Version tested Xbox 360
Blacklight has arrived on the FPS scene with unusual swagger. Kicking in the door, it slumps in your favourite chair, puts its blood-crusted combat boots up on your coffee table and starts making wild, testosterone-fuelled boasts. "Yeah, I'm bringing AAA gameplay in a download game," it scoffs while stubbing a cigar out on the arm of the sofa that you haven't even started paying DFS for yet.
"Oh, and I'm going to be in a comic and a movie," it adds, spitting a sticky mouthful of tobacco phlegm onto your carpet. "Basically, I'm awesome, and you should be licking the powder burns off my still-smoking assault rifle in gratitude because I cost less than a large stuffed crust from Dominos."
It's an impressive display, but it always helps to make sure you're walking the walk before talking the talk. Blacklight doesn't.
The aggressive PR is understandable, up to a point. The FPS genre brings with it certain machismo requirements and no successful shooter franchise was ever launched with humility. Yet the boasts of Blacklight's publisher, Ignition, ring hollow in the face of common sense or the realities of the game itself. It might have passed as a AAA title in 1999, but it's left looking like a little boy wearing Daddy's clothes in 2010.
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Whatever criticisms lie in wait, Blacklight certainly can't be accused of lacking generosity. You get seven game modes - Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Retrieval, Domination, Detonate, Last Man Standing, Last Team Standing - and while they're all slight variations on the expected themes, there's enough variety among them.
The maps are even more bountiful. You get 12 of those, with grrr tough shooty names like Brutalism, Derailer and Wharfare. The weapons top even that, with "literally trillions" of customisation options available for the usual spread of pistols, SMGs, assault weapons, shotguns and sniper rifles as you earn and unlock more goodies.
All this, plus four co-op missions, for around 10 English pounds? What could you possibly complain about? Well, too often it feels like Blacklight is sheltering inside the snuggly bosom of the lazy caveat, hampered as it is by numerous poor design choices that can only really be defended by appealing to the low-cost nature of the enterprise.
Movement is slick enough, the sort of fast and slippy fragfest control that harks back to the Quake matches of yore. All the major functions are present, correct and mapped exactly where you'd expect to find them. The sprint feels a bit sticky, and grenade throws are imprecise with weak splash damage, but the genre basics are pretty much as they should be.
With a genre as long-established and popular as the FPS, the devil is in the details, and it's here that Zombie Studios slips up. The elements that would have been tweaked and focused and honed over months of playtesting in a true AAA title are left here with their rough edges on display.
Weapon balancing, for example. SMGs are overpowered, sniper rifles are underpowered. Assault rifles can kill you in a heartbeat from across the map. The aforementioned grenade problem makes them all but useless, since you can't place them with any accuracy and their damage is inconsistent.
The co-op modes sound great in theory, but are drab in practice. They're so short, linear and heavily scripted that it's only really co-operative in the sense that you're playing alongside other people. There's certainly no need to work together in a tactical way - you just make sure you're all mowing down the enemies until they stop spawning. You can also play these missions solo but since the game is over the moment you die, and you can't actually pause the action, it's not really worth the effort unless you want to grind out some experience for the online modes.
Most problematic are the maps, which are generic at best. At worst, they're throwbacks to the days before developers worked out how to minimise bottlenecking and spawn camping through subtle design. There are maps here that are virtually unplayable thanks to the insanely archaic idea of fixed spawn points.
In my very first Team Deathmatch game, we pinned the opposing team inside their HQ for the entire duration. Automated sentries stop you from storming in but, equally, heavy weapons trained on the exit points do a pretty great job of making sure the other guys don't get out either.