Review by c_rake

"Black has an impressive audiovisual presentation, but the gameplay suffers from a few issues."

Black is an explosive shooter that comes from developer, Criterion Games, who is known for their work on the highly successful Burnout series. Black aims to take the type of action seen in movies and put it into a videogame. And for the most part Black does good job of doing this, by including some really good action sequences. But sadly, Black is plagued by many problems that prevent it from reaching its full potential.

Black's story places you in the role of Jack Keller. A soldier who is a part of a black ops team assigned to take out a group of weapons dealers called, Seventh Wave. However, he is currently being held in captivity due to something that went wrong during a mission. Now being interrogated, he recaps what happened during the missions he was on a few days prior to the interrogation; which make each of the missions act as flashbacks. But there isn't any connection between missions. And that only makes the story that much harder to follow. And it doesn't help that the live-action cut scenes aren't much better, often you'll be trying to figure out what their talking about because the story is really confusing.

But Black isn't about the story, it's about the gameplay. And the action in Black is intense. There always seems to be something blowing up, and the sound of gunfire is almost always heard. And there are some moments which pit you against huge number of foes, in a small room. These moments are really intense, there's enemies shooting at you from all sides, and there aren't many places to hide from all the gunfire either. This makes for some really good actions sequences. Black also has the option to be stealthily, but this basically consists of using a suppressor to get headshots. But it's often easier to avoid trying to be stealthily, because any encounters with an enemy always seem to end with a huge firefight. This makes the stealth portion feel a little pointless.

Like most shooters these days, Black uses an objective based mission structure. You start off in each mission with a list of primary and secondary objectives that you have to complete. The primary objectives are completed by simply getting through the mission, the secondary objectives, however, aren't as simple. Secondary objectives are scattered around the level, some of them are easy to find, while others aren't. The number of secondary objectives you have to complete depends on what difficulty you choose. Most of the secondary objectives consist of simply finding documents, and there are also some objectives that consist of destroying, a safe or laptop. Upon completing a secondary objective, you get a message that pops up on screen that tells you what you got, or destroyed. So you never get to actually see what they are.

If there's one thing Black does well, its destruction. Each mission has a huge amount of objects that can be destroyed. Almost everything in the environment is able to be destroyed. These objects range from the non-explosive objects, like enemy cover, and the occasional door, to the explosive ones like vehicles, barrels, boxes, etc. And one of coolest parts of Black is being able to shoot down doors. Anytime you come across a door, all you have to do to get by it is shoot it. This is a cool feature, mostly because there aren't many games that have done this. And while destroying stuff is fun, at times it feels like the developers are trying to force you to use explosive objects against enemies. Whenever you see an explosive object, there's almost always an enemy right next to it. And that gets old after a while. Its pretty fun at first, but it doesn't take long to get bored of doing that.

While the explosions may seem like to be the focus of Black, the real stars of the show--as the game claims--are the guns. Black has a nice verity of weapons to choose from, all of which look and behave like they're real life counterparts. This is a cool addition, and it adds some realism to how the guns work. So for example, a weapon like the Uzi or Mac-10 wouldn't be very accurate at long range, whereas a M16 or AK-47 would be more accurate at long range. This is a nice touch, and adds some small differences between weapons. But all you really need is a rifle, and a shotgun. While it is nice to have a lot of weapons to choose from, most of the weapons aren't very helpful. The pistols aren't very powerful nor are they very good at long range, and RPGs don't have much ammo so you can't use it for very long. And it's a shame that some of the weapons aren't very useful, especially in a game that claims to focus on the guns.

The artificial intelligence has its fair share of problems as well. The most noticeable problem is how the AI doesn't use cover very often. Instead, they often stand in the open which makes them much easier to defeat. Though, the enemies aren't much of threat anyway, so it doesn't really matter if behind cover or not. It also helps that AI itself isn't very smart. A good example is if there's a little distance between you and the enemy, you can just zoom in and shoot them from a distance, and they won't react. They'll just keep taking bullets until they die. And your allies aren't much better. Instead of helping you, they lag behind you and let you do most of the work. They do kill an enemy occasionally, but it doesn't happen very often.

Each of the games missions are pretty easy to finish. Each one will probably take around a half an hour to finish. They become slightly longer and difficult on higher difficulty settings, but what makes it harder is the fact that you can't carry health packs around, and what makes the missions longer is increased number of secondary objectives you have complete. There are some extras you can unlock such as Silver weapons-which gives you unlimited ammo-and the Black Ops difficulty, but even with these extras there isn't a whole lot of replay value.

Black, like previous games from Criterion, pushes the PlayStation 2 hardware to its limits, the result being one of the best looking shooters available. The lighting is very well done, and of course, the explosions look great as well. And while most of the missions take place in building full of catwalks, or trench filled environments, the game still looks really good when coupled with all the other great graphical effects. Also the guns look amazing as well; everything right down to the reload animations has a very realistic look and feel to it. Though there are a couple of issues with the graphics. The first being the outlines of what various objects will look like once they've been destroyed. This gives an idea of what can, and can't be destroyed in the environment, and it just looks pretty ugly. Now this doesn't happen for everything, but it happens enough for it to become apparent. But despite these issues, Black is still one of the best looking shooters available for the PS2.

The audio in Black is impressive as well. Black features fully orchestrated music, the music sounds similar to what you'd hear in a movie, which fits the action movie style very nicely. Though, you won't be hearing the music very often. Often when you do, it's a short bit of music that plays for a few seconds. However, there is at least one moment in each mission in which the music plays for a little while, this happens when a huge firefight starts. And once it's over the music stops. The music that plays during those parts suits the action very well, but it would have been nice to have heard more music. One thing you will be hearing lot of, however, is gunfire. The guns all sound like they're real-life counterparts, which can sometimes make it easy to tell what weapon an enemy is using. This can be useful sometimes, but seeing as most of the enemies use the same weapon as you, you probably won't be doing this very often. Another thing you'll be hearing throughout Black is the radio chatter between characters. A lot of the chatter that goes on during missions relates to what's going on in the missions, such as pointing out enemy locations. But the radio chatter doesn't help advance the story at all. Other than that they don't say much during missions.

Overall, Black starts off well, but the game is plagued by many problems such as bad AI, a horrible story, and short length. There are a lot of cool ideas, and game looks and sounds great, but it's a shame that game has so much untapped potential.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/15/08, Updated 10/21/08

Game Release: Black (Greatest Hits) (US, 12/31/07)


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