Another game begins.
I spawn, an abandoned warehouse in front of me, and I instantly know how to sprint, how to aim down the sights of my rifle, how best to move around the map, how to check corners, and how best to keep myself alive. Playing a first-person shooter is a timeless skill – one that transcends individual titles within the genre.
It’s no secret that many games in this genre crave the success of Call of Duty and emulate it accordingly. Blacklight: Retribution is every bit as familiar to the aforementioned behemoth, and basic play feels instantly familiar. Is this a bad thing? Do I want to play this kind of shooter again? This is a flawless, if homogeneous approach to the competitive shooter. Our two teams have found one another at the map’s center, and I find myself instantly at home as a chaotic firefight erupts around me. I don’t even remember to marvel at how seamlessly the individual systems work. This is natural to me now. I expect this now. Blacklight: Retribution delivers the typical bedrock for an enthralling competitive experience with a poise I’ve come to demand from a genre that is itself highly competitive. What the game uses in an attempt to differentiate itself is its extensive customization, delivered through a versatile freemium model.
The better I perform in a match, the more credits I earn. The more credits I earn, the better equipment I can buy from the marketplace. The better equipment I get, the better I can perform in a match. A curious feedback loop of desires, I reflect, and one that only works when I find the matches exciting by their own merits.
An enemy takes me by surprise, rushing out at me from around a corner. I can only panic and hip-fire wildly, spraying bullets everywhere but my mark, and my opponent inevitably wins. While I wait to get back into the game, for I don’t have the item which allows me instant respawn, I tell myself that I’ll look into buying a shotgun for close encounters.
Blacklight: Retribution runs on two economies, the crux of its freemium basis. Game points are awarded by playing matches, and ZEN can be purchased with real world currency. While buying a gun can cost anywhere up to around $15/£10, or a huge time investment if you choose to horde game points. Blacklight alleviates this by offering unlocks for rent, and it becomes perfectly plausible for an enthusiastic player to rent weapons out indefinitely. The fact that I downloaded this entire game for free makes it hard to feel disgruntled with the game-point and ZEN unlocks, even when the top-tier equipment becomes demoralizingly expensive. Does the game ever convince me to open my wallet, though? Not quite. The catalog of guns, scopes, stocks, grenades, and aesthetic upgrades is extensive to an almost absurd degree, but I get by just fine renting the occasional upgrade. It’s to the game’s credit that I never feel obliged to pay to get ahead. Sure, advantages are discernible, but seldom obvious. It’s not simply that I don’t feel required to pay, though; it’s that this familiar approach to shooting no longer excites by its own merits.
The world of Blacklight: Retribution is realistic, with a helping of style and flair, half the mature cyberpunk of Deus Ex and half the sci-fi vitality of Halo. Perhaps this is part of the problem; I don’t see the game as an individual title, but as a kaleidoscope of a dozen shooters before it. As such, I don’t intend to stay long in its world. Blacklight: Retribution delivers robust control, but what else? It’s just another arena where combatants test their reactions, with a toybox of guns to tinker with at their backs. I applaud the game’s exhaustive list of unlocks, but feel no urge to chase them myself. I marvel at how this game is available for free, but can’t think of it as much more than a curiosity. I have fun in Blacklight: Retribution, but the fun is mechanical and familiar now.
Review based on PC release.