Blacklight: Tango Down Hands-On

This downloadable shooter aims to deliver a deep customization system at a $15 price tag.


In the standing-room-only world of first-person shooters, it takes a lot for a game to successfully distinguish itself from the crowd. If it doesn't have that one shimmering quality that draws players in right away, the game may as well go straight from the shipping crate to the clearance bin. In the case of the upcoming downloadable shooter Blacklight: Tango Down--we know that retail metaphor just became useless, but bear with us--developer Zombie Studios is launching a two-pronged attack by keeping the game affordable at $15 while aiming for the type of extensive leveling and customization system you rarely find outside of full-priced games.

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Blacklight: Tango Down is a fast-paced shooter set roughly 25 years into the future and uses that far-off timeline to attempt some interesting twists on modern genre standards. Lead designer Jared Gerritzen describes the in-game technology as "science fact" rather than science fiction because all the gadgets you use in the game are based on things that the US military is currently researching and not just stuff that Zombie creative team members pulled out of their collective imagination. Instead of a minimap, you've got a pull-down visor called the HRV that overlays a variety of information onto your standard field of view--things like enemy location, ammo piles, and health drops. Instead of smoke grenades, you toss miniature computers that create a field of digital noise, which wreaks havoc on an enemy's vision by throwing up a very interesting pixel-mosaic effect.

Characters have the choice of playing among six classes, each occupying its own place on a sliding scale of health and agility attributes. As you collect experience points and gain levels, you'll unlock new weapon attachments that let you further tweak your personal traits. These include things like gun buts, muzzle attachments, and scopes. Each is also capable of adjusting your accuracy, damage, and movement speed to varying degrees. However, what's most unique about this weapon upgrade and customization system is the collection of 100-plus little multicolored tags that you unlock at each new level. Besides acting as a neat little piece of flair bouncing up and down on the side of your gun, these tags all give out helpful attribute upgrades without requiring a fancy attachment. What's interesting is that the order at which you unlock them is entirely random, so you might unlock a highly coveted weapon tag at level two that someone who's been playing for a month still hasn't unlocked. Zombie wants to use these tags to add a certain hidden prize/fortune cookie element of surprise and delight that you wouldn't find in a deliberately organized upgrade chain such as the one in Modern Warfare 2.

No matter which character you play as, the game itself moves at a pretty fast clip. We played a standard Team Deathmatch mode on a pair of different maps. The first map was the medium-sized Shadow Market, an urban pocket of neon lights and back alleys that looked like a futuristic, run-down version of Tokyo. The second was a smaller map designed for matches of two versus two that took place largely within a dilapidated building with floors covered in rubble and stray home appliances--if this were this the type of game that you'd ever want to stop moving in, we came across a washing machine that would have made for great cover.

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While we didn't get a chance to play anything besides Team Deathmatch, Zombie made sure to remind us that Tango Down will come with a variety of play options. On the competitive multiplayer side, there are seven modes spread across 12 maps, while co-op will support up to four players on four maps. There's currently no release date announced, but you can expect to see it available for download this summer on the PC, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Network.

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