Reviewing F2P-Shooters is always a bit weird. Unlike with any other full-prize titles you won’t get the full experience after playing a free game for only for a few hours. This is due to the fact that most game mechanics usually involve a lot of grinding or leveling before you see any progress. But the core game mechanic (and of course the fun) while playing should be apparent in the first few minutes, as the first impression always matters. So the main question remains: Does Blacklight really involve a lot of effort and grinding in order for you to be successful or even competitive? Do you need to spend money to keep up with the pace? The answer is: Yes… and No! It really depends on what you see as part of the fun.
But before i delve deeper into the F2P model of the game i might lose a few lines on the gameplay itself. Blacklight Retribution is already a while on the market, so there was plenty of time for balance changes and fixes. As the game stands today it can best be described as a mixture of “futuristic” Counter Strike (as you die in a few hits) mixed with an ounce of “Mechwarrior”, all nicely finished with a pinch of “Left 4 Dead”.
Blacklight features a variety of game modes, the core consisting of basic multiplayer modes like team deathmatch, capture the point / flag and king of the hill. This is completed by a rather new “Zombie Survival Mode” (Onslaught) and some interesting game mechanics, namely a built-in timed “Wall-Hack” (called “HRV”) and mech-like “Hardsuits” – which feel a lot like playing a game from the Mechwarrior-Series.
All-in-All the game is quite well-rounded in its choice of modes, but the Suits and HRV give this title a special edge. The wall-hack is a great way to prevent camping, but also forces you to choose between vision and firepower, as you are not capable of defending yourself during the few seconds of usage. Hardsuits on the other hand give you loads of firepower and armor, but are also slow and narrow your field of vision due to the lack of HRV. The suits can kill people like flies, but all mechs feature a random weak-point which can be easily spotted and exploited by advanced players. These futuristic features give this game a special flair that other shooters lack.
Blacklight Retribution features a mechanic that has already been introduced in comparable games like Call of Duty: You have to do experience based leveling in order to access new gear. But this game does things a bit different: instead of getting gear by leveling up, you just earn the right to access it. Alongside with the level you also earn so-called “Game Points” for each match, which works as in-game-currency to permanently purchase new weapon parts and gear. This sounds a bit off-putting at first, but is easily countered by the fact, that Blacklight constantly pours down rewards and other small things on you, making playing and leveling in itself worthwhile and quite enjoyable. Every level-up features numerous new items to access, which you also get to try for a set amount of days for free. This is usually plenty of time to test and / or discard the item you just unlocked, making the purchase decision much more easier. And if you don’t feel like waiting or leveling up, you can simply unlock items prematurely by using ZEN – the in-game currency and hard-cash counterpart. This might be helpful if you are impatient and really want that one part or gun you always desired. And if you are not willing to spend a dime, this is also fine: you can pick up and use any other players gun and there are also weekly receiver rotations and random packs with a chance to get gun-receivers – all in all plenty of ways to experience new content quickly.
The Gameplay – Pay to Stay?
The next questions that instantly come to mind might be: “Do i have to pay to stay competitive in this game?” and “Do later guns get better than the starting model”. In both cases a clear “No” is your answer. Blacklight has a very good gunplay model with a huge variety of receivers, barrels, scopes and ammunition to choose from. All those rifles have a very distinct to them and are very balanced towards each other. Even with a maximum level of 40 as of this review, there are still many people who just use the standard “Assault Rifle” with a few modifications, as that receiver is still widely accepted as the “best of all traits” weapons. There are a few “must-have” gear options like grenades which can only be unlocked in later levels which can be considered as plain upgrades, but this not much of a deal as most starter players (up to level 10) have separate dedicated servers to play with.
That said, only a few and newer receivers and items are usually “ZEN-only”, which usually doesn’t last forever and also doesn’t mean that a new item is better just for the sake of better sales. Actually, Zombie Studios and Perfect World Entertainment are doing a pretty good job with their sales model, constantly providing new content for free whilst keeping the balance. Even after 200h of play i have yet to encounter that one gun or item build that beats them all – which speaks a lot for the good game design. With all those many weapon parts and items to choose from there is much room for customization and very little that really forces you to pay money for. Aside from certain guns the only ZEN-items are colors, camouflage and special “heroes” which come pre-equipped with a complete set of gear which cannot be altered.
Blacklights graphics might look a bit aged, but the game has a lot of nice DX11 effects and really nice character models. The game might not be the new Crisis, but features well-rounded and “fitting” visuals with nice animations and cool-looking character models.
The guns are obviously the main part of the game, as they are very detailed and distinct in both their design, handling and sound. Speaking of sound: the music is featuring some decent dubstep and electronic sound samples, which usually stand in the background but fit the general theme quite nicely.
One big disappointment however is the GUI, which is very intransparent for new players and could use a lot of updates in terms of its usability and information clutter. Your guns can be easily switched between deaths at the press of a button. But between matches, the lack of item loadouts is one of the biggest downsides of the game making the switching process more tedious as it should be.
If you’re up to some gameplay, check out my latest video: