Around the turn of the century, videogames were having new life breathed into them with the advent of online technology. The first truly online worlds started appearing in the likes of SEGA’s Phantasy Star Online and gamers after a more adrenaline-pumping experience could delve into the warzones of Quake III: Arena and Unreal Tournament. At the time, game developers could rely on the philosophy of ‘build it, and they will play it’, as there really was little alternative for co-operative or competitive experiences that stretched beyond the living room couch. That was ten years ago, however, and things have most certainly changed in that time. Online gaming has become as key an element for some developers as the single-player experience, and in some games, much more so.
Blacklight: Tango Down is one of the latter titles, delivering an online-only game into a market in which many competitors have been making much headway in recent years. A tactical First-Person Shooter (FPS) with a grounding in reality – albeit, a near-future reality – Blacklight: Tango Down is entering a very crowded marketplace. It has a few tricks up its sleeve in order to contend, and despite the futuristic military setting is just as gung-ho as the popular multiplayer component of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but therein also lays its downfall.
Offering seven gameplay modes, Blacklight: Tango Down offers the usual deathmatch, team deathmatch an capture the flag variation as it’s leading options, supported by Domination, Detonate, Last Man Standing and Last Team Standing. The latter two are fairly obvious in how they play, while Domination is a standard variation of king of the hill. Detonate is an assault gameplay mode, where players must charge a bomb at the enemy base while avoiding having the opposing team manage to do the same. A constantly swift toing-and-throwing set-up, Detonate is easily the most interesting gameplay mode Blacklight: Tango Down provides, but unfortunately is just as bogged down as the other more complex gameplay modes by one fundamental issue: finding a game.
While deathmatch’s are generally well catered for, the other gameplay modes seem to suffer from a general lack of interested parties. With six players required before a game can begin, players may have a frustrating time waiting to gather enough players, watching familiar GamerTags appear and disappear in-and-out of the lobby, as they also frustratingly search for a game. With Blacklight: Tango Down playing incredibly similar to the most popular online game of the moment – bar, perhaps, the imminent explosion of Halo: Reach players as word spreads of it’s often incredible design – it seems apparent that the largest audience that would be interested in purchasing the game have all but ignored it. Instead, it’s those looking to take part in a variety of different gaming experiences that have adopted Blacklight: Tango Down, and for that, they have plenty of other new titles to explore when a match can’t be found.
Blacklight: Tango Down is a very respectable looking game, with well animated character models and some immaculately detailed arenas. The customisation options provide a distinctive visual quality to friends and competitors, and while that backstory of Blacklight: Tango Down may be fairly run-of-the-mill, in play the daylight, dirty grey setting is just as well presented as any “destroyed beauty”.
Despite its flaws, Blacklight: Tango Down is an inherently playable game. Those who play in a clan or with friends will have much joy in working their way up the ranks, customising their avatar and unlocking new weaponry, but for those looking for a competitive online experience to jump into once-in-a-while, Blacklight: Tango Down is not the ideal choice. Older games such as ShadowRun and even the underappreciated Section 8 support a much more dedicated community, thanks largely to their innovative approaches to online multiplayer, and would be a superior choice given both are now generally available for the same price or less than Blacklight: Tango Down at retail. Blacklight: Tango Down is certainly not a bad game, but as what is intended to become the first release in a cross-media franchise, it’s found itself in an unenviable position within a crowded market.