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Blacklight: Retribution – Review

I’m not sure what this game has to do with blacklights, but this recently released to Steam title definitely has something to do with retribution. You will continuously seek out those who have wronged you because this online first-person shooter is about pure player vs. player action to its core. Any competitive gamer knows that some of the most heart-thumping, pulse-pounding moments in gaming are a direct result of incredible combat experiences with other real players, and Blacklight: Retribution is no different.  Surmounting a seemingly impossible PvP moment feels astounding and induces one of the most pure and rich satisfactions gaming can offer. It’s the instant right after you finagle just the right amount of finesse, skill, and luck to conjure the substance of victory from nothing. This instant combine with that pure and rich satisfaction is what Blacklight: Retribution is all about. But don't assume Blacklight is only about this and that, it's also aswering the age-old question of who would win in a gunfight if the colors blue and orange were given firearms to fight it out.

Blacklight: Retribution is pure eight on eight, orange vs blue, player vs player mayhem. Developer Zombie Studios doesn’t even attempt to create a single-player campaign in Retribution, so you can’t knock them for not implementing a story, but that shouldn’t imply Blacklight doesn’t create a persona for itself. It has many things contemporary and popular in the gaming world: it’s a first-person shooter with troll face and is laced with wub wub throughout. Beyond those somewhat gimmicky characteristics of the theme, Blacklight also fleshes out an interesting near future cyberpunk feel. With games like Deus Ex, BioShock, Dishonored, Syndicate, and Borderlands following a similar theme, it will surprise no one when ten years from now we look back and everyone concurs that first-person shooters mixed with steam and cyberpunk elements are very stereotypical of the early two thousand-teens, but for now it’s extremely fitting.

In spite of the dubstep and cyberpunk throughout, Blacklight still manages to be unique enough to create its own identity while also looking great, running smoothly, and sounding phenomenal. The visuals and sounds make mowing-down other online players a pleasure while you’re trying to achieve the game’s various objective-oriented missions across its nine different maps. These locations range from the futuristic slums of Tokyo to the rooftop of a helicopter landing pad. The neon, sewer steam, and night sky of the slums streets are a great juxtaposition to the blindingly lit and treacherous plummets of the skyscraper rooftops. No matter what map you find yourself on or the mission objective you’re trying to achieve, matches will populate quickly and opposing teams will compete for victory.

Mission objectives run the gamut of traditional contests like team death match and capture the flag to not-so traditional like domination and the more recently popular kill confirmed, and several more. Depending on the objective and the map, a specific load-out of weapons and armor may fit the job better than another. If you’re playing capture the flag opting for really light armor may be the best choice to increase character run speed while being a flag carrier or perhaps thick armor is preferable so death isn’t so easy to come by while having a big target on your back. In addition to armor, a strategic weapon load-out can change your team’s victory as well, making weapons and armor more intelligent and involving than simple looks. These weapons and armor can be obtained using Blacklight’s currency systems in its massive marketplace.

You start off with a default weapon, but there are tons of different items that can be obtained through the in-game marketplace. You can use either Zen or GP to purchase items. Zen is obtained with real money and GP will be accumulated over time just from participating in the game. With Zen and GP, items can be either rented for days at a time or they can be purchased permanently for a hefty price. When I say hefty I mean it, 1000 Zen is $10.00 and any pre-made character or permanent gun is going to run you 750-1000 Zen. Blacklight: Retribution is free-to-play, but it does encourage a pay-to-win motto, at least in the early parts of the game. People who pay real cash for items are privileged to gear that would otherwise have a level restriction on it. Meaning, if you pay, a level thirty item like the riot shield could be used at level one, whereas it could take a non-paying gamer weeks to reach level thirty to purchase the sheild with the use of GP. This item offset makes the beginning levels of the game a dredge of lop-sided deaths and frustrations for non-paying gamers.

Nevertheless, whether you’re paying or not, the weapon and armor customizability is amazing. There are hundreds of combinations to tweak your character through armor, secondary items, unique abilities, and gun modifications. A weapon can be altered in a number of ways from adding a variety of clips to increase your magazine size or make reloading faster, to a stock that weighs less which in turn lowers aiming stability but increases your character’s running speed. Armor can also be customized to complement your gameplay style to maximize speed, health, damage reduction, or a hybrid mixture of all of these. A chest piece could add extra carrying capacity for secondary items like grenades and landmines or a helmet could lower critical headshot damage taken or even reduce the cooldown timer for your special ability. But, there are pre-made guns and characters as well that have unchangeable modifications equipped if customizations are not your thing and you don’t like to fiddle with stats.

Some of these pre-made characters have unique abilities, but every player is equipped with an HRV, or Hyper Reality Visor. HRV allows your vision to momentarily look through the environment to see allies’ and enemies’ positions, weak points on mechs, landmine locations, and item depots. HRV is on a cooldown timer and you cannot fire your gun while using the visor. These unique ability restrictions offer up some strategic and tactical combat moments. There are also special powers to be able to stealth with an invisibility cloak or to deploy a holographic dummy that attracts gunfire, but, like many high-level items, people who do not pay will never obtain any power other than HRV. The obtainable limitations and small number of special abilities really feels like a missed opportunity of a great game feature that should be more pronounced to help define additional unique and diverse character builds. 

But the squandered potential of the unique abilities is not the most unfortunate part of the game. Sadly, the most detrimental aspect of Blacklight: Retribution is not even entirely the developer’s fault, it’s more-so the community’s. In a game that is exclusively PvP-based, when one of these community-made creations enters a match it can be game-breaking. This match-ruining abomination is an aimbot. For those of you who don’t know, an aimbot is a program that provides varying levels of target acquisition assistance to the player. You won’t run into aimbots too often, but it is awful when you do and the aimbot program gives an unparalleled advantage over every other player in a match. The worst part is when you try to understand why anyone would even want to use one of these programs. It doesn’t make you good, it doesn’t even make you bad, aimbots just makes you a cheater… and that’s it.

The first analogy for the aimbot relationship to gaming that popped into my head was an athlete at the Olympics. Using an aimbot would be like an Olympian that won some gold medals and then they were later found out to be on performance enhancing drugs, but it’s just so much worse than that. Aimbot doesn’t enhance your abilities; it just makes you a robot. So, in actuality, using aimbot would be like if we would later find out that an Olympian wasn’t even human and they were actually an android… that’s how much of an unfair playing field the program puts a player on.

Because of the baffling player base’s usage of aimbots and Perfect World’s inability to crack-down on those cheaters, it makes a game that could be phenomenal, merely great. Don’t get me wrong though, this is still a pretty great game. Blacklight: Retribution is stripped down to its bare first-person shooter PvP basics, yet it still manages to create an interesting and unique universe to do battle with a large online community. However, when a game is so minimal it needs to perfect those minimalistic features, and it almost does that, but the occasional cheater and a few questionable pay-to-win policies make Blacklight: Retribution fall short of superb.  



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