“Bro, you’re never gonna get swole with that armor!”

It’s a new year. It’s a new slate of games just waiting to be played. One should feel a sense of excitement, a giddiness at the thought of all the new adventures to undertake, the new worlds to be seen, and the new characters you’ll meet. And then you play Blackwind, which manages to brutally murder one’s hope for the future far faster than you expect.

Set far in the future and untold light-years away from Earth, Blackwind places you in the jumpsuit of James Hawkins, a teenager whose father has been working on a new suit of powered armor for a colony under attack by pseudo-insectoid aliens known as the Rachnos. The elder Hawkins finished one suit and apparently had time for a “Mark II” version of it with an on-board AI which he invites his son to try out. Of course, the minute he does, the ship come under attack and is shot down, with young Jim being ejected (still in the suit) to the surface of an alien world where everything is trying to kill him. You must guide Jim through different levels while shooting, slashing, bombarding, and otherwise wreaking havoc against hordes of mooks as he tries to reunite with his father and get pulled out of the powered armor.

From a visual perspective, Blackwind has a slightly rough unfinished feel to it. There are cutscenes which have a comic book feel to the art style, ones which are rendered entirely through the Unity engine’s 3D elements, and ones which mix the two together. The character models and environments feel like there’s a shader missing somewhere. Still decent looking, but not quite there. A serious strike against the visuals is the locked camera. You have no control over where the camera is pointing, and while it tries to keep a roughly isometric perspective, it shifts at the oddest times, sometimes helpfully, other times leading you straight into an environmental hazard. In interior environments, this isn’t a major impediment, but it’s still irritating. It’s when you’re traversing the exterior environments that it really becomes a millstone from an interactivity perspective, as well as inhibiting potential appreciation of the environments themselves. Fine details like particle effects and destructible elements are present but don’t particularly stand out in any meaningful fashion.

Obvious alert is obvious.

If the visuals didn’t impress, the audio side of things are actively awful. About the only thing which reaches the level of “passable” is the sound effects, and even then it’s not by a whole lot. It’s hard to screw up “pew pew,” but the devs didn’t seem to put forth any effort to really make it shine. Beyond that, however, you have to wonder what happened. The music is uninspiring and without much in the way of variety. As for voice acting, it’s hard to say if the voice director wasn’t around, simply checked out, or if they fed the script into a voice bot and used the output. The quality and cadence of the voice acting starts at stiff and goes rapidly downhill from there. Worse still, the actual writing is cliched and simplistic. You have no great concern for the characters, good or bad. They’re either targets to shoot or exposition speakers shouting at you. The stakes never feel especially urgent because there’s no genuine urgency shown by the characters, only hyperactivity or plot stupidity.

So, now we get to Blackwind‘s gameplay. The basics are certainly easy to pick up: a twin-stick configuration for movement and aiming, button combos for melee attacks, triggers and bumpers for ranged weapons, nothing terribly difficult here. But it’s the little things that becalm Blackwind. The game is notionally configured for couch co-op, with one player taking the big powered armor and the other playing as the small backpack drone which can separate to fly through areas with inexplicably indestructible bars and air vents which the AI voice reminds you every time you approach are “ordinary.” Unfortunately, deploying the drone kills the armor’s ability to do double jumps for no good reason that’s ever given, which means any Player 2 is likely going to be sitting on their ass doing nothing until a vent appears or a puzzle requiring the drone to move around while Player 1 tries to fumble around the other half of the puzzle. This also makes the single player experience a pain in the ass since you’re having to try and figure out which half of the set needs to go where when obstacles appear.

The exterior environments can’t seem to make up their mind if they want to be linear corridors or expansive open areas. They’re a half-assed mashup of both, which means they don’t fulfill either criteria. The interior environments are semi-maze like, as one might expect, but you’re denied a mini-map unless go to a helpful terminal to download one. Which means interior sections which don’t have that terminal leave you stumbling around and hoping you don’t pick the wrong tunnel.

“I blasted my way across a continent and all I got was this shiny rock!”

In an act of utterly shocking ludonarrative dissonance, your highly advanced prototype armor with an AI that can crack military computer terminals in just a few moments, independently target salvos of light anti-personnel/anti-tank rockets, and maintain the fields necessary to generate blades of pure energy apparently doesn’t have the sensor or processing capability to generate an area map to let you know where you’ve been or tell you the general direction you need to be going. It makes the armor skin collectibles scattered throughout the game feel almost insulting, since you basically have to stumble over them instead of making an intelligent plan for finding them. This same AI is apparently incapable of generating a simple “to-do” list to help keep the player on task, giving players both primary and secondary objectives, and updating them in something resembling a realistic fashion. Nope. Just one objective up in the corner of the screen which is only occasionally helpful and constantly obnoxious by the amount of real estate it takes up.

Of course, that leads into other problems. You can only change those aforementioned skins in inconveniently placed “repair bays,” which double up as depots for you to spend the upgrade orbs you get from destroying every enemy and most of the props in the environment. Unfortunately, you still take stupid amounts of damage because you can’t directly improve your health bar, and as such you’ll be getting brutally murdered in short order when large mobs start making their way towards you, to say nothing of bosses. Worse, if you make the “wrong” choices with your upgrades, you have no way to change things around and no way to realize you’ve hamstrung yourself till you hit a wall of enemies who eat you in half a second. Moreover, there’s not enough variety in the maps, nor enough randomly respawning enemies, to make grinding out orbs worthwhile. New abilities are locked behind power-up items, usually in plain view but behind obnoxious puzzles which are either very easy or tremendously frustrating, particularly when dealing with obstacles which are on timers. But it doesn’t much matter, because somebody decided that there had to be a giant middle finger to the players in the form of a boss fight which puts you on a timer AND begins stripping the player of not only special abilities but basic attacks. Combined with the wet toilet paper durability of your character, it’s an unforgivable sin which brought me to a screeching halt.

Put bluntly, Blackwind blows. Its spitefully obtuse design, uninspiring visuals, and hackneyed story elements are utterly infuriating. Do yourself a favor and let this one pass by.

“I can fall six stories without a scratch, but can’t take a few lousy bullets.”
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