Over the past decade the words “online” and “shooter” have become melted into each other. Long gone are the days of four guys or gals hanging out on a couch playing a first person shooter with a low-definition television screen that is evenly divided four ways. Now, the common FPS experience demands an online-networked multiplayer service that has the individual player put up against his/her friends from anywhere nearby or across the world. Each player now sits on his or her own couch, watching his or her own undivided high definition television screen. In an effort to bring people together in a competitive atmosphere, the online FPS genre has become a staple of the video game industry. With new titles released every quarter it is amazing to find so many of them miss the mark of what makes the genre addictive and fulfilling. Fortunately, titles like Blacklight: Tango Down for Xbox 360 manage to make their way to the gaming market and into all hours of the gamer’s life.

Blacklight takes place in a futuristic world that finds the United States in a covert war between two fictitious organizations: the Blacklight and the Order. Although one probably would assume a name like “the Order” is a dead giveaway to a somehow moral faction of fighters, it actually represents the villainous side of the story’s coin. Although minimal, the two sentences above reveal just about all that one needs to know about the game’s story. Since the plot can only be found from a short description inside the “How To Play” menu, few players are likely to discover much more. While razor thin, the story ultimately serves as a means to explain why two or more people are shooting at each other with guns. Although a simple and pugnacious act, this proves to be Blacklight’s biggest asset.

Offering two primary modes of play, Blacklight can be played both online and off. While the offline mode is comprised of only four missions and has a rather sporadic enemy AI, it serves as a means for the player to get used to the different aspects of the game before jumping into the competitive online scene. Each mission has the player completing a series of objectives that span the physical length of a given level. The levels are extremely linear and you will find that each objective can be found practically parallel to one another with little guessing room as to which way to go. This didn’t bother me too much since the enemies were well placed and the design was flexible enough that I could effectively take cover in multiple locations. While I envision most people playing this mode offline, one has the option to play it cooperatively with up to three other players through Xbox Live. Unfortunately, the mode lacks an online matchmaking service. This means if you want to play one of the four missions with someone else, you’re going to have to find a friend on Xbox Live who wants to play one of them with you.

After playing Blacklight for any period of time it becomes obvious what the game was designed for and where it excels: competitive online play. The online mode revolves around an addictive ranking system that allows the player to upgrade their arsenal with experience points that can be earned by performing well in a match. Every kill, every bomb defused, every canister captured, results in experience points that eventually increase your characters rank, which can reach up to level seventy. This role-playing game approach is incredibly effective. It keeps both the experienced and inexperienced player engaged in their performance, since it directly affects the potential of their character.

The online modes present in Blacklight are simple and yet, well done. All the standard modes such as: Team and regular Deathmach, Capture the Flag (which is called Retrieval), and Last Man Standing are included, as well as some more original modes such as Detonate and Domination. Of the more original group of modes, detonate stands out as a great addition to the standard team-based variety. Interestingly, each online mode requires six players to be present in the lobby before the match begins. This wouldn’t be an issue except it might make it a little more difficult to get into a match later in the game’s cycle. But, I wouldn’t worry too much since, as of the time of this writing, the game is well populated online and I found it easy to get myself into a match and start fraggin’ away. All of these details wouldn’t be relevant if the game’s looked and feel was lacking, but rest assured, Blacklight delivers.

The game runs at a smooth framerate with your character walking at a comfortably fast speed. Firing a gun in this game is a real joy. Its controls are razor sharp and all your character’s commands are effectively placed throughout the Xbox controller. Each gun has a convincing firing noise that is surrounded in the game’s ambient and dark techno soundtrack. While the character and weapon design won’t shock you it definitely won’t seem out of place or dull either. Using the Unreal graphics engine, Blacklight’s graphic design is truly a feat in itself. Throughout the game’s four single player and twelve multiplayer maps, a variety of colors and textures are achieved to make up the game’s appearance. While some levels are dark, brooding, and filled with excellent lighting and fog effects others are bright as day and maintain a clarity and intensity through their crisp textures and contrasting color palette.

With so much going for it, it’s hard to believe Blacklight: Tango Down has come into existence as a $15 downloadable Xbox Live Arcade game. Perhaps this release makes way for a new era in which triple A titles will be released online at affordable prices. Whether you are new to the competitive first person genre or a dominating competitor of the Call of Duty and Halo leaderboards, Blacklight: Tango Down offers an affordable, high quality, and addictive premise that shouldn’t be missed.

Blacklight: Tango Down is also available on the PC and Playstation 3.