Hands-On With Project Blackout: Dino Mode
NOTE: There will be copious dinosaur action in this article, I promise. To get there, we need to bore you with some detailed, non-dino data. You’ll deal, we’re sure.
Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of being shipped down to Irvine in order to check out Project Blackout’s new Dino-mode, a new set of mission packs pitting humans against, you guessed it, Dinosaurs. It was fantastic fun and I came away kind of desperate for more. But before I get to that, first a word about what, exactly, Project Blackout is.
To international (read: everyone but us) gamers, Project Blackout is called Point Blank, a PC-only free to play, multiplayer, first person shooter that focuses on player to player combat rather than overarching storylines. Modes include death matches, capture the flag (ish) and other staples of the FPS genre. Players level up via combat and using the points earned while leveling up, they can purchase upgrades, playable avatars or new weapons. Structurally, functionally and graphically, Point Blank and Project Blackout are mostly identical. However, due to unspecified (and absolutely no-commented-upon) political concerns, Point Blank’s South Korean developer, Zeppetto, made the decision to give the basic background plot a subtle tweak for North American users.
If you’re like me, you’re wondering just what the hell was so potentially controversial. Well, here are the details that differ between each version of the game:
* Point Blank’s rival factions are: one one side the citizens/government of a prosperous, modern economy who have invited immigrants from the world over to toil in their factories and farms; on the other, said immigrants who, tired of being exploited, have risen in rebellion.
* Project Blackout’s rival factions are: on one side, a consortium of corporations who have decided to overthrow a legitimate government; on the other, the remnants of that government, striving to protect civil liberties and stop a coup.
Apparently, the backstory with angry immigrants was deemed too potentially controversial for North Americans. However, the backstory with evil corporate overlords seeking to usurp legitimate authority and the fight to stop them? A-OK. I have to say, this might be the first time Americans have been underestimated in the most flattering possible way. But, I digress.
So back to Project Blackout. Developed for North America by Orange County-based SG Interactive, it launched last December to limited fanfare. That’s a shame because it’s hell of fun, but with the release of the awesome new Dino Mode, players have a whole new reason to give it a try.
If you’ve played Project Blackout before, then you already know what I found out in SG interactive’s Irvine offices, which is that the controls handle like a dream and, assuming you’re not playing against the actual developers1, you’ll find the learning curve isn’t steep. It’s immediately fun, visceral, and action packed. I played one type of match, a base defender game in which Dinos defend goals from the humans trying to reach them. Playing as humans is by the numbers, though they’re really great numbers. You select one of the available Human archetypes and shoot to kill. I was shown two different arenas, one a kind of Jurassic Park-looking bunker level, the other an abandoned urban block. Fun fun fun, even if you’re getting your ass kicked.
But you’re not here for the humans or the locale, you’re here for the Dinos. NOTE: They’re awesome. At launch, players have access only to two of them – a T-Rex and a Velociraptor – but eventually a total of 6 will be accessible. What’s particularly cool is that SG interactive has approached their dinos in the same they would human player characters. Instead of simply being big, lumbering killmonsters, each Dino unit has a different specialization that conforms to the specializations typical to human characters.
What this means is that the raptor functions like a scout unit, favoring rapid approach and retreat, and face to face fighting. It’s a fast unit with the ability to bite and claw enemies to death. Their excellent units for rushing to the front lines and taking out human opponents as they exit their base. The T-Rex on the other hand is basically your heavy weapons/tank unit. It’s big. It’s kind of slow. But it’s also indestructible, so while you probably won’t be able to rush across the arena to catch human prey, it’s perfect for pulling guard duty in front of the opposing team’s objective. As they run across, you can chomp them or simply stomp them to death.
I also got to test out ‘Sting’, the first purchasable Dino unit. Sting won’t be available until the middle of August, and I was told I’m the first person outside of SG Interactive to get my hands on him. If true, then word, because ‘Sting’ indicates that the purchasable dino units are going to have a lot to offer PB players. Sting is so-named because ‘his’ weapon is the ability to spit poison, making him something of a ranged unit. As with the other dinos, he has two attacks: a rapid fire short burst of poison similar to firing an automatic pistol and what the SGI team cleverly referred to as “essentially a toxic loogey”, basically a power-up blast of poison that collects in a disgusting purple glob and explodes. As expected, while you can pretty much fire the short burst attack without restriction, the toxic loogey requires recharge time.
I had my hands on mere hours before Dino Mode went live (it’s playable now!) and as they cheerfully admitted, the version at launch is not to be considered final by any means. It’s still somewhat unbalanced – arguably it takes too many bullets to kill a Raptor, and Sting’s venom seems woefully underpowered by comparison to human ranged units. However, they assured me that they’ll be tweaking these units, making changes to the mode and including improvements along with each new update, timed to happen on a monthly basis.
As for the future of Project Blackout in general? I posed some rather direct questions to the SG interactive krew, but much like when I asked them point blank2 about why they changed the backstory for North American audiences, they were decidedly circumspect. Based on how they didn’t answer my blunt question of whether modding, or access to the source code, would be supported in the future (‘we are currently exploring that possibility but can’t comment further.’ ), it appears possible that future versions of the game may include the possibility of user generated content.
In the meantime, Dino Mode will, as I said, eventually include a total of 6 dinosaurs, including Sting (who will be available sometime in August as the first purchasable dino), and the T-rex and raptors that come default. And that isn’t even touching on Project Blackout’s standard modes, which are all a lot of fun. Fun, easy to play and free free free?. So why are you still here? Enjoy the hot, killing formerly extinct species action and be sure to avoid getting trampled.
1) Note: I meant to let them kick my ass.
2) * takes bow, basks in golf claps * See what I did there?