Developer: Zombie Studios
Publisher: Red Stallion Interactive/ Perfect World Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Full Release Date: June 25th 2014
Trophies: 1| 19
What Is It?: The full fat version of the FPS beta that launched with the PlayStation 4.
I'm Free, To Shoot Whoever I Want
Amongst the Free-to-Play games that launched with the PlayStation 4 in 2013 was the Beta version of Blacklight: Retribution, an Free-to-play, online-only cyberpunk-fuelled FPS consisting of a small handful of maps and modes. It was a competent, if shallow and uninspired start to Retribution's life on Sony's new console, but to criticise its shortcomings then would've been somewhat pointless, as it was a work in progress rather than a full, finished game.
During the beta, Zombie Studios tinkered with the mechanics, adding new modes, parts, options, and generally building on the already solid core of the game, thanks in part to player feedback. Seven months later, Retribution's beta concluded, and it was re-released a fully-fledged game. So has the testing phase helped make it a better game? Let's take a look.
A Way To Mech a Living
The focus of Blacklight is mostly on competitive play in traditional game types such as Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Domination, though there is one all-out co-op experience zombie 'Horde' mode called Onslaught which is a fun little distraction. There's nothing here that you wouldn't find in any other FPS these days. Not that this is a bad thing of course. There isn't anything about the options available that feels all that unique, sure, but it at least provides plenty of familiar variety in the rule-sets for shooting people in the face with guns. This is a polite way of saying that Blacklight isn't all that daring in this department, but that's okay.
Once you've jumped into one of these modes, the game moves along nicely enough, delivering a decent FPS experience that only really gets bogged down by sensitivity settings that can't seem to find the right balance for aiming however much you fiddle with them. It isn't game-breaking, it just feels a little off from being truly comfortable to aim with when you compare it to most modern FPS set-ups.
Each of the modes is accompanied by pick-ups you unlock after a set amount of kills (shh, it's not anything like a Kill Streak, honest) such as extra ammo, flamethrowers, and the standout pick-up by some stretch, Hardsuits, essentially an exo-suit/Mech, which despite being a bit fiddly to use, are immense fun to rampage in.
If you aren't working with others, seeing someone rock up, looking like a budget Transformer will likely make you mutter expletives under your breath, as you know it'll be tough to take them down. They are only as good as the player in it though, so they are only truly brutal in good hands.
Be warned though, good old lag will likely infuriate when it occurs, even the mildest of internet issues can create a less than charming stop-motion shooter. There are times you literally end up shooting at nothing, even though it appears an opponent is standing in front of you, picking their virtual nose. This is made worse when said nose-picker has actually moved and killed you with ease afterwards. Internet and server stability is something that effects even the most high profile of online shooters, but somehow, Blacklight makes it a lot more noticeable.
The hardsuit is a highlight, if you can afford it.
Blacklight, Big City
The futuristic-looking, cyberpunk world of Blacklight, is, to be honest, not all that impressive to look at, despite the art style. It's not going to make you renounce your sight in protest to its ugliness, but it's quite drab considering the look they are going for, and it is not a good example of the PlayStation 4's high levels of graphical power in any case. Orange and black is a neat colour palette to build your cyberpunk combat on, but it too often feels like the only colours you ever see.The best way I can think of describing Blacklight's look is being present, but not ever screaming at you to notice it.
The sound design is in a similar situation; guns may make the noises you will have heard in any game that features guns, but they lack the punch that should make them really satisfying to fire, while the soundtrack it either a large selection of dubstep or just a couple of tracks, it is genuinely hard to tell. I will say, there are some nice little audio flourishes here and there, such as integrating the dubstep soundtrack beats into kill cam, yet this only stands out because of the mediocrity of the rest of it.
It may seem a little unfair to berate the front-end of a F2P shooter for being merely sufficient, yet this is a PlayStation 4 title, so free or not, a little more effort should be expected, especially if they want to attract a bigger audience in the long run.
Being a Free-To-Play title brings up the old question of ''Is this Pay-To-Win?'' The answer is... not entirely. You can accumulate points to rent or buy weapons, gear (that have varying effects on your armour and mobility), attachments and some trinkets to hang off your gun (that boosts your stats in some way or another), whether you buy credits or just earn them through play, but only if you are a sufficient rank to begin with. This payment system also applies to the pick-ups, meaning you will be racked with indecision on whether to fork out for a ride in that badass Hardsuit or save the points for something more permanent. Obviously it's slower going to unlock and purchase items through graft alone, you can legitimately hold your own against higher ranked players with the basic tool set, but it certainly gives somebody an edge if they fork out real monies for better tech.
The issue here, is that you really, really have to enjoy playing Blacklight to earn enough points for buying things outright. While it is fine to play for a half hour here or there, it doesn't quite have the compelling aspect that has you looking at the clock, swearing you just time-traveled forward half a day, and that feeling is essential if an online-only shooter is to thrive.
If you are good enough, reaching the top three is highly possible no matter how little you spend.
The trophies are a slog, no bones about it. As I said before, if you enjoy spending hours upon hours shooting things in a rather straightforward manner, then you'll have a 100% on your hands. It's a mix of 'play mode x for y amount of times' and 'upgrade this, upgrade that'. I recommend that if you want the 100% and you don't want to hate the game, then you should play naturally, over time, rather than try and squash a feck-tonne of gameplay into a small period.
As a free online shooter goes, Blacklight: Retribution does its job competently. You have reasonable graphics and inoffensive, unmemorable sound keeping you company as you shoot other people with guns and gain XP to level up... slowly, then you buy upgrades from winnings gained within matches...again, slowly. If the game had a real hook to it then this process would be painless, even a joy, but as it stands, there is little that merits a long-term time investment as while the action is done well, it lacks the drip-feed excitement needed to keep you coming back. Blacklight is sufficient, like no-frills Ready Salted crisps from Tesco or Vanilla ice cream from Aldi, it's adequate in its aim to quell your hunger, and it costs next to nothing, but given the choice, you'd rather be munching a multipack of those fancy Thai Sweet Chilli crisps and gargling Carte D'Or from a bucket.
My Verdict: 6.5/10 - Worth Trying Out
Gameplay: 7/10 - Blacklight won't set your world on fire with innovative, fresh gameplay ideas, but it will at least deliver an accessable shooter that does exactly what a shooter should. Playing without putting your own real-world money in is thankfully without any real penalties, provided you are in any way decent at FPS titles of course.
Technical: 6.5/10 - Solid, if unspectacular from front to back. Visually, it's lacking in a personality of its own, despite a consistent art style. Some animation goes awry during more frenetic battles, while lag really hampers the game when it occurs. On an audio level, its future-buzz dubstep is fine, just not all that memorable. The weaponry sounds a bit flat and uninspired.
Longevity: 6/10 - The F2P nature of Blacklight sadly makes progression more drawn out without cash injection, making it a slog to get anywhere. The gameplay alone is not enough to keep you on the hook for the long term, so it is best enjoyed in short bites, here and there.
Select Critics' Scores
games (TM) - 7/10: "If you've a passing interest in blasting chumps and don't fancy dropping 50 quid for the privilege, Blacklight: Retribution is a more than serviceable option."
NowGamer -7/10: "Zombie Studios has certainly got the visuals and rampant multiplayer matches down, but the entry price is too high for most players to pay if they want to succeed."
PlayStation Official Magazine UK - 5/10: "In its defence, Retribution is free to play – so while it can’t compete with Killzone Shadow Fall, that’s an unfair expectation to begin with. But it’s still a PS4 release, and in this regard feels like a grubby stowaway that’s snuck aboard a glitzy cruise liner bound for the golden shores of next-gen."
Gamespot - 5/10: "Blacklight: Retribution has its fun moments to balance out the frustrating ones. But with a few unpleasant quirks, some missing features, and a borderline draconian pricing model, it's hardly a must-have shooter for kicking off the new wave of current-gen gaming."
EDGE - 4/10: "At a base level, this is simply too forgettable to give players a good enough reason to return. Perhaps it would be different if Zombie had been more lenient with its economy, allowing you to try more before committing to buy."
Like These? Blacklight Might Be For You:
Call of Duty (Multi)
Free To Play (Business model)
Unreal Tournament (PC)
Dubstep (Music, apparently)