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Black review

Expectations, eh? While Black is technically flawless, painstakingly designed and probably the best single-player shooter on PS2, we can't help but feel a little disappointed. Why? Because it doesn't keep its promise to "do for first-person shooters what Burnout did for cars".

Burnout changed the way we looked at racing games, with its speed, hypnotic structure (one nudge meant an instant crash) and benchmark graphics. Black's victory isn't innovation, but execution.

Forget the plot - its some nonsense about a rogue arms dealer in Eastern Europe. Black is about guns. A near-pornographic, Hollywood-amplified celebration of big guns. From the Pistol to the AK47 to the Magnum, every weapon glints with steely menace - feeling sufficiently weighty due to a sublime combination of sound effects, pad rumbling and 'heavy' reload animations.

 



Fire an Uzi at a hotel sign, and it splits letter-by-letter down the middle, Fire a shotgun at a steel door, and it clangs off its hinges - there are no 'interact' buttons in Black.

The damage can be misleading, though. Early tech demos of Black suggested you'd be able to destroy everything, with 3D debris and real-time deformation, but when you start blasting at the walls in the opening room, they merely scar with a flat 'generic damage texture'.

While most scenery is destructible, its effect is often cosmetic. Most times, you just need to find the gas boiler/petrol can/explosives 'conveniently' left by suspiciously large groups of enemies and fire away - like most 'normal' shooters.

There are killer moments, like firing an RPG rocket into a skyscraper in the opening level and watching six floors detonate in a shower of bodies and glass; or sniping in the graveyard, and blowing up headstones to reveal your enemies' position.

The opening level is mildly disappointing. For all the feeling of menace (bullets whizz from all directions) and almost farcical levels of destruction, there's no real feeling of danger, since health packs are plentiful - it's typical EA.

However, the game soon gets tough. You need to conserve ammo, use cover and juggle weapons tactically (you can only carry two) - run in gung-ho and you'll get decimated. The Asylum level (the game's best) is so intense, it almost resembles Pac-Man. There are so many foes, you have to charge in and pray they'll drop health packs to keep you going to the next man, since its too dangerous to sit back and play the percentages.

 

Frustrations? While headshots are more effective, you can shoot certain enemies 700 times with an AK47 and nothing happens. The levels are maybe too long (over an hour each), and you can't save between the distant checkpoints.

More? It's all about blowing things up - some guns have silencers - but more as a running joke since stealth is virtually non-existent. The cutscenes/plot seems to bear no relation to the actual levels, every bad guy looks generic, and there's no feeling of progress or character development.

While most scenery is destructible, its effect is often cosmetic. Most times, you just need to find the gas boiler/petrol can/explosives 'conveniently' left by suspiciously large groups of enemies and fire away - like most 'normal' shooters.

There are killer moments, like firing an RPG rocket into a skyscraper in the opening level and watching six floors detonate in a shower of bodies and glass; or sniping in the graveyard, and blowing up headstones to reveal your enemies' position.

The opening level is mildly disappointing. For all the feeling of menace (bullets whizz from all directions) and almost farcical levels of destruction, there's no real feeling of danger, since health packs are plentiful - it's typical EA.

However, the game soon gets tough. You need to conserve ammo, use cover and juggle weapons tactically (you can only carry two) - run in gung-ho and you'll get decimated. The Asylum level (the game's best) is so intense, it almost resembles Pac-Man. There are so many foes, you have to charge in and pray they'll drop health packs to keep you going to the next man, since its too dangerous to sit back and play the percentages.

Frustrations? While headshots are more effective, you can shoot certain enemies 700 times with an AK47 and nothing happens. The levels are maybe too long (over an hour each), and you can't save between the distant checkpoints.

More? It's all about blowing things up - some guns have silencers - but more as a running joke since stealth is virtually non-existent. The cutscenes/plot seems to bear no relation to the actual levels, every bad guy looks generic, and there's no feeling of progress or character development.

In one respect, Criterion has exceeded its promises - it's created 'gun porn'. Black feels intensely, guiltily, viscerally right during the white-hot fever of play, but when you put down the pad, it leaves you empty.

There's no overriding compulsion to continue, or sense of who you're trying to protect. You can't hate the main villain, since you never see him, and the only thing he does to upset you is kill people you never knew, or can't recognise, in the only in-game cutscene throughout the whole of the action.

Don't be fooled. We really, really like, Black, but can't love it. It's not that destroying a 40 foot overhanging bunker in a shower of shards, screams and bullets isn't exciting, but that deep down, it doesn't mean anything. It'd be missing the point to complain about the lack of online or multiplayer features, but it does prevent Black from being the most complete FPS on PS2.

As it stands, it's an exemplary tech demo, with moments of blinding exhilaration. More tactile, if less atmospheric, than Killzone, more exciting, if less precise, than TimeSplitters 2, but less well rounded than a truly great FPS like Halo, or Half Life 2. You'd swear EA were holding back for a sequel...

 

More Info

Release date: Feb 28 2006 - Xbox, PS2 (US)
Feb 24 2006 - Xbox, PS2 (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox, PS2
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Criterion Games
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Strong Language, Violence

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