Blackwind ticks every box, but is gasping for fresh air.
- Developer: Drakkar Dev
- Publisher: Blowfish Studios
- Release date: 20th January 2022
- Genre: 3rd person, SciFi, Hack and Slash, Shooter
- Platforms: PS4/5, Xbox One/Series X|S, Switch, Windows PC (Steam and GOG), Mac App Store
- Reviewed on: PS5
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
If you want to see the boundaries of experimentation within gaming brought forth, you should look towards indie developers, as they frequently bring fresh ideas, new concepts and gameplay experiences for players to experiment with. In part, Blackwind does exactly that, but even in doing so still manages to fall short of being exciting. Blackwind is described as a hack-and-slash shooter, and you could indeed play the entire game satisfactorily in either an up-close hack and slash style or from a shooter perspective. However, when all was said and done, it still felt like an empty experience.
The game starts with a Father and Son in mid-space transporting a mech cargo, when the spaceship they are travelling in, called “Pandora”, is shot down. Before they crash, the son, James Hawkins (who you play as), is thrust into a military mech and thrown out of the crashing spaceship to escape. When you land on planet Medusa-42, a small mining colony, James searches for his father to see if he survived.
Once through the basic movement and weapons systems tutorials, players are presented with a top-down look of the world and the mech that you move around in. The detail of the planet is either of the plain, Mars-like surface, forests, snowy mountains or corridors within complexes built on the planet. All of them add colour but are lacking any quantity of rendering, detail or weathering to make them interesting, and just come across as drab and basic for the most part.
The movement of your mech is smooth and responsive, which is especially helpful as there are a lot of environmental objects and detritus scattered around the screen such as boxes, piping, rocks, lockers and wall partitions that get in your way. Quite a lot of the world is destructible so smashing through these objects is possible. However, many times objects that weren’t destructible hindered me during combat, as when focussing on incoming enemies it’s easy to get snagged up on some piping and not realise why you aren’t moving.
One of the best aspects of the game is that the mech you control has decent melee and ranged weapons from the start. The melee weapons are two sword-like forearms that glow bright blue and sound like two lightsabers flinging around. Melee has quick or heavy attacks that start to morph into slightly better combinations with spins and thrusts as you progress, but they are never too flashy or complex.
A laser weapon fires out of the mech’s right hand, which with upgrades can be made more powerful and with a bigger spread as you progress. Other weapons and abilities include a one-off missile launch from your shoulder that targets all the nearby enemies, dashing and slamming and a drone with a gun of its own that can get through gaps you can’t and unlock new areas.
This is a twin-stick shooter, so movement is carried out with the left stick whilst the right stick controls the aim of the laser from your hand. This means, however, that the camera angle is always fixed.
Awkward little aliens!
As you play the game, you soon come across the aliens inhabiting it who do nothing more than home in on your position to attack you. The variety of the enemies is woefully limited, as even after a couple of hours of play, I was still fighting the same type of enemies I met in the first few minutes. There are changes as you go, but it was disappointing not to see a bigger variety of enemy types.
This isn’t the biggest gripe though. Because of the aforementioned fixed camera angle, I often found enemies shooting at me from places off-screen, before I could even locate them. I find this quite a cheap way of dying. How can you shoot back at enemies you can’t see off-screen? You even have to wade through hits to get near them to shoot back. This was compounded by the fact the enemy’s tactics didn’t seem to have any other idea than to move towards me and surround me with numbers. There were a few walls from which I could find cover and lay down some fire at a distance, whittling down the numbers somewhat, but the key to survival was movement.
Even so, dashing around using firepower and movement only lasts so long before you are swamped and the melee weapon comes into play. It’s fun to start with, but when the enemies tactics don’t change, it starts to get repetitive and then boring quite quickly. This is exacerbated even more by the fact that although the game can be played solo, I felt it has been designed more for co-op play.
Starting the game on normal difficulty, it wasn’t long before I had to reduce it down to easy to get through, simply because no matter how well I powered up or did my best to survive, there were too many enemies swarming to my location with no escape. However, getting a co-op partner to deal with the same levels I’d been stuck on before at the same difficulty level proved to be a breeze.
Other areas where the game doesn’t help itself, is when you destroy objects or enemies, they contain orbs that you can collect to spend on power-ups. These orbs float back to you whilst you may also be firing your own weapon, and the enemy is firing weapons and missiles at you too. With so much flying around the screen, it was unfortunate that the colour contrast between all these objects wasn’t varied enough to make them distinct, so at times you may think an incoming object is an orb but is in fact an enemy missile!
As well as combat there is a good deal of puzzles to solve to progress. These can range from simply finding a single lever to move an object or blowing up an item to create a new route, to finding multiple levers that need to be activated in a certain sequence and within time limits.
The balance of difficulty here was actually very good. Most puzzles weren’t unsolvable, as all you had to do was watch what each action did, and figure out from the actions you had available how they would work together. The only drawback here was again the fixed camera. Some puzzles were spread over large areas, but if you could have drawn the view back it would have made it easier to figure out the route and sequence you needed.
The other puzzles in the interior areas basically required you to search for a key or passcode to open a door to exit. Again this could just be one key to start but then develop into many. This was fun, as the drone came into play here. Some doors were impassable, so you could fly your drone through air vents, shooting enemies along the way, to then locate a lever to activate it and regroup with your mech.
The performance of the game was in stark contrast to the performance of the voice acting. The game runs very well on the PS5, with great particle effects and smooth gameplay throughout, even with multiple enemies on the screen at once, alongside all the bullet action that entailed.
The voice acting, however, wasn’t very convincing, even bordering on comical. When James could finish off an enemy who was already weak and prone on the ground, you could prompt a finisher move that would pause the action around so that he could rip their arms off and stamp on them, whilst coming out with a cheesy one-liner in the process. These lines were spoken with such little conviction, it became a distraction – so much so that I started to intentionally avoid finisher moves as it grated so much.
Sound effects were on the whole solid, though, with crunching boxes scattering when broken, alongside a satisfying laser sound from not only your weapons but the enemies too.
The soundtrack of the game is very generic and adds very little impetus to the on screen action. It’s very bland, and forgettable, but serviceable nonetheless.
Blackwind is a solid little game that doesn’t do anything wrong, works and performs perfectly well, but just doesn’t raise your heartbeat with excitement at any point or have any truly memorable aspects. It has some neat ideas but plays it too safe to make the game stand out. The PS5 upgrades such as the enhanced particle effects and enhanced frame rate make it visually attractive in parts, but being a cross-gen release, there’s nothing much to set this apart from the previous generation of consoles, let alone the current powerful versions.
Simple, serviceable, but a tad boring.