Beneath the neon-bathed futuristic sheen and jagged dubstep warble of Blacklight: Retribution's cyberpunk vibe lies a shooter that plays it too safe for its own good. Minor excitements such as a mech-like robo suit, a flamethrower, and hacking minigames don't tip the scale far enough into innovative territory to round out the standard trigger-happy action on tap here. Every so often, the fast-paced running and gunning hits a high point, when the sprawling industrial maps are filled with warm bodies to blast. This free-to-play online shooter initially proves to be an enticing option on the PlayStation 4 if you're looking for multiplayer mayhem on the cheap, but getting permanent access to Retribution's coolest high-tech killing gadgets can take a punishing toll on your wallet.
When it comes to delivering basic bullet-flinging fun, Retribution gets the job done decently. Matches move along at a speedy pace, with only a few seconds passing between kills and respawns. The Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes are rounded out by familiar Capture the Flag, Kill Confirmed, and Domination offerings. Perhaps the most unique of the bunch, the latter puts a fun techie spin on point capturing by having you hack nodes with a timed numbers matching game--a frantic and amusing exercise in concentrating under pressure when there's a firefight erupting all around you. When everything clicks in a given match, the momentum of battle can be intensely absorbing, even if there's not a lot of wow factor.
With a few unpleasant quirks, some missing features, and a borderline draconian pricing model, it's hardly a must-have shooter for kicking off the new wave of current-gen gaming.
The gritty urban battlefields you shoot it out across have lots of sneaky nooks and crannies to use to your advantage, and the grim atmospheric scenery is beautifully detailed in spots. That said, Blacklight: Retribution is not a shining showcase for the capabilities of Sony's hardware. Texture pop-in on characters and weaponry is noticeable, though it doesn't pose a major problem when you're barreling down hallways and spraying lead in all directions. Death animations, in particular, are janky and inconsistent at best. You tend to either wind up hovering in the air with limbs splayed all akimbo or not reacting at all to the fact that you've just been shot in the face. Other rough spots, such as glitchy walls you can walk through and the omission of the co-op Onslaught mode found in the PC version, make Retribution on the PS4 a clear work in progress.
Diving into the action is usually quick and painless, except when it isn't. Playing Retribution on the PS4 means occasionally suffering through agonizing waits to find a game in progress. At times, the player base is anemic. I've regularly been stuck fiddling around for several minutes at a clip waiting for a quick match search to drop me into an active game, only to have to back out and try again. That's aggravating when you just want to get to the good stuff. Once you're in, however, you can stick with the group you're playing with for faster access to repeated matches. But even then, there is no guarantee you'll be fighting against more than a small handful of opponents. Retribution's straightforward combat is at its best when you've got a map full of players locked and loaded to face off against. It's a shame that's such a rarity at the moment.
The coolest combat elements arise from Retribution's futuristic trappings. Most notable is a sweet visor that lets you scan through walls to spot enemies. It takes a few moment to disengage, however, and that delayed timing gets you killed if you suddenly find yourself face-to-face with an opponent while using the visor. Points you earn in battle can be spent on the sluggish but brutal hard suit--a mech-like contraption you can hop into that's heavily armed and a thrill to thunder across maps with. It's not an instant win button, though. This beast is weak against flamethrowers and rocket launchers, which are among the other fun CP purchases at your disposal. This in-match spending system is separate from the accumulated virtual currency and the real-world cash you're required to spend to access tons of gun parts, killer bots, cool traps, and other goodies needed to get the most out of this experience.
A ridiculously broad array of guns, getups, and doodads to swap out across your arsenal drive the ever-constant push toward leveling up and amassing spendable points. Customization is the key here, but it's also the downfall of Retribution's deceptive free-to-play model. Many of the guns and items available can be temporarily rented using currency you earn from completing matches. This is a great way to get a feel for different kits before shelling out actual money, but it takes an absurd amount of grinding to get enough to rent a single gun for one day, much less a week. Considering there are dozens of attachments available, ranging from scopes and muzzles to stocks and decorations, you have to churn through a ridiculous number of matches just to get a little taste of the goods. Real cash can be used to rent items too, but you'll want to save your money for the real kicker: permanent unlocks.
Permanent unlocks require real money, and they aren't cheap. A single gun can run you around $3.50, and between armor and tactical upgrades, you can drop upward of $30 on customizing a single character and loadout. By the way, that single character and loadout are all you start with. Additional quick-swap loadout slots cost $5 apiece. I can appreciate how the rental system lets you try before you buy, but prices across the board are unnecessarily steep. Retribution is only free-to-play if you're content with a harshly limited, temporary arsenal.
Temper your expectations, however, and you can squeeze a reasonable amount of entertainment from Retribution without paying a cent. While they're not as spectacular as the more high-end kits at your disposal once you level up and shell out some real-world green, the standard assault rifle, frag grenades, and other essential gear you start off with do a fine job of taking down adversaries. I spent many hours blasting away with only the limited freebie arsenal at my disposal and had quite a bit of fun along the way.
Strapped for cash and looking for something punchy to play on your PS4? Blacklight: Retribution has its fun moments to balance out the frustrating ones. But with a few unpleasant quirks, some missing features, and a borderline draconian pricing model, it's hardly a must-have shooter for kicking off the new wave of current-gen gaming.