Hands On: Blacklight Tango Down

By Kieron Gillen on May 6th, 2010 at 11:11 am.

I've been resisting doing a YOU KNOW WHEN YOU'VE BEEN TANGOED gag all the way through this piece.

The game bluescreens. For the third time this game. I swear. Not again. Not fucking again.

You may wonder why a developer is proudly letting journalists play their game in their state. There is reason to their madness. This isn’t a bug. This is a feature.

Blacklight Tango Down is a mid-price download-only Unreal-3-powered multiplayer shooter with a sci-fi theme. As well as the elegant-hard-carapace armour, the game does some fun stuff with the UI to try and get the feel of a future conflict. The blue-screening is actually a grenade effect, a localised EMP-blast which crashes the in-game computer, so messing up their vision while their system reboots. The other main grenade type is a localised visual-distorter, which causes anyone trying to look through the area where it’s deployed to have their vision violently pixelated. Actually try to walk through it, and what you see starts looking as retro as most of the indie games I plug on RPS. They’re both neat visual effects, with an obvious tactical use.

That’s perhaps what I find most promising about Blacklight Tango Down. Despite the fact in all but its business model, it’s operating in a well-worn territory, it questions the assumptions, and tries to find a new angle on genre-faithfuls. Because the blue-screen bomb is clearly directly analogous to a flashbang, while the pixel-distort grenade is equally analagous to the smoke grenade. That its developers have put the effort in implies that they may bring their imagination to bear elsewhere.

Anyway, let’s have a look at it, eh?

As mentioned, it’s a multiplayer shooter, splitting its attention between twelve traditional multiplayer maps (with 7 modes) and four-co-op missions, which you play with up to four other players. Its headline feature is the level of customisation. For example, each weapon is arranged into a variety of parts, each of which has a different build. Swap the gun muzzles or stocks around and you’ll lead to a different gun, both aesthetically and in terms of function. Presumably, this is going to link to characters making their own “classes”, especially when linked to a player-award/ranking system which opens up weapon attachments. Interestingly, these aren’t actually given to you in a linear fashion – but randomly, meaning that most of the players will have a different selection of toys to select. You find yourself hoping there’s some way to trade these between players, like desperate collectible-card players or something.

Co-op mode, presumably. Or someone who's really screwed.

All this is in the abstract. In the version I played, the customisation tools were locked out, and we were left to actually play some multiplayer battles. And, without those elements, it’s simply a stylish techno-shooter, all tuned towards speed of conflict. It primarily does this by a striking element which, despite the Call-of-Duty-esque deadliness of weapons, encourages a less stealthy, faster moving approach. It’s basically the ability for you to turn on your FANCY-LOOK-SCIENCE and see through walls, locating all the friendlies and hostiles. In other words, if someone is camping, it’s easy to get a drop on them. Movement is everything.

This is balanced in a couple of ways. Firstly, it only has so much power, so you can’t keep it on. Secondly, you can’t shoot while using it. Thirdly, it recharges – and until it’s fully recharged, you can’t re-apply it. And finally, you can’t shoot while using it, which is so important I’m going to mention it twice. In other words, it’s a pay-off between deciding whether to use it to check a corner – and leave yourself defenceless – and blundering straight around. You can easily imagine a tight, small team working together and taking turns to play spotter.

Generally speaking, while solid, I suspected it would find a problem in finding an audience at full price. Which makes it luck it’s not full price, but a fifteen-euros download only game. It concentrates its efforts on the multiplayer side and actually offers a selection of features which compares favourably with what the big-boys do, all with its own little twist. And while I suspect it’s still not a game which is going to find me as a regular player, it’s certainly more promising than I was expecting when I recieved the invite to play it.

Nice Helmet.

There’s a handful of things which may trip it up. Firstly, the urge to play with conventions doesn’t always lead to an actually-enjoyable destination. In the capture the flag area maps, rather than simply staying in a place or holding down a button, you have to actually do a quick Quick-time-event to capture it. Fail to match the sequence and the area doesn’t switch over. While this is extra interaction, I’m not convinced this is particularly interesting interaction. Rather than skill making you achieve something quicker than you were expecting, this is a lack of skill making making you take longer on what most games will just give you. If they were desperate to keep the system, I’d have it so that you have a standard timer to hack the base, but if you do the QTE before it goes down, it changes immediately. But I’m playing backseat designer now, so will shut up.

Secondly, for the PC-audience, this runs on Games for Windows live and doesn’t have dedicated servers. As such, a maximum of 16-players a game. This will raise eyebrows of the PC audience. The third problem is that, at the moment, it doesn’t raise the eyebrows enough. In a good way, rather than a cynical way. While it’s neat enough, from what I played, it doesn’t seem to have a big imaginative hook to attract the attention in the same way – to choose a random example – Killing Floor did. Must is going to rest on how fascinating the customisation actually is, and whether the Co-op missions can put their own spin on the conflict.

All of which makes me realise it’s not just the imaginative flourishes which make this interesting – but the pragmatism. It knows what it is, and has priced itself accordingly. That’s something I have to applaud, and will be interested to see whether it’s enough.

'what do you mean you're voting BNP?'

Blacklight Tango Down will be available in Summer this year, by pretty much every direct-download company.

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46 Comments »

  1. Joe Martin says:

    Personally, I was incredibly underwhelmed by the game. The bluescreen was fun the first time you saw it, but then it’s diminishing returns from that point. The constant flickering of the UI, bursts of meaningless static and so on made me just want to scream at the game “LET ME TAKE THIS SILLY VISOR OFF AND USE MY GODDAMN EYES FFS.”

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Good seeing you yesterday, btw.

      KG

    • qrter says:

      I don’t really understand why any army would keep using a system that is quite easily crashed, and wouldn’t, like Joe Martin says, just stop using it.

      Especially when the system doesn’t seem to help that much anyway – any positive aspects (see through walls) are further ‘balanced’ within the game.

  2. clippa says:

    No dedicated servers? Shame, I was willing to give this a go.

  3. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    ^ lol, how often does this happen though, in all games even in self-proclaimed +AAA Games, I remember playing Doom3 and was like WTF EITHER a torch or a Gun? cmon, 1 hand for torch, 1 hand for pistol, or Ductape ffs <- as the ductape mod proves im not the only one with this gripe, we have flashlights on guns today, why not in the future, or night vision etc….

    That was just the most immediate example that comes to mind but I am sure there are a fair few like this, no prone in BFBC2 also comes to mind too….

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      fail reply, that was @ Joe btw

    • Elusiv3Pastry says:

      I think the reason for the torch or gun choice was to keep you scared shitless, not because they don’t have duct tape in the future. I quite liked it actually; I could either see what was coming for me and be helpless or be nearsighted but able to fight back. Not the greatest game ever, but definitely one of the scariest.

    • Joe Martin says:

      The Doom gun/torch thing is a bit different, I think. They at least did that for an obvious and appreciable reason even if they didn’t do it well. It definitely should have allowed you to have a torch and pistol out at the same time at the very least, even if not two handed weapons. The problem with Doom 3 was that that was the only fear tactic it had except for imps spawning behind you, so the game just wasn’t very fun once you’d learned that trick.

      For Blacklight, it’s far worse. The bursts of static just don’t bring anything at all to the game except for a gimmick that actively harms the game. If they full embraced the idea of a visor beyond digi-grenades and static when you move (as Haze tried to do) then I’d be all for it. But they don’t. Instead, they insist that it brings something new to the game (it doesn’t), that it increases the immersion (it’s actually the opposite) and that it helps establish the setting (this is a multiplayer only game).

      Sigh.

    • Nick says:

      I dunno, the steady drip of introducing new (well, not NEW but you know what I mean) enemies was usually quite entertaining, I especially liked the woman –> floating skull head transition.

  4. /V/endetta says:

    Generic console shooter #5286

  5. Shrewsbury says:

    GFWL? Lost sale.

  6. MultiVaC says:

    “Secondly, for the PC-audience, this runs on Games for Windows live and doesn’t have dedicated servers.”

    Should have mentioned this at the beginning of the article. I was actually starting to think it was going to be a pretty cool game up until reading it. It’s probably the most important detail; with GFWL and no dedicated servers, the game essentially doesn’t exist.

  7. Tei says:

    Not much people have a router with UPNP.

    My router has UPNP, but I have played with *a lot* of people thanks to “Sleep is dead”, and is either a UPNP router or manually forwarding ports.

    The consoles have some discoverty system or a network hack, so the consoles don’t need to act like a server the same way a PC need it. Probably this system that the consoles use need a dedicated server that make the “marchmarking” and “directory book” or something like that. I can smell it from here.

    But on the PC, with only UPNP *on a hand of routers*, the “self hosting” strategy of P2P networking will fail flat. Is just that… most people don’t have a UPNP router and most people can’t forward his ports. Forwarding his ports is really lame, because most routers are pure shit, very limited and with totally crappy interfaces. Is not easy, not even easy if you are sysadmin and work on networking configurations all day long. Thats how crappy it is.

    Any game that ask users to do P2P networking for FPS, is asking too much, and will force the players on a world of misery.

    And we have not even started to talk about Quality, I have talked about the mere ability to succesfully connect.

    The PC community was very right about the dedicated servers thing. Consoles have not dedicated server mentality, because is dumbedown kingdown, and the owners are greedy and will avoid anything that can’t be monetized. But dedicated servers is the right thing.

    Also, I think any battlefield-ske game with less of 64 players is a joke. And I have played battles in Planetside with more than 200 and 400 players fighting to control a base. 16 players is the limit of Quake1, that about 20 years ago, and that was MS-DOS, and before player prediction was invented, and people was playing with Modems. 16 players is sad, very , very sad. If all you game can host is 16 players, maybe you sould start looking in different working positions other than game design.

    • Clovis says:

      To be fair, you keep saying “consoles”, but you really mean XBox 360. PS3′s can use dedicated servers. I think MAG handles a large number of players.

    • Springy says:

      Wait, the Xbox 360 doesn’t maintain any dedicated servers for its games? What the heck am I paying Microsoft £40 a year for?

    • Heliocentric says:

      Avatars? Gold only demos? Matchmaking? A list of other things you get for free on pc… Really now, a fool and his money are soon parted.

  8. tome says:

    Tei, I don’t think you can say less players is objectively bad. Less players might make for more intricate/intimate/tense scenarios, while more players might give greater weight and scope to each battle. Hell, even to say /that/ is another generalisation. It’s a matter of taste, just as absolutely everything is.

    • tome says:

      Ack – I forgot to mention the initial reason for posting:

      This is seemingly a lot like neoTokyo. They’re both a small-scale team deathmatch/CTF with subtle, computer tech-themed reimaginings of genre constants and a gun-stifling wallhacking ability. Which isn’t really a criticism, seeing as how nt was both absolutely great and a HL2 mod (unplayable to the console-bound public).

    • Tei says:

      Ha.. nice words. But I don’t fail for that again!. Nope. A tale of 2 lines will never have the deep of novel. And a portrait can’t have the detail of a whole wall painted, or the sixtine chappel. There are some Magnus Creations that ask for a bigger canvas. Is just that. The same artist will create something different on the same other conditions based on the size of the canvas. A 16 players is a potrait of 16×16 cm in size, and 64 players is a whole wall painted. This tecnically may not make sense. But it work like that. Trust Me Here.

      Of course, there are anfull wall painted, and pretty portraits, but there are some stuff, celebrations of epic proportions, that just ask for the bigger formats.

      Do you want to watch the 15 seconds version of Lord Of The Rings or the 3 movies long version?.

  9. Tye The Czar says:

    After seeing that it was published by the devil known as Ignition, I know I’m not buying it. Ignition ruined the translations of some fine games(Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Arc Rise Fantasia). They’re what you could call the poor-man’s Working Designs or Atlus.

  10. Shadow Aspect says:

    Have to say, really interested in this. GfWL doesn’t decrease the interest. I like games where you can trick out the weapons. It’s a shame it’ll be P2P, Section 8 is server based and still uses GfWL. As Tei says, this can cause problems with a fair number of routers. I know I’m getting low on space to add any more port-forwarding.

    • Jad says:

      Agreed. I don’t necessarily have a problem with GFWL, it can work okay. But no dedicated servers is just painful. The first time I had to forward ports for a videogame in a decade was Borderlands, and it still didn’t work that great after that.

      If you want matchmaking in your game it still can work with dedicated servers.

      What I really don’t understand is — this isn’t some kind of home-grown engine and all. It’s an Unreal 3 engine game. The U3 engine has dedicated servers built-in. The code is already there. It really shouldn’t be all that much programming work to have dedicated servers. It probably is less than P2P. What the hell?

  11. Alexander Norris says:

    I was exceedingly interested up until “no dedicated servers” was mentioned.

    It’s a shame. I love what little we’ve seen of the aesthetics, I adored CoD4 and so welcome any sort of game where the gunplay is vaguely similar, and the tactical bits sound great – but with no dedicated servers, I just won’t buy it.

    The worst part is even if they release it as a matchmaking game first and add servers later, it’ll probably already be too late the game will be condemned to an ignominious death (cf. Lead & Gold, which incidentally, no What I Think? I’d be interested in seeing words from the Hivemind about it).

  12. Thingus says:

    Anybody else reminded of that enemy in Metriod Prime 2 that would hack your armour, and you’d have to hold down three buttons to get it working again, complete with boot-sequence?
    Tbh, I wasn’t that enthralled with the trailer, but if it’s still in pre-release, fair enough.

    • Grunt says:

      No, because every time I play Metroid Prime 2 I get stuck at the $£!&**! Boost Guardian.

      He stains my waking existence with his effortless black dominion over me. I am pain.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      Ahh, the Boost Guardian!

      …yeah, when my brother and I played through MP2, he gave us some pain.

  13. Zwebbie says:

    Here’s a fun little game: look at those screenshots, squint, and see if you can make out what’s happening. On some of these you don’t even have to squint.

    …I think it’s about black-grey-blue guys shooting blue at black-grey-brown guys in a black-grey environment, but it’s hard to tell…

  14. bbot says:

    Subdued urban camouflage armor, sure.

    But then you put little glowing lights all over it?

    Man, why. Who started this fad among artists, and how many of them do I have to kill to get them to quit it?

  15. Robin says:

    The ‘EMP making your visor crash’ is lifted from Metroid Prime 2, by the way.

    GFWL = no thanks.

  16. JuJuCam says:

    Attempting multiplayer without dedicated servers is an exercise in frustration and time-wasting for Aussie gamers. My pings are simply bad in TF2. They’re horrible in Borderlands.

    Shame. It looked interesting, if only for the customisable guns. Maybe I’ll play it on a free weekend and see how it goes, but I’m not holding my breath.

  17. Grunt says:

    Giving the current economic meltdown happening in the Eurozone, if you wait a month or two €15 might be worth the equivalent of a tabloid newspaper here in blighty.

  18. Spoon says:

    Am I the only one who is tired of futuristic games worshiping the EMP grenade? The more advanced militaries of the world already have all of their vital electronics EMP shielded in preparation for nuclear war.

  19. Unaco says:

    The BSOD Grenade and the Pixellation Grenade sound quite similar to Dystopia’s EMP Grenade Effect (vision and audio are distorted, Cybernetic implants stop working, voice comms go screwy).

    Lack of Dedicated servers? Why? Why, why, why? For me, that means it would be a game to maybe have a few rounds on, but nothing to dedicate any amount of time to. How can I get involved with a game, if the server model works against forming communities? Just doesn’t work for me. Also, in the networking sense, it just doesn’t work for me… I tried (and failed) for an evening to open up my router for COD:MW2, just so I could try the SpecOps with a buddy (I will note, I didn’t buy a copy of MW2, I inherited from a family member who got it to go with a new laptop – that turned out to have an onboard gfx card). I’m a CS PhD student, admittedly with a disdain for telecomms and networking, but when there are 15 different solutions being offered that don’t work and the “Official” word on how to do it fails, I don’t think it’s worth my time to figure it out.

  20. Gutter says:

    I love how in The Future, soldiers will look like Christmas tree.

    • RedFred says:

      Well it makes sense as it’s always cloudy and the time is always DUSK.

  21. KP says:

    so like Dystopia, but not as cool?

    • Polysynchronicity says:

      Pretty much. I always played Heavy with a rocket launcher and a Soundwave Triangulator. The legions of invisible light shotgunners scoffed at my poor reload speed and occasional teamkills. Then I would kill them with one hit. From around a corner. Without seeing them once.

    • Polysynchronicity says:

      This game really doesn’t look like it can match up.

  22. GameOverMan says:

    Wallhackers plague every multiplayer shooter, in this game everybody can be one without cheating. It was a matter of time.

  23. DrazharLn says:

    I was going to mention Dystopia but you got here first.

    Screw it I’ll mention it anyway, I was about to mention dedicated servers too.

    On seeing this game, I immediately thought: “See also: Dystopia”. By the end, I was of the opinion that Dystopia is probably better (it has customisation of classes as well, radical level design [cyberspace], objective driven maps. Oh yeah, and dedicated servers).

    I imagine that the actual gameplay is probably quite different, however. Dystopia plays like a deathmatch game from the early days wheras this sounds more modern.

    I’m not sure what I prefer, really.

  24. Duoae says:

    Yeah, with the inclusion of GFWL and no dedicated servers, there’s no real reason for me to buy the game.

  25. Ashley says:

    Of course Xbox 360 can play games on dedicated servers. How do you think Bad Company 2 works? Or Left 4 Dead 2?

    Consoles are just much, much better at running peer to peer setups.

  26. Ilinx says:

    GFWL makes it a no sale for me too. Its sordid taint has spoiled too many games for me before I’ve even got the damned things loaded. I’d rather do without the headache.