So, opting to let Games for Windows Live run the multiplayer aspect of your multiplayer indie game is a little like a wannabe model willingly disfiguring herself with the heel of a Primark stiletto.
Which is what Zombie have decided to do with Blacklight: Tango Down.
Now, I’m not one who enjoys venomously kicking the crap out of a review title, especially those from indie devs, so I shall employ a middle-management strategy unofficially called the ‘shit sandwich’, whereby criticism (the shit filling), is buffered with comforting praise (the bread) on either side.
Problem is, there’s barely enough bread in Blacklight for a single slice, so instead we’ll have to settle for “shit on toast”, or maybe even “shit with a bit of breadstick next to it”. I suppose we’ll eat the breadstick first.
It is an OK multiplayer FPS. All the typical match types: deathmatch, team deathmatch, take and hold, capture the flag and so on, are present in their various guises, ready to be fought over by some near-futuristic, extremely heterosexual space marine types. Blacklight’s gimmick involves hitting V to activate wallhackovision via your futuristic space marine helmet, allowing you to see enemies through walls for a few seconds during which you are unable to shoot, such are the technological restrictions of the near-future. This is The One Thing That Makes Blacklight A Bit Different.
The Digi Grenade messes up your helmet’s, erm.. camera, or something? Whatever, it’s just a smoke-bomb, ok. Also reminiscent of a migraine.
There are four classes (at which you can guess in the comments, the correct answer wins some tat from my desk) with customisable weapon loadouts and solid enough gunfighting. Damage modelling is ‘realistic’, meaning a few shots will kill, which I rather liked for keeping the fire-fights short and furious; the first person to get caught out, fail to flip to secondary upon reloading or otherwise zig when they should have zagged, will usually come off worse.
Well done Blacklight: Tango Down. You are competent.
Competent but blisteringly insufficient to merit wading through the quagmire of liquid frustration that is the GfWL matchmaking system. You can only quick start to join the (locally hosted) servers, which takes an age:
press quick start, wait, nothing happens, cancel, fiddle around in menu screen, game inexplicably flips to loading screen, wait… wait… dropped into game lobby, “waiting for players  needed”, wait… wait… enter game, “host migrating – loading…”, vomit blood, wait…
With no server lists, and a mandatory “game type” filter on the Quick Start, there’s no way to simply drop into the busiest server, which is pretty essential for a game so few people seem to be playing. I can only assume Quick Start is a devastatingly ironic joke on the part of the devs, as GfWL guarantees a substantial wait to begin playing – and an even longer wait for anything but deathmatch, team deathmatch or domination which seem to be the only modes at all populated.
A Dramatic Gunfight.
Other features hopelessly flung against the wall of fundamental unusability like tiny kittens, include a levelling system with unlockable perks and equipment. I generally dislike this kind of shtick in my FPSs unless handled in such a way that the unlocks bestow no great advantage upon the experienced, rather a wider array of options and ways to do things; COD4 did this quite well, for example. Blacklight does not do this well.
At level two or three I was on a server with a single, level twenty-something player on the opposite team. Such were his weapon and accuracy buffs that I couldn’t even leave the spawn point without being killed in a flash. Even with wallhackovision to pinpoint him I stood absolutely no chance of landing any meaningful damage. I’ve also been in games where two high level players were able to trounce a team of five low-to-mid level opponents. In effect, the game feels broken.
Looking through a wall. Searching for reason and sanity.
‘Tags’ are also unlocked with gained experience, which offer bonuses to your weapons. They resemble little key chains: skulls, beer cans and the like, that dangle from the side of your gun. They are, as the game explains, trinkets often favoured by special forces to personalise their weapons. Yes. Or the thing Japanese schoolgirls like to do to their mobiles phones. A bizarre design decision, and quirkiness for which I have no patience after waiting SO COCKING LONG TO SIMPLY JOIN A SERVER.
Add to this visual insipidness, in-game ATI ads and a main menu screen including confusingly redundant options to go to the Windows Live store or “redeem a product code” and I’ve had just about enough.
If you want to play a bland future-noir multiplayer FPS go and play FEAR’s which at least has a far better client, or play something similar but free and innovative like Neotokyo. Just, don’t pay money for this. Or I’ll be sorely tempted to come round your house and cuff you.