Blacklight: Tango Down… it's an odd name, isn't it? I know that in military speak "Tango" is the phonetic used for the letter T, and that it usually stands for the word "Target" (not "Terrorist", as people often think). And yet somehow I can't get away from the memories of the fruit-flavoured fizzy drink I guzzled as a kid. "Blacklight", on the other hand, makes me think about photography. Put it all together and I get this weird mental image of someone doing a fashion shoot in a cornershop. And then something falls over. I guess that must be the "Down" bit.
Surprisingly enough, Blacklight: Tango Down has absolutely nothing to do with this gibberish. It's a multiplayer-focused FPS coming to PSN, Xbox LIVE and PC later this year. The name may mean little to you right now, but if Zombie Studios and Ignition have their way, the brand will soon be permanently stamped into your squidgy hippocampus. There are plans afoot, see? There's a tie-in comic in the works, a film script has already been written, and several primary schools want to do it for their end-of-year play. Alright, so that last one hasn't happened yet, but it's surely just a matter of time.
The bottom line is that BTD is a first-person shooter with ambition. The game itself should be a pretty hefty offering, too: seven different match types, 12 maps of varying sizes, and support for up to 16 players – not a bad menu for a downloadable title. Weapon customisation is also being touted as a big deal by the developers, with guns breaking down into several parts that can be swapped in and out. In addition to the expected barrels, scopes and stocks, you'll also be able to attach one of 100 different decorative tags to the front of your weapon, with new prizes being awarded every time you level up your profile.
This gun-tinkering wasn't on display during Ignition's recent preview event, but I did get a nice long session with two of the game types: team deathmatch and domination. The maps for these contests were styled in the familiar grimness of dystopian future clichés – ruined buildings, graffiti-strewn walls with holes in them, and a gloomy grey colour scheme. When it comes to setting, BTD could easily stand for "Been There Done-that" (if you added the "that"), but thankfully the action itself is spiced up with a few fresh ideas. Since you're supposed to be decked out in futuristic gear, certain grenades can interfere with the camera feed to your helmet: you'll be running about, happy as Larry, and suddenly your screen will fudge up with digital static. Fine, so it's pretty much just a flashbang with a different visual effect, but it's a nice touch all the same.
In terms of impact, the biggest innovation is the inclusion of something called the Hyper Reality Visor. At the touch of a button you're able to switch your vision into a sort of X-Ray mode that reveals the location of any enemies in the direction you're currently facing – even those hidden behind walls. You won't know exactly where everyone is, of course, but once you've learned the maps you'll probably be able to guess where the nearest Tango is with a decent degree of accuracy. The HPV (apologies for yet another abbreviation) works on a cool-down system, preventing constant use, but since your normal vision is obscured while the gadget is active, you wouldn't want it on all the time anyway.
Supposedly the HPV is based upon real-world augmented reality technology; I don't know about that, but it certainly has an impact on FPS gaming. For starters, camping suddenly becomes a very risky style of play – there's not much point hiding in a room if everyone can see where you are, after all. In theory the HPV should also cause a headache for snipers too, although I found this still seemed to be a fairly effective tactic in the matches I played; I suspect that the nuances of the system will only become clear after prolonged play, when everyone has gained a good grip on the tactics available.
In the meantime, the basic run and gun gameplay seems to work well. Bodies drop quickly in the world of Blacklight: Tango Down; the pace isn't quite as hectic as Modern Warfare 2, but it's still fairly nippy – particularly in the smaller maps where you can leg it from one end to the other in under a minute. Domination matches work well under these speedy conditions, particularly since you need to complete a quick Simon Says-style mini-game on the D-pad every time you want to steal a control point. Under stressful conditions it's easy to botch this up, leading to much abuse from your team-mates.
There's no doubt that Zombie Studios is hoping to emulate DICE's success with Battlefield 1943. Zombie may lack the reputation of its Swedish rival, but its product certainly has promise. Blacklight: Tango Down seems to offer a lot of game for fifteen Euros (the UK price is yet to be announced), especially since there'll be a four-player co-op game on top of the multiplayer hijinx. The sci-fi setting does feel a bit over-familiar, but the HPV certainly adds something to the usual shooter fare. As I say, there seems to be plenty of ambition behind this project; we'll have to see if the final game has the substance to match its gutsy aspirations.
Blacklight: Tango Down will be released on PSN, Xbox Live and PC in the summer.