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published Wednesday, Aug 04th

Blacklight Tango Down Review (Xbox 360)

Blacklight Tango Down is a game that reads excellent on paper. A First Person Shooter, downloadable, with unlockables, co-op and a wealth of maps and game types to die for. But not every game that looks good on paper is the same in reality.

As previously mentioned, there is a good amount of content in the game for the money. Blacklight Tango Down takes place in a futuristic Eastern-European setting among 12 metropolitan maps. Although it never really plays into the game, the two factions that make the teams have some backstory. Blacklight is a “covert ops unit” that is pro-US, and they are provided with the latest technology to fight The Order, a rebel group comprised of anti-US, ex-special forces and militia.

The technology of this future warfare is based upon the advantages and weakness of a Hyper Reality Visor of which each soldier on both sides is equipped, and acts as the HUD for the player during the game. Objects such as health and ammo stockpiles, enemy players, turrets, and grenades are pointed out in this view, adding to smooth controls to complete a slick, fast paced style. Cleverly, grenades are specialised for combating the effects of the HUD; instead of flashes or smoke, there are EMP and Digi grenades that malfunction the helmet, outputting a blue screen full of script blocking vision and a pixelated cloud hiding enemy movement. This adds a spin on tactical elements that can’t be found in other titles of the same genre.

Other weapons include pistols, SMGs, assault and sniper rifles which can be unlocked and upgraded with progression in the game’s 70 level rank system. Experience can be gained in any of the games’ features, adding to a single profile. Black Ops is the co-operative game mode, whilst the bulk of content is a competitive team-based and solo multiplayer section.

Black Ops is a selection of four of the multiplayer maps, with a choice of three difficulties. The areas are completely linear, as the player is thrust forward; defeating AI controlled enemies and taking objectives and their simple copycat puzzles with ease. Being linear and having a terribly shallow AI, it isn’t particularly entertaining; in fact it is predictable and boring. There is nothing special in the multiplayer game modes despite looking different. They boil down to score-based and respawn-limited Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, single and multiple item Capture-the-Flag, and a score based control point battle – Domination.

It’s disappointing to add to this that from a gameplay and technical perspective, the game is broken. Should the game manage to scratch a lobby together with the minimum number of players, after a lengthy wait, and should it not drop the match completely, there is a severe player spawning issue. The problem is that both teams are spawned in the same area and in every single match one team will dominate over the other. There is evidence that this issue was evident in testing, as turrets are placed around a spawn area; however it does not stop players being boxed in.

On the receiving end of this, you would imagine that is extremely frustrating, but the game forces the teams to this sort of behaviour. The fixed areas, respawn times and small teams makes it so at the moment of a slight advantage, players are drawn to the specific locations, knocking down enemy players as soon as they stand and thus gaining experience. Other games have solved this problem by varying the locations at which teams come back to life; so why is this not the case with Blacklight Tango Down?

Blacklight Tango Down holds the premise for a great downloadable game. It looks great and there is plenty to sink your teeth into. That is true until you manage to get into a multiplayer match. The game has game-breaking problems, and with 5 minutes of fun comes potentially an hour of lost patience and frustration. Online play is very fragile; the game has a major problem migrating a host, which is quite often considering other problems. Its problems could be fixed by patch, but it isn’t looking likely since a sequel is currently being developed. If Zombie Studios welcomes feedback and makes changes, great, but right now bank your Microsoft Points for something with a lot more polish.


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published Monday, Mar 02nd

Death Tank Review

Back in 1997 the ailing Sega Saturn saw a version of the hit PC shoot-em-up Duke Nukem 3D hit the shelves. On top of being a pretty decent port it contained one of the best and most secretive Easter eggs in gaming history, a little bonus game called Death Tank Zwei. It was a single screen multiplayer title in which up to seven gamers (using the Saturn’s multi-tap peripheral) fought against one another using small tanks. It could only be described as a manic, real-time version of Worms and despite having very simple graphics and minimal sound effects it had a pretty robust physics engine applied to the simple weapons and thrusters attached to each tank. It turned out to be one of the best multiplayer experiences on the console. Now this hidden gem has been resurrected and given a bit of spit and polish by developer Snowblind studios for release on Xbox Live.

Not a lot has changed in the tri-generational leap from Saturn to 360, at least as far as gameplay is concerned. The rules are pretty simple: battles take place on a randomly generated level, you can move your tanks left or right (slowly) and aim and fire your selected weapon which takes a set amount of time to charge up fully. For every kill you notch up you get cash to spend on better weapons or equipment which includes things like guided missiles, nukes, shields and turbo thrusters (letting you fly for a short time). The more powerful weapons take longer to charge up so you’ll have to pick the right time to use them or risk being struck down before you can unleash fiery hell.

The presentation has been inevitably upgraded from the Saturn’s simple vector-ish graphics and it now has pretty beefy sound effects to accompany the ensuing carnage, although it does lack the crazy thrash metal title music from the original. For those few gamers who got to play Death Tank Zwei you might be pleased to hear that the Saturn version is hidden away, just in case you have a hankering to revisit the old classic (it can be unlocked by hitting one of the supply ships that sometimes appear at the top of the screen during battles).

Death Tank was really made for online play so this re-release is a welcome addition to Xbox Live, even if the 1200 points are a bit steep for a multiplayer-only title. Still, after you try the hour-long demo it’ll be pretty difficult to resist spending those points on what is one of the most addictive multiplayer games on Live. See you on the battlefield…


Banjo Kazooie by
published Thursday, Sep 11th

Industry Insight — Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts: A Rare Interview

This week we got the ‘rare’ opportunity to chat to some of the team working on Banjo~Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. Check out the interview below and look out for our impressions on Rare’s big holiday title coming soon.

GameBrit: Thanks for talking to us today, can you tell our readers a little bit about your roles on Banjo-Kazooie?

Neil Harrison: Hi I’m Neil Harrison I’m the lead technical artist on Banjo~Kazooie Nuts & Bolts.

Elissa Miller: And I’m Elissa Miller and I’m a senior animator.

GB: How does the Nuts & Bolts story pick up from the other games?

NH: Well we make a little joke about the length of time between the games so as you start off the game, Banjo and Kazooie are really overweight. They’ve spent the last few years sitting around, eating pizza and playing other games. As the game begins they hear a noise outside Banjo’s house and find Gruntillda’s body-less head buried under some rubble. A character called L.O.G, who refers to himself as the Lord of Games, appears before they can start fighting and challenges them to be better video-game characters. He slims down Banjo and Kazooie and gives them their first vehicle, which we call the shopping trolley. And so begins their new adventure.

GB: How big is Nuts & Bolts? Will it take as long to complete as the first games?

NH: It’s kind of hard to say really, you can basically just race through to finish it or you can spend a lot of time trying to get good times and collecting everything. I think it would probably take a hardcore gamer about 15 hours to get through it.

EM: There’s plenty of other things for players to do, there’s almost an infinite amount of gameplay really. Being able to construct your own vehicle means you have great replayability so you can keep going back to challenges with different vehicles.

GB: And I noticed you can see videos of other people trying out challenges to pick up tips on how to get good times and things.

NH: The key thing with that is I could watch a video of a player completing the best lap time of any other racing game but I may not be able to learn enough from it to reach that level, or I might not be good enough. Whereas in the game the skill is in how you build the vehicle so if I can see how someone else has put together theirs, I can spend a bit of time coming up with something similar. It puts players on a much more level playing field really.

GB: Have you aimed for that community focus from the out-set?

NH: Yeah definitely and we can’t wait to release it and see what people actually do with it.

EM: We have a lot of multiplayer modes as well, there’s about 28 different games and you can play these in ranked or solo modes. It’s a really important part of the game it isn’t just an add-on like in some games.

NH: And the fact you can build your own vehicles to compete in the games makes it much more enjoyable but also makes you want to keep going back and playing it.

GB: How big is the development team?

NH: Well it’s grown quite organically throughout the development process but we do have a core team coming up with all the ideas. I think it peaked at around 70 maybe 80 people and obviously now we’re coming to the final stages it starts to calm down again.

GB: Do you have an art team working around you?

NH: We have a core group assigned to the project and then we have other departments around Rare, we have what we call the art asset group which are almost like an outsourced art department within the company then we have a shared technology group as well that provide the engine for the game.

GB: Have you got any of the original team from the first Banjo~Kazooie working on this title?

EM: Yeah we have Greg Mayles who was the lead designer on the original two games and is now the design director but also our team leader and lead designer for the team as well. We still have quite a core group, there’s Steve Mayles, another lead artist.

NH: There’s about four or five still around.

GB: Has it been important having the old members around?

NH: I think it’s important to have them there to keep the consistency from the old games. All of us have played the old ones but it’s not quite the same as working on them.

GB: How long has the game been in development for?

NH: Well, its been about four years but we did actually start with a few other ideas, basically we did start off with a traditional platformer, essentially the same thing in high-definition. We did that for a while but it wasn’t really what we wanted to do both as designers and as gamers ourselves. It just felt a little stale in today’s market so we came up with a couple of other ideas and they eventually formed into we’ve got at the moment.

GB: What made you choose a vehicle based game?

NH: Well we wanted to do something a little different, we started doing the HD platformer and we thought yeah we could do this but we could do something so much more interesting and using the 360 we had so much more power available to us.

EM: I think as well platformers peaked in the 90s and we felt we should do something a little more innovative as a team and push a few more boundaries and putting the gameplay in the players hand and making it their own experience was the logical way forward. Basically giving the player the chance to make their own abilities within the game.

GB: Do you still have much in the way of traditional platforming or is it mainly vehicle based?

EM: There are bits of platforming sections still in there, like in [the hub-world] Showdown Town you have ladders, collecting and so on so there is still an element in there of it. It’s more of an evolution of previous games so we haven’t forgotten it but we have kind of moved on a bit.

NH: The way we see it is at it’s heart it is still a platformer but instead of us telling you what your moves are at certain points in the game you get the chance to essentially create your own abilities via the vehicles.

GB: Have you got any references to old games tucked away?

NH: Quite a few yeah, there’s lots of little jokes at other games, like right at the beginning of the game where L.O.G mentions he’s made every game known to man. I think there’s even a little mention for [Grabbed by the ] Ghoulies in there from Kazooie who mentions how it didn’t sell very well and you know we have to laugh at ourselves as well as everybody else.

GB: I think that’s what people expect from Rare

NH: Yeah exactly.

EM: And Banjo has always been known for it’s sense of humour and we really wanted to carry that on.

GB: I did notice an N64 tucked away in Banjo’s house

NH: Yeah there’s a few like that knocking around

EM: There’s lots there for people to pick up on and I think that’s one of the things that makes playing these games so interesting, you’ll notice little nods here and there that we’ve put in for people to find as they play through.

GB: Are you doing anything to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the original?

NH: Well we’ve got the XBLA version of the original coming out and that was done to mark the anniversary.

EM: And we’re launching the Xbox 360 game as well!

GB: How is the infamous ‘Stop& Swap’ feature going to work?

NH: That’s a little in-joke for the fans, basically Banjo~Kazooie Nuts & Bolts can actually detect if you’ve played the Live Arcade version of the original and at certain points the game will let you unlock certain bits.

GB: The ice key perhaps?

NH: Maybe.

GB: Even years after the original was released people are still finding little hidden things snuck away, has this dedication from the hardcore fans surprised you?

EM: Yeah it’s been so many years since the last one and there are still so many fans out there, which is great, we’re just hoping they choose to adopt this one as well.

GB: When it was first announced there was a bit of negative feedback from some quarters of the community, did that surprise you?

EM: I don’t think it necessarily surprised us, whatever you do when you introduce some change you’re always going to come up against some resistance. But it’s always a difficult decision so if we’d have stuck with traditional platforming people would have said ‘you’re not being innovative’ so whatever you do your not going to be on to a winner. So we just wanted to trust our own instincts when creating this type of game and we always build games that we enjoy and we’re gamers, so hopefully that means it’ll appeal to those sorts of gamers that regularly enjoy those types of games.

 GB: I was a huge fan of the first game myself, and I have to say I was a little worried when the whole vehicle side was revealed but having played it I can see that same Banjo charm in there.

NH: That’s it; we know once people get a chance to play it they’ll enjoy it. That’s why we enjoy these hands-on events so that people who might be a little apprehensive like yourself can play and appreciate what we’re trying to do. It’s still a Banjo game and it’s still got all those common elements that you enjoy but just in a new package.

EM: I think when we first announced it people thought ‘vehicles? What are they doing?’ and they think it’s just a racing game. There are a few race challenges in there but it’s not what it’s about at all. It’s all about creating your own experience as a gamer.

 GB: Then there’s the multiplayer modes as well?

NH: Yeah, once you get your hands on the game with mates and you start to open it up like creating your own vehicles and things you’ll really see how fun it can be. We could be competing in the same race but you could be in a plane, someone else could be in a tank trying to blow us up and I could be in a speedboat, I think that side of the game is pretty cool.

GB: It was a lot of fun actually, the multiplayer kind of reminded me of Diddy Kong Racing, but with Banjo characters. Did you look at that as an influence?

NH: That’s an interesting question actually! I don’t think we’re in a position to answer that; you’d have to speak to Greg [Mayles] about that one!

GB: Did you have any other influences?

NH: Not really. Greg kind of works in a different way; he won’t say let’s do what they’re doing, he looks at other games and says ‘how can we make this different’. I think looking at other games can be restricting from a design point of view; you almost need to look outside the games industry.

EM: I think as a company we’ve always been innovative, and always wanted to try something new and I think that’s what people will find with this game.

GB: What sort of gamers are you aiming Nuts & Bolts at?

NH: Well, we’re trying to aim it at anyone with a creative streak who is looking for something a little different to everything else out there. It does appeal to a broad audience but on different levels. A young child could pick it up and play around with pre-built vehicles or using a part-built chassis from L.O.G; but then you have the hardcore gamers that can really go to town building stuff from scratch.

EM: We just hope once we put it out there that people will be attracted to it and really just have fun with it.

NH: It’s important for people to give it a chance because I could look at any screenshots of a first-person shooter and know how it plays but our game is a bit different. You really need to pick it up and play it to understand how much fun it is.

GB: Will there be a demo out soon?

NH: There will be yeah, we don’t when that will be yet though. It’s still in the final stages; we still have a few weeks of final bug testing and things.

GB: Is everyone doing 24 hour stints right now then?

EM: Yeah

NH: Except us!

GB: Will Banjo and Kazooie be making any guest appearances in other games? Maybe Killer Instinct 3?

EM: I’d be a rich person if I got a pound for every time I was asked about that, but who knows!

GB: Do you think they would have kicked ass and taken names in Smash Bros?

NH: I think so; they would have done pretty well in that.

We’d like to say a big thank you to Neil and Elissa for taking the time to chat to us! Make sure you keep it on GameBrit for more on Banjo-Kazooie.