Trapped inside a powerful Battle Frame prototype, teenage James Hawkins embarks on a dangerous quest to find his father while learning the capabilities of the mech he now controls and utilising them effectively to overcome the alien forces that stand in his way. Combining elements of hack and slash and platforming, Blackwind’s campaign takes players through several interior and exterior locations teeming with the dangerous Rakno’s forces, new suit powers and new suit skins to discover and equip.
Assisted by a drone that can be detached from the suit to further open up the exploration and puzzle solving, Blackwind offers a surprisingly layered gameplay experience that opens up with progression throughout the near six-hour campaign and supports local co-op which puts a second player in control of the drone.
The Battle Frame that the player operates for the entirety of the campaign blends melee and ranged attacks that can be discovered and upgraded along the way. Light and heavy melee attacks offer a satisfying hack and slash experience that needs to be adapted to the various enemy types that are introduced. A jumping melee, ground pound type attack is necessary to disrupt protective shields of some enemies, while alternate special attacks can stun and knockback nearby enemies when surrounded. Shooting works just as well up close as it does at a distance and blending both melee and ranged attacks effectively makes for an enjoyable combat affair against the hordes of alien and enemy militia.
Four special abilities can be unlocked that offer benefits such as missiles, regeneration, a protective shield and a devastating shockwave. These abilities are hidden throughout the campaign and each require a brief cooldown before they can be used again. They can be easily toggled between in the heat of battle to equip the player with the most appropriate battle for the conditions they find themselves in.
Aside from combat the gameplay leans into the platforming genre regularly, tasking players with jumping, climbing and travelling across lengthy gaps by combining their mobility with the dash ability to gain additional jumping distance. Light puzzle solving elements are also present that require the player to shoot buttons, activate pressure pads and utilise the companion drone.
The drone can be fully controlled by the player to access vents, engage enemies in ranged combat and navigate force fields while switching to control the Battle Frame to activate deactivate fields in their way. Playing as the drone keeps the experience varied and interesting though it is worth noting that while the drone is deployed, the Battle Frame is unable to shoot or use the jetpack ability until the drone is reattached via a simple button. While controlling the drone the Battle Frame will actively engage in melee combat with nearby enemies with a satisfying level of competence.
Scattered throughout every area are stations that allow the player to upgrade their Battle Frame to enhance the amount of shots fired, the damage output of both melee and ranged attacks as well as the effectiveness of the special abilities for example across three defined categories. These upgrades are obtained by collecting experience via combat. These stations also allow the player to switch between suit skins they have discovered that offer a purely cosmetic alternate appearance, some of which are camouflage inspired or reminiscent of Bumblebee for instance from the Transformers franchise. Aside from upgrading abilities or switching skins the player can also access a fast travel menu to revisit previously explored locations which is only necessary to track down missing skins or abilities as there are no other forms of collectibles to seek out.
Within each explorable area is a map that reveals the layout and items of interest such as puzzle elements to interact with and the upgrade stations for instance. These are well worth finding as the frequent backtracking that is tied to the puzzle solving and unlocking of doors frequently sends players across the map in order to progress the campaign. While operating as the drone the Battle Frame location is also indicated on the map to make it easy to return and dock.
Visually competent, Blackwind presents a variety of interior and exterior locations that bring forests, rocky mountains and colonial facilities for example. The outside locations feel more varied and fleshed out with the interior facilities all feel very familiar. The infusion of alien structures and enemy types freshen up the otherwise stale exterior terrains. The enemy types are all pretty basic in design and fail to feel particularly exciting or threatening but the Battle Frame itself looks great. The score plays it safe and familiar in terms of presenting a standard action audio experience that doesn’t manage to set itself apart from other titles.