Gaming for Cheapos – Blacklight Retribution

This summer I’m attempting to play mostly Free to Play (F2P) video games. These articles will be my impressions, opinions and experience on the matter. And of course, as the best judge of a F2P game, I tell you if I was happy enough with the game to pay for premium content.

First up is Blacklight Retribution.

Title : Blacklight Retribution
Developer : Zombie Studios
Publisher : Perfect World
Engine : Unreal Engine 3
Released : April 2012

Genre : First-Person Shooter (Competitive Multiplayer)
Style : Near Future Sci-Fi

Time Played : 5-10 hours
Premium content bought : No

Gameplay

From your first moments in Blacklight:Retribution, you’re aware of the high-level polish in every aspect of the game. Combat mechanics all feel smooth and non-restrictive – If you wanted an idea, I’d say better than Crysis 2, and a bit less polished than Modern Warfare – and for the most part as good as any paid Multiplayer game you can get your hands on.

Gameplay itself is as expected of an FPS these days, you’ll need to utilise the gun sights to get accuracy from your guns. I’m not huge on having to switch to grenades before throwing them, but it’s a fair design decision.  The inspiration this game takes from the industry stencil, Call of duty, is clear, though the game does a good job of taking inspiration in the correct dosage, and feels fresh and different despite. This game could be compared to Black Ops 2, but feels like a completely different game to anything in the Call of duty franchise.

It's A Shooter!
It’s the usual “press LMB to kill’, but it all feels remarkably solid.

One main feature of the game is the HRV visor, which allows you to see every player in the match, like thermal vision with full range of vision. this stops players having an advantage when camping, and adds a new layer of tactics onto the game. The flip side of this is that often, players will simply jump around corners spraying bullets, all to aware of the threat on the other side.

There are only 2 things I have a problem with in this game. Firstly is the spawning mechanics. Respawn time is a bit high on this game. 7 seconds feels like a yawning chasm in a high-paced game light this, though the major issue with respawning is the location. The map design in a lot of the maps means that, although players won’t necessarily spawn geographically near to established players, they’re often in direct line of sight, or fire, of these players when they spawn. This often means that they’re prone to being killed by spawning players, or killing the spawning players, depending on the specific circumstance.

Most of the time, I never felt my death was a fair one in this game. I’d often be killed when 3 players spawned near me when nobody on my team had spawned nearby, or when a player had a ridiculous opportunity to walk up behind me, on a long line of sight. As much as you might criticise Call of Duty, I never had this problem during my time playing MW2. In that game, players always spawned in fair areas, and there were never opportunities where I could be attacked from more than 2 or 3 directions at a time. This is what makes CoD a fun game to jump into at any time, and Blacklight:Retribution doesn’t achieve this.

However, the Gameplay is reasonably satisfying, and I always find myself heading back onto Blacklight:Retribution for a few more games, and although I may have a bad streak and quit, I never feel hugely cheated when playing. This is a game a casual player could get into, provided they’re FPS competent, and willing to play at least 3-5 games a day.

Free vs Premium fairness

unfortunately, Blacklight:Retribution fails to deliver a fair experience to non-premium players. In Blacklight:Retribution, level locked items can be bought at any time with the games premium currency. This means that a level 1 player could be playing against somebody with the most powerful armour in the game, or a gun which does ridiculous amounts of damage against somebody in the default armour. It means they could be up against a player with invisibility, a level 20 unlock which already seems overpowered, only reasonably visible when that player is 5 meters from you, and only turning off when they take their shot, having a severe upper hand in that specific exchange.

Level 25 Helmet
A Level 25 Helmet. I saw a lot of these in the level 1-10 games, and the owner usually got the most kills.

This is likely to be less noticeable later in the games progression, when free players have these items unlocked anyway, but shows an obvious flaw in logic on the designers behalf. This urgency to buy into the premium part of the game is likely to alienate a lot of newcomers to the game. They’re likely to get a “pay for the game or do poorly” impression, something I definitely get a lot of the time.

Equipment Customisation

The customisation in this game is really enjoyable. I found the menus confusing at first, but I feel this was due to the large amount of customisation options. Once you’ve played a game or two, you can start trying out weapon attachments. You can try a gun type (receiver) for 200GP for 1 day (about 2 games of GP), onto that receiver, you can add any of the games attachments to it. I had great fun adding SMG parts onto a bolt action rifle, allowing me to run rapidly around the map, taking extremely precise and powerful shots on the go. The screenshot below shows the opposite, an SMG with sniper components, resulting in an SMG with the versatility to be useful beyond point-blank range, creating something along the line of a rapid-fire assault rife.

Weapon Customisation
Attach sniper parts to an SMG, or SMG parts to a bolt-action sniper rifle for usefulness and hilarity.

The low price of trying an item for 1 day allows you to try a lot of weapons, attachments and armour, find weapons and play-styles which suit you. I wanted to try a light armoured SMG wielding character, but found that I was better with heavy armour and a more accurate weapon.

Graphics

As somebody who strides to make their graphics card worth buying, I was really impressed with Blacklight’s graphics. I’d go as far as saying it’s the best looking UE3 game I’ve played. the graphics are very scalable (they managed 20-30FPS on a single-core desktop) but when cranked to max, the graphics range from crisp to outstanding, depending on the environment. It’s the only F2P game I know of with DX11 graphics, and it really benefits from them. The Level backdrops blur with a cinematic gorgeousness, and image-based reflections make night-scenes a thrill to look at.

Unreal engine 3 and Direct X 11
I’m a sucker for Fresnel Depth-of-field.

Pricing Model

In Blacklight:Retribution, GP is the free currency, earned through continuous gameplay, and Zen is the premium currency, (the same currency used in Star Trek Online, by the same publisher).

The Zen prices are difficult to get, it didn’t seem to want me to know the prices before getting halfway through the payment process. The price I found was €9 for 1000 Zen. (Zen seems to be sold in dollars or euros) Spending more in one purchase presumably gets you more zen per dollar/euro spent)

€9 Could get you:
– Permanent access to 2 weapon types
– Permanent access to 2 or 3 weapon attachments
– 50x 1-day access to a weapon attachment (or 8 days of a full weapon’s attachments)
– 2/3 of an armour set (permanent)
– 11x 1-day access to a full armor set

Perhaps I’m not the best person to judge value, but to me, that just seems massively extortionate, and that’s not a phrase I chose lightly. I suppose one could argue that using zen for 1-day purchases would be a reasonable way of spending money, but that would mean only getting about a week or so of content from €9 of zen. In all likeliness, doing that would turn the game into a £20-30 a month subscription service.

Summary

Blacklight Retribution is a slightly flawed but thoroughly enjoyable FPS, one which rivals the quality of many AAA titles. Unfortunately, I simply can’t justify the price of premium content. I’d recommend playing it though, if you want to try something new, and don’t fancy paying for it.

If you wanted me to score it, excluding the issue of pricing, I’d say 7-8/10.

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