Blacklight: Retribution is a free-to-play first-person shooter from Zombie Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, the publisher behind Rusty Hearts in North America and Europe. Last month, both I and fellow Destructoid contributor Sterling Lyons got to partake in one of the beta events.
Recently, there's been a huge influx of free-to-play games, most of them being MMOs. Whether big-name MMOs are switching their cost structure or new MMOs are beginning with it, the free-to-play model for online gaming is slowly becoming the norm. Is Blacklight: Retribution worth your time to check out? Is it truly "free-to-play?" Read on to find out what we think!
Patrick Hancock: I feel that before we even begin talking about the game itself, we need to bring up CORE. CORE is Perfect World's client for downloading their games and is a necessity if you plan to play Blacklight: Retribution. CORE is in its beta stage at the moment and from my experience, it has a LONG way to go. It doesn't do a great job of updating your game completely before letting you play it. After I installed Blacklight: Retribution, I launched it only to find that it was out of date and unplayable. Why would it even let me launch an out-of-date online-only game? It also doesn't yet support a fully functional friends list. Needless to say my first experience with the CORE client didn't leave me satisfied. Did you have a similar experience?
Sterling Lyons: I did find a similar thing. It would let me launch the game before downloading any patches both times I played the beta. I also had trouble getting the friends list to work, not being able to find how to add anyone or how to update my picture profile. I think they're trying to go for their own Steam, but I think it's falling very short. Luckily, aside from patching, I was happy to find I could launch the game without even touching CORE, so I just launched it through Steam like I normally do.
PH: Yeah, it seems as if Perfect World knows it's pretty futile to try and compete with Steam -- and now Origin -- so they're keeping it to a "downloading and patching only" client. Not that this makes it any better, but it's at least a step up from always having CORE running.
SL: Yeah, I agree that it's a step up, though not a very large one. I know that they made the jump to using Steam with Rusty Hearts. Hopefully they see enough success with that venture to be willing to let that be a nice cooperative alternative to CORE. Also, Steam Achievements.
PH: So let's jump right into the heart of any game: how it plays. You've played previous Blacklight games right? How does this game compare with past games in the series?
SL: I remember picking up the first Blacklight on the one-dollar Games for Windows Live website sale. It was completely worth that dollar. It looked nice, but it had some issues, such as spawn camping, small levels, kind of pointless gameplay, and confusing display of weapon stats. I did talk a little about it before, but I think that Retribution feels significantly more complete than Tango Down. The levels felt a lot bigger, and had nice variety to the verticality. The spawns moved around in relation to the combat, and that helped cut down on spawn camping. The guns felt mostly the same, though; shooting was the strong point of the first one, so that's not bad. The titular visor feels like it's more useful, not only functioning as a replacement for the map, but also helping you locate weak points on hardsuits to take them down easier. I also think the addition of the heavy weaponry adds a good deal extra to what you can do during a match, and even adds an extra level of customization on top of just the normal loadouts you can set up.
PH: I never had an issue with spawn camping during my Retribution experience, so I would definitely agree that the issue seems to be fixed. Personally, I loved using the visor. It felt extremely useful without being overpowered.
I spent literally all of my playtime customizing my character to be proficient at melee. Using only the knife you're given doesn't seem to be very viable, however once you told me to spend my points on the Breach Hammer, my proficiency took huge leaps. I don't know if the Breach Hammer is particularly overpowered, but since it kills someone in ONE hit I would just ambush someone from around a corner and OHKO them with ease. The visor, for me, was a crucial element for this strategy since in order for me to get the jump on the enemy, I needed to know when and where to strike.
However, since I exclusively used melee weapons, I can't really comment on the customization of the guns or even how the gunplay feels. Care to share your feelings on that?
SL: I thought the guns felt good. I kind of felt that I was able to do just fine with the assault rifles, being able to match wits with snipers and sub-machine-gun wielders. So I don't know if that might be too greatly overpowered or not. From the perspective of a gun-wielder, I think that the Breach Hammer does feel overpowered. There were times I'd lose face first from someone sprinting up on me. I do like how all the weapon stats are clearly labeled this time around as compared to Tango Down. I think the weapons are mostly balanced, though it was really hard to tell as the version we played did have an issue with nothing affecting the accuracy stat. The weapon types, which are determined by the basic frame, did feel really good to fire over all.
PH: I did sprint right up to some gun-wielders during my playtime and easily took them out, so you may be on to something there. At the very least, I'm glad to see that melee-only fighting is incredibly viable in an FPS game since that's a route I usually try to take.
Customizing your character
PH: Unfortunately, we might not be able to go as in-depth as we'd like in this section since many of the features were locked out, but we can at least speculate. I noticed that there are quite a few abilities you can unlock as you level up that help you tailor your character just the way you like it. Being adamant on melee-only, I specifically looked for certain types of abilities that would help me, and to my surprise, there were quite a few skill trees that would easily aid in my face-smashing quest. Did it seem to you that there was enough character customization to keep you tinkering with it?
SL: I really, really, really loved the customization in this game. From the start, the fact that they actually allow gender selection already shows more creative depth than in other games *cough* Modern Warfare *cough*. I liked how you could change your armor, and help increase or decrease stats like sprint time, or visor cooldown. There were plenty of tools you could put on your belt, like grenades, or mines, or the knives like I'm sure you used. Even on the aesthetic front, I liked how you could set your own "wheel" of emotes you could activate during a match, or how you could select different voice packs for your character. A lot of it reminds me of the customization in Metal Gear Online, but with an additional bit of RPG stat management to it.
I also think the fact that you could customize what heavy weapons you could buy from a weapons depot during a match really adds an extra individuality to each player in the match. I went some matches without having the mech hardsuit available for me to use, just because I wanted to use the other stuff, like the airstrike and the railgun.
PH: Yeah, this game definitely doesn't skimp when it comes to customization. Even though during this most recent beta session I went melee-only, I could easily see myself having various loadouts for my character and switching between them as I feel like it. The only limitation that I can foresee is how exactly many of these add-ons are purchased.
PH: At its core (get it?), Blacklight: Retribution is a free-to-play game. However if you want to use any of the special items/weapons you need to spend the points you accrue while playing the game. You can spend real money to get these points or just perform well in-game. The kicker is that each item has an expiration date. You can choose to purchase an item for a day or a few days, with the price reflecting the duration. You don't need to use the item immediately though, as Blacklight: Retribution allows you to activate it at any time.
I thought this creates an interesting scenario that seems to not really exclude any one type of player. If you stop playing for a week, you can jump right back into the fray by using up your stored points from when you were playing. If you know you're not going to be able to play for a bit you can buy the item whenever you'd like and then use it once you begin playing. If you do really well in the game, you will likely never have to shell out actual money to get any one item. I thought it was a unique spin with flexible restrictions.
SL: It's difficult for me to tell. It felt like the time spans that they were allowing you to purchase things for was rather small. Many items I could only unlock for a day at a time. I did see others that offered longer periods of time, such as three- and five-day periods, but I couldn't tell if the lack of options and short times were just due to how short our beta period was, or if that's the scale for the final product.
I didn't notice the activation thing, but I did notice that when a purchase expired, it would get added to a list reminding you that it expired. It popped up after each login (and I think after each time you go back to the shop, but I'm not sure) and you could just instantly repurchase the item from the popup, or save the note for later. It might be a nice touch to help remember what you had there. I'm also a little concerned about the weight of Zen points, bought with real money, since that was not really an option that was available in the beta, though everything had that blank square where the Zen point price would be listed.
PH: Oh yeah, I totally agree. Whenever real money is brought into the equation, the question becomes whether or not those who do decide to shell out their hard earned cash will have a direct advantage over those of us who don't. So long as this doesn't become a "Pay to Win" type of model, then I think it's an interesting take that I'll enjoy.
The big question with any multiplayer-only game is "How long will the community last?" and Blacklight: Retribution is no exception. So what do you think, will Blacklight: Retribution have enough content to keep you coming back? Do you think that a year from release it would be worth downloading CORE and installing the game?
SL: I think that, from the game itself, there is a good and solid baseline for the community to bounce from. The shooting feels on par with the more recognized retail brands to me, the all-around customization blows the customization of competing games out of the water in my opinion, and the presentation looks really sleek and cool. Iif they can keep shoving out content like maps, modes, and of course more customization parts like new voice packs, armors, characters, and emotes, then the content will be there to help the game last. Of course, this is all married with the idea that everything will be reasonably priced as well.
As far as CORE is concerned, I do consider that to be a relatively high barrier to entry, though I have hopes that it will be one of many ways to access the game. Hopefully they'll take after what they did with Rusty Hearts and offer the game on Steam. If they manage to get the social aspects of CORE to work, then I can see that being a lot less detrimental, though a far cry from being the optimal solution. It seems like the game itself already has a framework (though it was disabled when we played) for managing those that you play with, such as a party system and private messaging system and friend lists. So I think that will help people be able to organize themselves the way the like to as well. It also makes sense to me that having those features integrated into the game would help it be able to be adapted to other platforms, such as Steam, which would greatly help the reach of the product.
PH: I totally agree about Steam compatibility. Personally, I have no issues with playing PC games on platforms that aren't Steam. However, I know a lot of people think differently and I'm sure people who already use Steam AND Origin would be reluctant to use CORE for a single game. It's a bit curious that Rusty Hearts is on Steam, since to me that shows that Perfect World doesn't want to force CORE down anyone's throat...yet here we are.
I can see this game having a good-sized community for a very long time. The amount of customizability that works is a key component that should keep players coming back to try different loadouts to varying efficiency. The free-to-play model allows anyone to just jump in (CORE notwithstanding) and at least try it out and it seems likely that players who enjoy their first experiences will recommend it to friends so they have competent people to play with. As you mentioned, as long as they keep updating the store with more items people will keep coming back.
PH: My time with Blacklight: Retribution was really enjoyable. Whether or not the Breach Hammer is overpowered is yet to be seen, but the fact that a melee-only fighting style in an FPS is completely viable has me giddy like a teenage girl sitting next to her crush in Algebra. If it, or anything, is indeed overpowered, it then rests on the backs of the developers to watch the community feedback and fix what needs to be fixed. Nobody wants to play a broken competitive game, even if it's free.
That being said, will this game ever be my go-to free-to-play shooter over something like Team Fortress 2? I'm not completely sure, but at the very least I can say that Blacklight: Retribution offers up a different type of experience than TF2 does.
SL: I enjoyed my time as well. I'm also really looking forward to the final product. I'm still a little worried about how the pricing model will be, as well as some of the balancing. I'm interested in seeing what the end-level content will be like -- what the high-level skills will be. I think this game has some strong legs to build upon though, and I think that is the biggest factor that will carry the game. Additional future content will hopefully sweeten the proverbial pot.