The internet is an amazing thing. With just a few mouse clicks we can access countless amounts of information, order pizza or, most importantly, shoot a total stranger in the face. Blacklight: Retribution, Perfect World’s new PC FPS lets you do the latter to your heart’s content, all for the low cost of free. The core is a solid shooter already, but spending time (or money) with the game allows you to customize almost everything about your character and weapons, giving it a lot of replay value for those willing to fight through a tough beginning.
The basics of Blacklight: Retribution will be familiar for any fan of PC shooters. Using the keyboard and mouse (there is no direct controller support) you run around maps, alone or with a team, eliminating opponents or completing objectives. The game has standard FPS play modes like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, among others. You’re always carrying two guns, a grenade and a melee weapon, and you can create multiple loadouts featuring different gun combinations.
As a free to play game, Retribution makes money by selling players better weapons, armor and equipment. Almost every aspect of your character can be upgraded, right down to their helmet and boots. Shopping for items shows you the positive and negative effects a particular piece of equipment has in comparison to what you’re currently using, leaving it up to you to determine if a helmet that adds 20 to your health is worth a slower sprint recharge. Items in the game can be purchased using either points accumulated while playing, or Zen, in-game currency purchased with real money. While winning matches and good performance will earn you more points to spend, even poor execution earns points, meaning that less skilled players can still upgrade for free, it will just take them longer.
Zen is the only way to purchase some special items, like extra loadout slots and a 50% XP bonus. You can also use Zen to unlock upgrades that are above your level. For instance, if a certain gun requires you to be level 22 to purchase, spending some Zen will allow you to unlock it even if you’re only a level 10. If you can’t find a gun that you like, you can always create your own, choosing the individual parts like barrel, scope and stock individually. Items can also be upgraded with nodes that provide various buffs, allowing you to further customize. If customization isn’t your thing, you can spend Zen to buy a Hero, one of several preset characters built for different play styles. When purchasing items with game points or Zen, in many instances you can buy for varying lengths of time, like one day, one week or permanent. It’s a nice addition that gives you the freedom to try new items for a lower cost before completely buying them, so you can make sure you like that toxic grenade variant before you spend all of your points to buy it permanently.
Blacklight: Retribution adds some unique twists to the standard shooter gameplay that keep the action fresh and interesting. You’re equipped with an HRV, a special visor that, when triggered, allows you to see the position of opponents and depots on the level. The HRV has a maximum use time and must recharge, so you have to be careful about where and when you use it. Using your HRV will be crucial to success; there’s no radar, so it’s the only way to know where your enemies are. There are also depots scattered around every level that allow you to use points earned in that match (separate from game points used for upgrades) to buy items like health recharges, a flamethrower or the Hardsuit, a mech-like suit equipped with a minigun and railgun.
If you’re making a purchase at the depot, you’ll want to survey the area with the HRV first, as opposing players can swoop in after your purchase to kill you and steal your items. This is especially true for the Hardsuit, which needs to be dropped from the sky to you before you can climb in. The suit can do massive damage, but you’re not invincible; each suit has randomly generated weak spots that your opponents can spot with their HRV. In addition, a skilled played with a flamethrower can burn you out of the suit and take it for themselves.
Generally, the game elements are nicely balanced. Using the HRV lets you see everyone, but you can’t shoot while using it, leaving you vulnerable until you turn it off and ready your weapon. The Hardsuit does massive damage, but it moves slowly, and the minigun takes a second to start firing once you pull the trigger. The weak spots and weapon depots mean that although the Hardsuit can be the turning point in a match, a skilled team working together can take it down. The nature of free to play games is that the best equipment goes to those who put in the time to earn it or buy it, which in a competitive game such as this means that skill is not the only differentiator. There was more than one instance where I ran into an opponent who could kill me with a single shot. It’s something that comes naturally with this type of game, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
The developers clearly recognized the potential equipment imbalances, and built some conditions in the matchmaking to address that issue. Some rooms are restricted by level, allowing newer players to compete with each other without fear of a high level player running over them. For a game that is only multiplayer, my experiences with matchmaking were inconsistent. At times I would attempt to join rooms that had space available, only to be told that they were full. Other times I was told that I was outside of the level restriction for a room, despite none being posted. Quickmatches would sometimes put me right into a game, but other times drop me into a room by myself, waiting for opponents that would never come. Overall, matchmaking worked more often than not, and I had fewer issues as time went on, leading me to believe that some of those problems had been addressed.
Visually the game is solid – it’s not on par with some of the other shooters available, but for a free game it’s very respectable. The combat noises are good, and the different gun types each have a unique sound to them. The only issue I ran into was that after changing the resolution, I needed to restart the game in order for the playable area to adjust correctly, but I imagine that’s something will be patched at some point in the future. In addition to customizing the look of your character and your weapons, you can also customize many elements of the game experience, right down to the reticule color when targeting an opponent.
Blacklight: Retribution is a good game, although anyone who wants to play seriously will definitely need to invest some time and money in order to be really competitive. As someone who doesn’t play a lot of keyboard and mouse shooters, I particularly appreciated the tutorial, which allows you to get familiar with the controls in a non-combat environment. With solid shooting, unique play mechanics and no barrier to entry, Retribution is a good choice for fans of PC shooters, or anyone who wants to give the genre a try.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.