When young James “Jimmy” Hawkins joined his father on an intergalactic space trip, little would he know how it would change his life forever. But when their ship was shot down by the evil Raknos, it was only a military grade prototype Battle Frame that could save him. Save him it did, but now it’s up to him to gain some revenge on those forces of evil, taking down the Raknos and utilising the powers that he now has at his fingertips. Oh, and it would probably be wise if he kept an eye out for his lost father in the process.
Sold as a hack ‘n slash, shooter sci-fi platform action game, Blackwind starts off extremely well. With narrative and a backstory set up through some rather lovely cutscenes, delivering Hawkins’ predicament to the player well, it then lends itself to a world ripe for exploration.
With the Battle Frame keeping young James safe from harm, it’s up to you to help him traverse the lands, fighting back against any evil that may come his way, solving puzzles and actioning multiple platforming elements as you go.
It’s set-up extremely well and the first few hours of Blackwind are a delight, all as you get to learn about James and his father, the tale of the Battle Frame and the abilities that it has. You see, this is a military grade piece of equipment with just a young man found hidden inside, but it allows for some seriously good hack ‘n slashing, alongside properly decent ranged attacks; standard weaponry fired out from the wrist like a robo-Spider-Man.
Honestly, we’ve had some serious fun with this Battle Frame, upgrading its systems over and over again, building it out to become a seriously tasty piece of kit. With the abilities and upgrades attached to collectible orbs which are mostly dropped for destroying things – not just those that move but barrels, boxes and more – it’s a cinch to become an all-conquering fighting force in little to no time. In fact, we found that getting mecha-ripped was easy, with the maxing out of ranged skills ensuring that very little could ever come close.
When they do get close though, Blackwind still excites with a more than competent close quarters melee system to hand. Light and heavy attacks are commonplace, but so are the opportunities to drain your foes of life before going in for a termination takedown. Again, initially these are great, but once you’ve pulled off a few, the same repetitive chat and auto-played takedown moves do begin to see the charm drop off. Throw in some other abilities that I won’t spoil and it’s safe to say that Blackwind does the business.
It’s the Battle Frame which is the main source of entertainment here, but it’s not long before you’ll unlock a little secret weapon – a drone. Housed within the frame, when times call for it you can detach this and utilise its small size to skip through barriers, or to be used in conjunction with the mech itself, as one stands on pressure pads to allow the other through a maze. With its own weaponry and smaller skill trees available, bringing the drone into play is a brilliant little touch – none more so than when you and a friend team up to make the most of the mech and drone as a daring duo.
This is when the puzzling action comes to the fore and whilst beating back enemies is the main focus throughout, there are some well worked puzzle and platforming sections which just about do the job. Admittedly it occasionally feels like Blackwind has been warped in from times gone by, with invisible walls and a lack of pixel perfect platforming bringing it down slightly, but it still works okay and shouldn’t ever be seen as too much of an issue.
Blackwind looks good too. Perhaps it won’t be winning any end of year awards or the like, but it’s all neat, tidy and detailed decently. The main focus of the action is on the Battle Frame itself and this looks good, as do the numerous types of enemies that come your way – from the big to the small, each one is well detailed and complete with some serious armoury. We particularly like the complete contrast in the areas that need navigating through though, from the tight corridors of spacebase internals to some wide open forests and the like. There’s certainly a clear comparison between areas and when you throw in a fast travel system which tries to counter the need for retreading steps, the world of Blackwind is an interesting one to navigate.
Premise, set up and combat accounted for, Blackwind certainly has a lot going for it. The twin-stick shooting works really well, the close quarters combat is smooth and solid and the takedowns are fun, if a little repetitive. But there are some serious issues hiding behind all that goodness; issues which mean the whole thing starts to fall apart.
It’s mostly focused on the navigation of the areas you and Jimmy find yourselves in. Whilst those on-board enclosed areas like ships are well defined, with multiple paths that can be traversed thanks to the use of in-situ maps, when you head out into the wider world, things start to unravel.
For one, due to the twin-stick nature, there is no manual override of the camera, with it instead attempting to automatically point you in the right direction. In practice it’s an absolute mess of a system. Not only does it focus far too closely on the main character, but it swings around at will, covering all manner of angles when you are running from point to point. Not only does this confuse massively – going from side-on to near top-down in a second – but the combination of that and the tightly zoomed focus means that rarely do you ever get to discover any points of exploration. Blackwind is a big game, and many of the levels will allow you to explore, but when you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you, things turn sour. A bit of widening of the camera would be massively appreciated.
It’s aggravated more when enemies pop up into view; enemies that you can’t see. When these explode as you get near them, pushing you back and draining you of your much needed life force, you’ll find yourself constantly on the back foot – even more so when you get whacked by multiple explosions in a row, giving you no time to react. There are ways round it of course, and we’ve found that constantly firing forward with weapons on the go is a sure-fire way of staying safe – particularly once you’re maxed out and a full-on killing machine. But when you’re looking for switches, or levers, or something hidden away in the undergrowth, it’s not the best.
There’s also a fair amount of pop up of scenery and visuals throughout Blackwind, and whilst some of this is more to do with the developers giving you the chance to see where you are going in and amongst the multiple trees and rocks, it just smacks of disappointment.
The worst of the worst though? Blackwind will have you traipsing back and forth, covering old ground time and time again, all as you desperately look for a single switch that you may have missed previously. Coming up to a sealed door, or barrier which cannot be passed, brings utter dread as you know you’ll be left on a hunt for something, somewhere, anywhere. Trying to find it is not fun when you take into account the camera problems – and yes, we’ve been in that exact situation more times than we care to remember with Blackwind.
It’s a massive shame that Blackwind is let down by the systems which should let it flow. If this came to market as a top-down twin-sticker with a few platforming elements and some decent metroidvania-styled puzzling, it would work really, really well. But the decision to add in a confused viewpoint is a killer; one that will have you concerned every time you fire things up.
Blackwind is one to consider should you be able to look past the problems, but things could and should have been delivered in an altogether tighter package. Still, there’s fun to be had in following the story and tale of a young man and his Battle Frame.
Blackwind is available from the Xbox Store