Black­light: Ret­ri­bu­tion

EDGE - - PLAY - Pub­lisher Per­fect World De­vel­oper Zom­bie Stu­dios For­mat PC, PS4 (ver­sion tested) Re­lease Out now

That Black­light: Ret­ri­bu­tion’s busi­ness model is the most note­wor­thy thing about it speaks vol­umes. Its free-to-play as­sault on play­ers’ wal­lets is a sin­gu­lar point of in­ter­est in an other­wise de­riv­a­tive, unin­spired fu­tur­is­tic FPS. Play a few rounds, turn your con­sole off and a few mo­ments later you’ll strug­gle to re­call any­thing spe­cial about it – bar that cre­ator Zom­bie Stu­dios has its eye fix­ated on cash money.

Though the game ap­peared on PC in 2012, new­com­ers shouldn’t worry about miss­ing any vi­tal plot points in this se­quel to 2010’s for­get­table Tango Down, since there are none. The game cuts through any small talk, places a gun in your hand and tells you to have at its mul­ti­player modes, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously crip­pling your abil­ity to do so with­out spend­ing money.

As with many other free-to-play shoot­ers, Ret­ri­bu­tion is only re­ally free if you’re per­fectly con­tent with a heav­ily re­stricted load­out. The econ­omy fol­lows the typ­i­cal struc­ture, with in-game and real-world cur­ren­cies sit­ting side by side. But Zom­bie is stingy about let­ting play­ers try things out for free: if you want to get a proper feel for Ret­ri­bu­tion, you’re pay­ing with ei­ther your time or your cash.

Ret­ri­bu­tion is nei­ther shy nor sub­tle in its at­tempts to goad you into open­ing your wal­let. Ac­cess­ing items with­out fork­ing out real-world money is tech­ni­cally fea­si­ble through the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of ex­pe­ri­ence points, but gain­ing enough to let you rent a sin­gle gun for a day takes sev­eral hours of heavy grind­ing. The only way to un­lock items per­ma­nently is by hand­ing over Zcoins, which you can buy in bulk from the PlayS­ta­tion Store. A hefty £4.25 will grant you 500 Zcoins, which will cover one gun or un­lock an additional quick load­out slot. Fill­ing that slot with new weapons and items will cost even more, and you quickly be­gin to see that the game is push­ing you to­wards the 10,000 Zcoins bun­dle, e, priced at a pass-the-smelling-salts £84.99.

There are some solid enough sys­tems be­neath the busi­ness model: con­trols are pre­cise, re­spon­sive, and sat­is­fy­ing in short bursts, even if matches can lack ex­cite­ment or im­me­di­acy. But the brief rush of com­pet­i­tive com­bat comes to an end the sec­ond you re­alise that player skill is largely ir­rel­e­vant and you’ve got no chance against a player who’s paid for bet­ter equip­ment than you, even if you have su­pe­rior aim or have armed yourself with greater map knowl­edge.

Worse is the fact that not even those who pay up are guar­an­teed a good time. All too of­ten the game’s servers strug­gle to pop­u­late a quick match, and you can n ex­pect crip­pling la­tency when they do. The avail­able modes – in­clud­ing Death­match, Team Death­match, Cap­ture The Flag, Kill Con­firmed and Dom­i­na­tion – are as bare bones a frame­work as a mod­ern mul­ti­player shooter could of­fer. Still, at least Dom­i­na­tion’s num­ber­rmatch­ing minigame, in which you press left or right on the D-pad four con­sec­u­tive times to cap­ture a node, puts a tense spin on a fa­mil­iar for­mula. Kill Con­firmed suf­fers the worst from la­tency, since the game of­ten fails to reg­is­ter player tag pick­ups un­til mo­ments af­ter the fact, at which point you’re likely to be shot for star­ing at your feet for too long.

Maps are as de­void of char­ac­ter as the game modes, al­most en­tirely built around blue and grey in­dus­trial back­drops save for a few mem­o­rable land­marks and points of in­ter­est. They’re also lit­tered with se­cret path­ways, bal­conies, al­ley­ways and el­e­va­tors with which to evade and flank your op­po­nents. Un­for­tu­nately, their sprawl­ing na­ture also means you could be wan­der­ing around for up to a minute with­out any con­tact, es­pe­cially given that the turnover of new play­ers un­fa­mil­iar with the maps is high. There are two me­chan­ics that give Ret­ri­bu­tion some kind of re­spectabil­ity. The first of these is the HRV, short for Hy­per Re­al­ity Vi­sor, which makes a re­turn from Tango Down. This gives you a limited amount of X-ray vi­sion with which to spot al­lies and en­emy play­ers across the arena. Cou­pled with the labyrinthine maps, this abil­ity could po­ten­tially in­tro­duce some tac­ti­cal team play – at least if the aver­age drop-in player wasn’t more in­ter­ested in straight­for­ward run­ning and gun­ning to get their kicks.

Then there’s Ret­ri­bu­tion’s in-match points sys­tem, en­tirely sep­a­rate from the other two economies, which you can use to un­lock heal­ing items, flamethrow­ers and wear­able, mecha-like Hard­suits on the fly. Per­form­ing ac­tions on the bat­tle­field will ac­crue Com­bat Points (CP), which you re­tain even on death, and these can be traded in at a de­pot for your de­sired tool of mass de­struc­tion. At 1,300 CP, the Hard­suits are the most ex­pen­sive, and lit­tle won­der given their po­ten­tial to turn a match around. It’s wor­ry­ing to see just how few are de­ployed at the time of writ­ing, how­ever. The game does such a poor job of ex­plain­ing the CP sys­tem that new play­ers – who make up a size­able per­cent­age of any given match right now – are un­likely to know that it’s there, or that it doesn’t re­quire them to make a pur­chase.

De­spite its age, Ret­ri­bu­tion is tech­ni­cally still in beta on PS4, but what’s here will hardly have you hold­ing your breath in an­tic­i­pa­tion of what’s to come. Zom­bie seems to have ne­glected to ac­count for the fact that free-to-play games are vy­ing for a player’s time as well as their money. At a base level, this is sim­ply too for­get­table to give play­ers a good enough rea­son to re­turn. Per­haps it would be dif­fer­ent if Zom­bie had been more le­nient with its econ­omy, al­low­ing you to try more be­fore com­mit­ting to buy. Ret­ri­bu­tion may be free to play, but you’re also free to walk away. Right now, in the in­ter­ests of sav­ing both time and money, that’s the smarter op­tion.

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