Surely there can’t be a more difficult market to launch a new IP in than that of the FPS? There’s no questioning the genre’s might in the market, but going head to head with the likes of Valve, Infinity Ward/Treyarch, id and Epic is hardly the most heartening of challenges.
Zombie Studios are no strangers to the genre themselves, though Blacklight: Tango Down marks their first serious attempt to crack the lucrative console market with a PC, PSN and XBLA multiplayer-only release to challenge the big boys. A cursory glance at the screen shots will tell you that they haven’t exactly tried to rewrite the book on art direction – Blacklight is as conservative as it gets in the world of military shooters. War-torn streets littered with debris and peppered with bullet holes, the only time the palette gets to stretch its legs beyond muted greys and blues is the red of the blood you will be hopefully extracting from your enemies.
The Washington-based studio hasn’t set out to radically alter the concept either – admittedly a departure from Spec Ops and its strategic ilk, Blacklight is firmly routed in Call of Duty territory, full of daring dashes between cover, unsafe in the knowledge that it only takes the slightest amount of enemy fire to dispatch you back to your respawn point.
The fresh thinking at Zombie Studios happens long before you pick up the controller, taking place at the distribution level, before you even hand over the green. To be more explicit, the amount of green you hand over is largely what separates Blacklight from its rivals. At €15/$15 (a smidge over £10), Blacklight is quite comfortably the most reasonably priced, fully-specced competitive online FPS on the market. Of course that digital distribution label requires the “fully-specced” qualifier, and Blacklight does indeed boast some impressive production values for its budget price-point. When we say fully-specced we’re talking Unreal 3-powered visuals, 16 players, 7 game types, 12 maps and a serious commitment to weapon customisation.
We asked Zombie Studios’ Jared Gerritzen, Project Lead on Blacklight, what prompted the decision to bring Blacklight to console via the unusual medium of DLC: “Once the DLC market started to flourish, with Trials HD and Castle Crashers we started looking at it and said let’s put it on a console. We started talking to different publishers with our first playable and then 1943 came out and then everyone got it. That’s the thing with this industry – unless something’s happened by someone else, they don’t understand.”