Abandon hope all ye who enter “Early Access”
Early Access was originally created as a way for developers to have their games be accessible to the fans who wanted to offer constructive feedback in order to mold the game into its best shape. Many developers saw this as a way to cash in on unfinished games and leave their titles in development limbo. The shady history of Early Access has definitely gotten most gamers suspicious of overly ambitious titles, and Black Day makes a lot of promises.
Maps, an arsenal of weapons, smart AI, vehicles, varying objectives, skills, and full customization over all of these, are not something easy to deliver. What I can say Black Day delivers on, in its current state, is twenty guns, varying enemies, four maps, and miscellaneous equipment, such as a flying drone. Simply having these things here, however, does not mean that they are functional. Not that this isn’t to be expected with games still in development — expect many bugs, clunky gunplay, and confusingly inconsistent mechanics. The issues listed would not be of such great importance if the game wasn’t so focused on its visuals. For such an early title, the game looks fantastic, which makes me question if this title is designed to garner sales from window shoppers.
What should I expect first?
The most important thing to know going into an Early Access game is whether it runs well or not. Running off of an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, I was able to get an average of around 62fps on maximum settings, with occasional drops from turning, explosions, or traversing through flora. There were multiple times where the frames stuttered for long periods of time, but it primarily stayed at 62fps, which was pleasant to see.
The limited four maps currently included are also a very respectable feature of the game. You choose from a mountainous region with a few camps and a castle, a town with a mountaintop villa, a tropical island, and a secret military base; “Area 47.” Each map offers a spawn point for each corner which actually removes a lot of the fun and freedom of choice from the game. It is not even the limited number of spawn points that frustrated me in my experience, but rather the fact that you are always far away from your (randomly assigned) objectives. No matter where you spawn, you will always be running for a while before you can do a single thing. The challenge in the experience is overhauled by the frustration of knowing that failure only means another boring, empty run to your next objective.
You’re so pretty and so… not… smart…
Upon seeing the game’s promises in its description, and how beautiful it looked upon first launch, I was excited to plan out careful ways to kill and dispose of my enemies without being detected. The ability to change your movement speed with a keybinding filled me with Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory nostalgia; I was ready for some quality military stealth action. By no means did I expect perfection in the enemy AI, but I did at least expect it to work.
Enemies are oblivious to sound 90% of the time, but will easily spot you anywhere as long as you’re in front of them. I resorted to turning on the night maps, as it was the only way to come close to fair AI, but at that point, they had become so unaware of me that I could walk past them without them noticing. Regardless of the time of day, if you silently kill an enemy standing beside another, (especially with melee) the other will not notice at all. Currently, you can hide bodies, but it is pointless considering I watched an enemy walk over a dead body, which was hilarious, given that corpse collision is another feature oddly already present in this game. There were a few times where a body got some reaction, but most times it did not. Your enemies can’t even see through windows!
The only thing more annoying than the enemy not spotting you is the enemy spotting you. The game has a hunter-hunted complex where, once spotted, you have no idea whence you’re getting shot, yet every enemy will always know where you are. There is no preparation: if you fire one loud bullet or get spotted once, get ready for the horde, because they’re coming to get you. As a fair warning, bushes are your enemy; you can’t see through them, but enemies sure can see through them.
The game is consistently inconsistent. Bullets appeared to only ricochet when it meant killing myself; shooting dead bodies at point blank range or the wall in front of me always resulted in immediate death. Enemies have no issue with this, and are even glad to fire an RPG at their own feet, if it means potentially killing you.
Upon seeing bodies of water, my first idea was to try to swim. Diving in greets you with a beautiful transition between being above and below the water and the first time I did it, swimming worked! Alas, the second, third, and fourth time I tried, I simply sank to the bottom and got stuck in place. Oddly enough, there is no drowning mechanic, so get comfortable, because you’ll be down there for a while.
A minor detail I noticed in my playthrough was that the tropical map was the only map with introductory letterboxing. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s undeniably another inconsistency this game faces.
Lost in translation
One of the most noticeable problems with the game is the very poor translation to English. The UI includes a “stanima” bar, “ammos,” and a “speed stand” display. Objectives also direct you to “thief the spoils of war.” Towards the end of my final session with the game, I found myself purposely restarting repeatedly in order to read the loading screen tips which include cringeworthy references to Duke Nukem and even Stark Industries. Based on their other references, I’m going to assume that Black Day is claiming that Iron Man is part of its lore, or it is just making a Western joke. Out of every tip, my favorite remains, “enemies will trough grenades, using cover fire and flank you. Well they are not brainwashed.” Helios claims that future updates will include translations for many other languages, so perhaps an English language version is upcoming.
The Verdict - Early Access
I think that giving Black Day a lower score for its bugs, in such an early state of development, would be mildly unfair. That does not mean, though, that I think it's a good game. Its inspiration is appreciated and it has a defining concept that I’d love to see in more games (an excellent example includes Sword With Sauce: Alpha), but the delivery is poor and I hold limited hope for its future updates. Enemies are not rewarding to kill and objectives are as simple as kill an enemy or destroy a piece of equipment; for a game that prides itself in its freedom of choice, there are very few choices to be found here. Ultimately, your choices hold a very limited impact on your playthroughs as they all basically feel the same, no matter how many parameters are changed. I’ll stick around for Black Day’s next few updates, but its current state is most definitely not worth the hefty price tag, though I do hope that Helios is able to pull their ambitious project together over time.