Blackwind Review – PC & PS5

One of the first significant sci-fi action games of the new year has finally arrived for consoles and PC, and we’re here to talk about the release of Blackwind on both the PS5 and the PC.  I originally started this game on the PS5 and was having a great time, but in the back of my mind I was wondering just how much better this game might look and play on a PC.  As you might expect, the PC does manage to offer up some noticeable improvements to visuals and performance but at a cost.

Blackwind is your typical twin-stick action shooter with a distinct sci-fi flair and classic arcade design where you move around with one stick, aim with the other and fire with the trigger.  You be playing as young Jim Hawkins, trapped inside his father’s prototype battle armor complete with a palm cannon modeled right from Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit along with lock-on missiles and a detachable drone that can be remotely controlled to explore areas otherwise inaccessible.  The game is held together with an interesting story that starts with your ship getting shot out of orbit.  You are ejected inside dad’s battle armor on one side of the planet while your father crashes onto the other side.  Since you can only exit the suit via voice command from your father it’s time to find dear old dad.  But first you’ll need to get past an alien race of robotic insects and a treacherous military that has occupied the planets mining facilities.

Blackwind is a creative balance of ranged and melee combat, mixing up blasters, missiles, and lethal wrist blades and even physical attacks like a ground pound move.  Everything in the game can be upgraded using a robust tech tree with branches for every weapon, gadget, and even passive abilities such as boosting collectible output from attacks and finishing moves.  You basically run around indoor and outdoor levels smashing every breakable object just like a LEGO game, collecting any of the multi-colored orbs that result from the destruction.  Blue orbs are currency for upgrades you can purchase at any of the upgrade pads scattered about the environment, while yellow orbs power your special attacks such as missiles, shockwave, shields, etc.  Green orbs refuel your health and later in the game red orbs will power your time manipulation device that basically activates a slow-motion bullet-time effect.

So you basically run around shooting everything, farming orbs, and solving convoluted navigation puzzles that involve numerous locks, switches, and passcodes.  The traversal is needlessly complicated to extend gameplay, forcing you to flip switch A to access control panel B to unlock door C with a passcode to enter a room with switch D that unlocks a door to access a switch to open the exit.   Between all the switch flipping and door unlocking you’ll dispatch a few dozen enemy robots and insectoid creatures using your increasingly powerful weapons.  There is a nice balance of enemy power vs your own growing abilities, assuming you are making smart upgrade decisions or at least choices that complement your own playstyle.

There are also major suit upgrades you’ll unlock throughout the course of the game such as the aforementioned drone and ground pound attack along with double-jump and other traversal upgrades that will incentivize your return to previous stages via the fast travel systems to access areas previously unavailable.  This is mostly for completionists who want to unlock all those nifty battle suit skins, but some story progression requires certain suit upgrades to access.

While primarily designed as a solo experience there is a co-op mode for local play or using Steam’s Remote Play Together where player two can take control of the drone.  This has some benefits later in the game where some puzzles require frequent switching back and forth between battle suit and drone in solo play, while having two players makes this much easier.  PC definitely has the edge here since Steam allows a second remote player to join in without owning a copy of the game or being in the same room.

Comparatively speaking, the PS5 and the PC versions are nearly identical.  The PC offers higher resolution options with slightly better textures, lighting, and shadows; at least it did on my RTX3080 card where I was able to max out all settings and run in native 4K, but you have to be running them side by side to really tell them apart.  Load times are fast and also nearly identical while the DualSense on PS5 and Xbox controller on PC offer up the same rumble effects.  Aside from the Remote Play Anywhere there are no differentiating factors, so play and enjoy on whatever system you have.

Overall design is repetitive both visually and in the increasingly annoying dialogue.  Jim is a boy of few words, but he will use those same one-liners and exclamations to the point of extreme annoyance.  Either give the kid more things to say or have him talk less.  The game is visually repetitive with the same outdoor desert and canyon terrain and the same mix and match of indoor corridors and rooms being recycled for the first 2-3 hours of gameplay.  Eventually things start to change up more frequently during the second half of the game with woods, underground caverns, wintery mountains, and other new terrain being introduced.  Even the enemies are a bit repetitious with only a handful of Raknos designs and the occasion mid-level boss fight with large critters or robots that need to be stunned before doing a finishing move…often more than once to defeat.  Finishing moves are a cool addition, but there only seemed to be one or two per enemy type and they take so long to perform with camera zoom combined with animation then camera pull-back.  You can earn bonus orbs for doing them, but it does break the flow of the gameplay.

Arguable, this is primarily an arcade shooter, so diversity isn’t critical.  Half the time I was killing stuff off-screen due to the problematic camera that plagues Blackwind throughout the game.  You have no panning or zoom control over a camera that is often way too close to the action, so when the AI alerts you to nearby enemies just start firing and things will die.  I appreciate the designers wanting to show off their cool graphics but when it interferes with gameplay something needs to change.  I did appreciate the shift from top down to side-scrolling, and I really liked when the camera would drop down to ground level and let me see out into the distance, but 90% of the time the camera was above and too close for tactical combat.  Despite the camera issues the combat is quite spectacular with all sorts of crazy explosions, fire, smoke, particles, and dozens of colored orbs exploding about the area.  In darker areas the colored lighting is quite beautiful.

Blackwind does have a few annoyances; voice acting and camera angles topping the list, but there is still a lot of fun to be had.  I’ve learned to tune out Jim and I’ve even figured out how to deal with the crappy camera angles.  Now I’m just enjoying the repetitive ride of killing, collecting, and upgrading so I can kill faster, collect more… and upgrade faster.  The game does a fantastic job of keeping the combat balanced while trickling out those suit upgrades and increasing the challenge on those door lock puzzles.  Even the story, which started off as generic and stale, offered up a neat twist halfway through that held my interest until the end.  Blackwind is a fun and refreshing twist on a classic sci-fi shooter that should appeal to fans of the genre on both PS5 and PC.

You can see Blackwind in action for both PS5 and PC in our live gameplay videos.   The PS5 video has the first two hours of the game (desert, labs, military base), and the PC video has hours 3-4 (forest, alien caves).

 

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