Remember that scene from Aliens where Ripley is facing off against the Xenomorph Queen? Where she steps into view, wearing the Caterpillar Power Loader, and says the unforgettable line "Get away from her you B**ch!"?
Yeah, that was when a young Jonny discovered just how cool power armor could be. It led to a lifelong appreciation, and whether it was Tony Stark, The Guyver, The girls of Bubblegum Crisis, or a million others, I would instantly be drawn to any media featuring this Sci-Fi staple.
Which, of course, brings me to today's game.
BlackWind is a top-down twin-stick Sci-Fi action game where you take control of a prototype mechsuit built by your father.
The story starts with the starship Pandora making a journey to the mining colony of Medusa 42. Your father (Dr. Hawkins) is an expert at creating power armor and has been tasked with delivering his latest experimental model to the planet for testing.
However, they don't make it...
The second they enter the system, they find themselves under attack. Shields crippled, weapons offline and engines destroyed they have no other option but to make a crash landing.
Not knowing what'll happen when they make landfall, the Dr comes up with a desperate plan to save his son.
Locking him inside a special AI-controlled variant of the BlackWind armor, young James Hawkins is launched from the ship. With the suit designed to be dropped from orbit, he lands safely but has to look on helplessly as the Pandora crashes over the horizon. With no idea how to work the BlackWind, and needing his father's voice print to unlock the chassis, James must rely on the onboard AI to help him survive. He'll need to master its weaponry as he searches through the destroyed remains of the human colony, takes on an alien invasion, and, most importantly to him, seeks to be reunited with his missing father.
Story-wise we're taking part in a fish out of water story. Young Jim has no idea how the BlackWind armor actually works so the gameplay mechanic of slowly unlocking abilities becomes a narrative device that fits nicely with the on-screen action.
The voice acting is well done, although I would say that Jim suffers from Anime protagonist syndrome. He constantly makes jokes and fires off one-liners, with snappy quips and excited outbursts coming thick and fast. It gets a little annoying tbh and definitely feels out of place when you consider he's a teenage boy who has just been separated from his father and has to fight a massive alien army. The Story makes sense still and although it's not Shakespeare, it does its job of pushing along the narrative. Which is its primary function, after all, to act as window dressing for the gameplay, of which combat is probably the most prominent of the game's elements.
The Battle Frame is a powerful piece of kit, allowing James to brutally put down the myriad variety of cyborg bugs he'll come across during his adventure. His primary weapons are the large energy blades that emerge from the suit's forearms and can do brutal melee damage to anything that gets close. To deal with ranged opponents a shoulder-mounted chain gun can quickly whittle down enemy health and, if you find yourself overwhelmed, a barrage of heat-seeking missiles are available as a special weapon. Add in a block and a boost, as well as a double jump, and you have a move set that can dominate the battlefield.
You don't want to go for overwhelming damage every time though, as BlackWind has an instant death mechanic that's very useful. Similar to the system used in the rebooted "Doom" games, it's better to do just enough damage to almost kill the enemies. They then go into a flashing stunned state where a quick press of a button will perform a brutal finisher, spilling health pickups all over the place.
Destroying the various members of Rachnid forces and any destructible environmental objects grants various pickups, with each having a different use. They recharge health, power your missile launchers, and most importantly grant experience points. You can spend XP to upgrade the 3 available skill trees; enhancing weapons and adding new abilities for use. Chain gun fires more bullets in a spread, Shields get stronger, boost goes further and so on, all adding to your deadliness. There's nothing surprising in the unlocks though. Most are a percentage increase in weapon damage or a percentage reduction in damage taken. You'll also not be able to unlock everything in one playthrough so select the abilities that best suit your playstyle.
The combat is pretty decent, quick, and hard-hitting: it's fun to take down swarms of easier enemies especially when going for finishing moves. At least at first. It quickly starts to get repetitive though, as you realize that the same attacks work 95% of the time. You notice annoying things like melee strikes overshooting enemies by a shocking amount, enemies cheesing stun locks against you, and circle-strafing being a 100% effective tactic against even the most powerful enemy. I don't want to call it broken, it isn't, it just doesn't feel good. It's clunky and floaty and just unsatisfying.
And this also applies to the platforming sections. Breaking up the combat are sections where you'll jump, grab ledges and climb along horizontal bars.
It's all very basic and again feels a little too floaty for my tastes.
Judging distance felt off, with your should-be-heavy mech suit having seemingly no weight to it. Camera angles didn't help, with even something as simple as a ledge grab becoming hit or miss. Luckily the jumps and such are never too brutal, you can quickly get back to where you were to try again, but it can be annoying to miss a simple jump because the camera angle feels off or the needed precision isn't there.
There is reason to explore each biome though. Not only are they varied, but the various locations can have dynamic features that are pretty nice to look at and filled with features to destroy. The surface is littered with mining supplies and machinery, labs are packed with computers and strange devices. All these grant experience points when destroyed and let out pretty explosions when you do so. Be warned though; within a level it can all begin to look a bit samey with each room or section being repeated over and over. You can only walk into the same room, or down the same identical-looking corridor so many times before it begins to become quite noticeable.
There are also puzzles scattered around but these don't quite satisfy either. Most are ridiculously simple, falling into the "find a keycard" or "hit the hidden switch" variety. Even the more complex ones won't tax the brainpower, with the most difficult I remember being a "stand on this switch while your remote drone presses this button" type. They never really get inventive or challenging, but do have some cool rewards. Drakkar Dev has included loads of pop culture references and some skins nod towards famous Mecha from other franchises. Collecting these was fun at least.
I'd also like to add that you can have a friend jump in to provide help through the co-op mode. Your buddy will be handling the fast and agile drone that BlackWind can launch, providing a support role while you're busy controlling the mech itself. I didn't get the chance to try this couch co-op option but I can't see it being much of a game-changer.
Ultimately BlackWind is a middling experience at best. It's a great concept, mixing much-loved mech suits, fast-paced hack 'em slash 'em combat and gunplay, with a little platform exploration. However, it just has so many rough edges. Combat is flashy and fast but also floaty and samey. The same tactic can get you through, and there's a real problem with locking on and overshooting. Platforming feels a little imprecise and floaty, with camera angles and a lack of weight causing troubles.
There are just so many much better twin-stick shooters out there, even budget ones, that recommending BlackWind is rather difficult. Only the hardest of hardcore mech lovers should jump on it, everyone else can probably get something better.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 5/10
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