is few and far between but it really works quite well, and the general feel of a firefight – minus that strange gunfire that strikes a false chord – is one of great urgency. Good sound always helps the situation. Playing online ratchets everything up a notch, too, so that’s another bonus.

Blacklight: Tango Down is a first-person shooter that is smooth, easy to control, and remains a significant challenge throughout all available modes of play. The enemies aren’t stupid and in fact, the AI is downright surprising; foes will strafe quickly across open environments, and you won’t normally find one firing out in the open (at least, not for very long). They’ll take cover, pop up just long enough to take aim, they’re not Godlike when it comes to firing a weapon so not all bullets strike you, and they’ll even try to flank you in some instances. There are only four missions to play through in Black Ops mode (the only mode available for Solo play) but each one features a different environment and various objectives. They even toss in a few small mini-games for opening doors and lowering roadblocks. Still, the biggest plus is the quality and responsiveness of the control, which almost never fails you. I’ve seen $60 FPSs that don’t get it right.

They even include a nifty little gizmo called the HRV (Hyper Reality Visor), that allows you to see where ammo, health, and your enemies reside. It’ll cut through anything, almost like an advanced version of infrared and it’s awfully helpful. But you can’t move when the HRV is activated and it takes time to recharge, so you can’t abuse the option; a darn good move by the designers. Considering all this, we should be looking at a pretty entertaining game, right? …well, sadly, despite the pluses, the game just never comes to fruition; it never crosses the line into rewarding entertainment. There are several major reasons for this: firstly, the single-player option is borderline pointless, as there are only four missions and you’re always outmatched and outgunned. You spend most of your time in cover and moving very, very slowly because if you die once, the mission is over and you have to start from the beginning.

The latter became a huge issue for me; if someone can explain how to start where I left off after dying, it’d be much appreciated. A way might exist but I couldn’t seem to find it. Even excepting this problem, it’s almost as if the developers went out of their way to discourage solo play. You can go through with up to four players and you probably need them to even things out. Then, after a while, you get irritated because you realize this game doesn’t really offer anything new, and as you’re crouched behind yet another obstacle, looking at your crazy low health and praying for an opening, you just go, “why am I killing myself to do this?” So you go online. There’s Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Detonation, Retrieval, and Domination. You’ll soon find that while all the modes deliver in the entertainment category and they work out just fine, it’s still nothing new, and it’s very unbalanced.

Again, it seems as if newcomers are treated unfairly. You’ll probably go up against opponents who have already earned new weapons and accessories, some of which can give you a tremendous edge. So you run around dying a lot, looking to maybe snag a weapon that’s better than yours (and you haven’t earned yet), and hoping to level up so as to compete on a level playing field. I’m aware this is a trait found in other shooters but big-budget FPSs tend to handle this in a variety of different ways; they allow for new players to work their way into the action. There’s no easy way to do this, here. The health system also seems a little wonky, as you start with a max health of 175 but if you crouch and hide after getting nailed, the health refills…sometimes…and only to a certain point. And sometimes, it wouldn’t refill at all. I just couldn’t figure out how that worked.

In many ways, the technical achievement is high and should be praised. In other – and more important ways – it feels like an incomplete title. Multiplayer has balancing issues all over the place, the challenge is too stiff for one player to have much fun, and really, the single-player “campaign” (if it can even be called that) doesn’t serve much of a purpose. I suppose it’s good for leveling up before going online but if you don’t play co-op, you’re in for a long, tedious, mostly unrewarding experience. Yeah, don’t die. I’m not too bad when it comes to FPSs but I always felt cornered, underpowered, and on the verge of annihilation no matter what I did in either single-player or multiplayer modes, and that’s not really a…happy feeling. Blacklight: Tango Down excels in a lot of areas but due to the drawbacks mentioned in this review, it never gels. It just doesn’t come together in a cohesive, accomplished package. If you have friends who really want to play, I suppose it isn’t bad for $15, though.

The Good: Graphics are impressive for a downloadable; technical aspects excel overall. Responsive, reliable control. Solid collision detection. A few nice gameplay twists, including the HRV.

The Bad: Single-player is unfulfilling. Difficulty too high for any solo play. Too much of the same ol’ same ol’. Major multiplayer balancing issues. Weird health system. Lack of music and environmental variety.

The Ugly: Sometimes when in cover, an enemy will just get stuck and start flickering back and forth. Funny, but unfortunate.

10/28/2010   Ben Dutka