PAX 2013: Blacklight Retribution preview

1341616285429Blacklight Retribution is a game that doesn’t do much in the way of innovation for first person shooters, but it’s a game that’s going to help set an interesting precedent this Fall. Blacklight Retribution is a free-to-play multiplayer shooter that feels like it could compete with bigger budget titles – at least in terms of gameplay.

I played through 4 multiplayer death-matches on PS4 at the Sony booth yesterday morning, and I got everything that I’d expect from a console-shooter death-match: The guns felt responsive and varied, and they controlled the way many of us have come to expect in “realistic” military shooters.

I did notice one significant departure from the systems found in other games’ arsenals though. I’m a big sniper/reconnaissance player in shooters, so once I’d settled in with the default mid-range assault rifle that was assigned to me, I dug into the exceptionally deep customization options (there looked to be dozens of aesthetic and functional changes for every aspect of my appearance and my weaponry) and found myself a sniper rifle.

Notably, Blacklight doesn’t have a radar or map for navigation

When I aimed down the sight of the rifle in a match, my avatar took an extra second or two to snap the gun to his shoulder; there is no equivalent of quick-scoping to be found in Blacklight. It’s a change that I could adjust to since I usually hard-scope when I play anyway, but it could be a put off for other players.

Notably, Blacklight doesn’t have a radar or map for navigation. Instead, pressing a shoulder button activated some see-through-walls goggles for a short time, allowing me to locate my enemies. The seven-second or so cooldown on the goggles made the ability feel appropriately powerful, and it was interesting to see the way that the opposing team moved whenever they’d activate their ability.

They’d sharply change direction to hunt down a target they’d spotted, and then I’d have the cooldown window available to me to try and reposition my self in an advantageous location.

The free-to-play game does enough to make it feel original

Other things like the reload time of the weapons and the movement speed while wielding larger vs. smaller guns felt quite pronounced compared to other shooters as well. The game has all of the core-shooter elements in place, but it does enough to make it feel original. And of course, everything you see in-game has the potential to look original based on the number of skins and weapon attachments I saw available.

That’s how the developer, Zombie Studios, plans to primarily monetize the content in their game. Many of the cosmetic elements in the game will have a real-world price-tag, whereas the functional equipment in the game will be available to players through an in-game currency renting system. It seems like a sound commercial design, and a fair one for players.

If Blacklight Retribution proves to be a successful effort when it arrives as a free-to-play downloadable shooter for the PS4 on launch day, I expect that many other studios will attempt to publish their freemium shooters on consoles. If that happens, I only hope that the majority of them play as well as Blacklight.

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