Friday, January 21, 2022

Blackwind (Multi) Review

The rest of this month on SuperPhillip Central is most likely going to be a series of new reviews on the site. To kick things off is Blackwind, a hack-and-slash mech game with platforming elements. Will this particular mech game "suit" you? Find out with the SPC review.

Neither an ill wind, nor a soothing breeze

Blackwind begins with a space vessel becoming under attack from unknown forces. Aboard are Jimmy Hawkins and his father, the creator of a special bio mech suit that comes complete with its own AI, the first of its kind. To protect his son and in his own sacrifice, Hawkins Sr. puts Jimmy into the suit and deploys it down to the planet below. Without his father's voice authorization, Jimmy is stuck in the suit, so it's up to him to hopefully find his father at the vessel's crash site. Of course, no objective goes smoothly, as Jimmy will have to contend with hostile alien forces, as well as unravel a conspiracy in the process. 

The team behind Blackwind describe the game as a hack-and-slash sci-fi action game with platforming elements, so let's break down each aspect one by one. In terms of action, Blackwind has a lot of it. Jimmy's suit can bash and battle baddies with the best of them, offering both melee (light and heavy attacks) as well as ranged fire. When an enemy has taken enough damage, they will start to flash red. This indicates a termination opportunity, which serves as an opportunity to execute an enemy at once. This is enjoyable for the first five dozen times, but by the end of the game, I found myself just beating enemies normally without the desire to terminate them through some animation, no matter how brief it was. That and if I never have to hear "Never mess with a Hawkins!" or some other overly, obnoxiously repeated expression again, it'll be too soon.

Get up close and personal with your adversaries!

Also obnoxious occasionally, is the combat, which is pretty basic. It can also become pretty infuriating too at times, unfortunately. This is compounded adversely by a camera that you cannot control whatsoever. You're at the whims of its either overhead placement, angled position, or some other perspective that does not lend well to keep enemies in view. There are also little to no invincibility frames to speak of, which coupled with the suit's inability to stand up quickly upon falling down from taking damage means that you can easily get stuck in a damage loop. The only escape is your own death, which is sometimes an immense frustration due to inconsistent checkpoint placement.

Or stay back and unload a steady supply of missiles into them.

Enemies drop blue orbs when defeated, and you can also get them from destroyed objects in the environment, of which there are plenty. Orbs can be spent at various stations in numerous skill trees to increase attack power of melee and ranged weaponry, boost how much health and special energy is dropped from defeated foes, and also means to improve and upgrade abilities learned throughout the course of Blackwind's campaign. In a given run through the game, it is next to impossible to upgrade everything available, so I really had to pick and choose what improvements to Jimmy's mech I wanted to add. 

Speaking of abilities learned and earned throughout Blackwind, Jimmy's mech does gain a lot of interesting moves to utilize in and out of battle. For starters, there's basically a ground pound that emits of fiery shockwave that can incinerate enemies and inflict them with a burn over time once it's properly upgraded. Then, there's the ability to detach the suit's drone from its body, allowing it to freely move around, and even enter air ducts and ventilation shafts, offering some interesting navigational/exploration-based puzzles. This detachment of the drone also opens up puzzles where players will need to split tasks between both the drone and Jimmy's suit to make progress.

A force field: Every mech's must-have for added defense!

When Jimmy isn't engaged in battles with all types of enemies--both alien and even human--Blackwind will task him with performing some platforming feats, puzzles, and challenges. This is an aspect of Blackwind where the game severely falters. Movement already in the game is stiff, and the platforming suffers because of it. The aforementioned poor camera resulted in me not being able to properly identify where I needed to jump--if I could even jump there to begin with--and sometimes it even got stuck on level geometry, forcing me to have to reload my data. 

Further, there were so many times where I'd jump on a "platform" only to not be able to jump again when I should have easily been able to do so. Blackwind is incredibly strict about when and where you can jump, use as platforms, and move in its world, and it's all insultingly limiting. There's usually just one way to solve puzzles, do platforming sections, and if you don't do them the way the game expects you to, you're going to get easily frustrated. This is especially so when you do everything right, yet the game's physics, controls, collision detection, or camera let you down.

Level design also suffers in Blackwind, offering a fair amount of exploration for things like new skins for Jimmy's mech and health and energy upgrades, but so much of it relies on places infested with invisible walls and janky platforming sections. When you're not in the out of doors, where invisible walls welcome you with anything but "open" arms, you're in dimly lit, labyrinthine, indoor areas that are sprawling mazes. These have you trudging through rooms, collecting keycards, hitting switches that for some reason open doors halfway across the compound (doesn't seem too efficient in an "if this was a real place" context), and battling enemies. It's nothing too amazing, to put it politely.

Like (unfortunately) many other things in the game, the camera does not always do Blackwind many favors.

Despite not playing the best or even looking the greatest, Blackwind runs at a steady frame-rate at the very least. Although many of the areas are drab, don't inspire much wonderment from them, and constantly reuse assets, everything in the game runs well and is stable. Blackwind's audio is a mixed bag, offering competent enough voice work (your mileage may vary), and music that simply stands as serviceable. 

By the time I was through with Blackwind, I found myself seeing a lot of untapped potential, and whether that is because of time-constraints or budget issues, it's just a shame that for every good idea in Blackwind, something just holds the game back and sometimes in an utterly frustrating way. Between the janky platforming, subpar combat, horrid camera, and myriad small issues with the game, it all adds up to Blackwind being one sci-fi hack-and-slash platformer you can safely skip without much regret.

[SPC Says: C-]

A code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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