Score: 7.8 / 10
For those who haven't been keeping an eye on this one, Black is supposed to be a high-octane shooter that boasts highly destructible environments, a fast pace and slick graphics. Needless to say I was eager to pop the disc in my PS2 and take it for a test drive when it showed up at my door. After some lengthy play time I can say there are a lot of area's that Black excels in, and it doesn't seem to keep any pretenses about the ones it leaves behind. At the end of the day there aren't too many areas to fault this kind of game on.
part of Black that I can truly complain about and one I want to get out
of the way early as well, is the story. The game is peppered with
well-directed videos that actually feature some good acting in them. The
problem is that they are pretty vague and the story throughout the game
flunders, and doesn't seem that it had much attention spent on it.
Normally a well told story is my reason for playing a game and shooters
generally have a lower bar for this to begin with. All I really need for
a shooter is a pretense as to who I'm shooting and why. You do get this
in Black, though it doesn't come in the first few levels, really. The
fact of the matter is that story is one of those things that Criterion
didn't seem to feel the need to focus on, and that's okay because they
made an enjoyable game without it.
graphics in Black however are great for a PS2 game. The game makes use
of all the shiniest effects available to it which results in some
stunning gun fights, explosions, and muzzle flashes. Every missed shot
that hits the ground sends up a puff of dust and every bullet leaves a
lasting effect in the beautiful environments. The missions themselves
will send you from urban sprawls to forests, and rocky outcroppings.
Each of these is heavily detailed and I have no trouble believing that
altogether, having seen all of the heavy-hitters for the PS2, this game
pushes the graphical limits of the system and delivers in spades.
All of this of course would be secondary if Criterion couldn't deliver on their intense gameplay promises. This is the area however where Black shows its best colors. The run and gun, bullet spraying, explosion-littered gameplay makes you feel like you've been dropped into the middle of the most intense action film you've ever seen, and beyond that you're the guy with the over-sized muscles and the biggest guns. Black isn't one of those shooters about conserving ammunition, careful planning, or even really picking your time to attack. Each enemy you mow down in a hail of gunfire provides enough ammo to keep you going, and the best strategy overall is to take cover behind something solid and spray bullets in the general direction of your opponents. If you don't actually manage the coveted head shot then you'll either be taking chunks out of whatever your enemies are taking cover behind, or you'll hit something that will blow up and take them out for you (taking advantage of the nicely integrated ragdoll physics in the process). The arsenal of weapons is varied, giving you a wide variety of implements of destruction with which to bring death to those that oppose you.
Of course, after a few moments of furious action your own cover will have been taken to pieces and you'll have to find more. At times this actually seems to be the basic combat mechanic of the game, but it works well and is fun, so that's no problem. The difficulty of the combat situations is never too high once you get the hang of finding cover and what game objects explode. On the lower difficulty levels the enemy AI gets a bit basic though, which makes them somewhat bland. This is somewhat to be expected of course
on the lower difficulty levels, but if your opponents did a little something besides just stand and shoot it would be much appreciated. Even the times they were behind cover it seemed more like they just happened to be standing there rather than that they actively sought it. This could just be Criterions way of weaning you onto the harder difficulties, but it's a bit senseless since the game really doesn't have much replay value.
each level you'll also have a variety of secondary objectives to
complete. These are simple 'find the vault' type objectives that don't
really add anything to the title gameplay wise. Most of these secondary
objectives you won't have to seek out, you'll probably just stumble upon
them in the course of your missions. The biggest downfall with Black is
that a gamer who is proficient with PS2 shooters can pull the entire
game down in a matter of a single night. My first run through the title
on the middling difficulty cost me six hours and change, and my run
through on the higher difficulty was similar. The entire time was action
packed, and very fun, but for the gamers out there who have a limited
budget and need to stretch a single game into a few weeks or a few
months playing time this might not be the title for you until it drops
in price. The short playing time was actually very disappointing since
the game was very fun to play, but it ends way before you're ready for
the lack of multiplayer and the linear gameplay means you'll only really
be interested in playing this through once or twice.
sounds that accompany this all out carnage are visceral and biting, and
help to pull you into the experience. Gun shots all sound realistic, and
the explosions follow suit. The calls of your enemies and the din of
gunfire, explosions, and glass shattering, and walls crumbling under the
hail of bullets are all equally realistic. The music is sparing when
it's there but it fits the game and constant music would just detract
from the experience.
is a strong game as long as you go into it without any illusions about
playing a deep shooter. Black is joyfully simple in its gameplay and
takes pride in its lack of simulation. Playing is enjoyable and I
wouldn't recommend missing this title. At the same time though I can
easily see it being beaten on every difficulty setting with just a
rental, and with not even the vaguest attempt at multiplayer the replay
value on this title plummets fast. When you're playing Black you won't
be thinking about anything but the incredible gameplay, unfortunately it
will also be over before you know it.
- D.T. Mathers
(April 7, 2006)
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