Review by RCS0926
"Great looking shooter with excellent environments"
Now, before I start my review, I want to qualify my review title by saying that I am by no means a FPS junkie. I only own a PS2 (haven't gone next-gen yet), and the only non-PS2 FPS game I've played is Halo, which opened my eyes to playing FPS games after ignoring the genre during the 16 bit and 32 bit era. Admittedly, I haven't played some of the more critically acclaimed FPS games on the PS2 either such as the Timesplitters series, Medal of Honor: Frontline, Call of Duty, etc. The FPS games on the PS2 that I've completed so far are Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, Project Snowblind and King Kong. I tried playing 3 critically acclaimed FPS games in Deus Ex, Half Life and Red Faction, but I couldn't get into any of these games due to a combination of so-so gfx, choppy framerate and/or headache inducing play sessions (character moved too fast in Half-Life). With that being said, here's my review:
There really isn't much of a story to begin with, but that doesn't really detract from the game IMO. The story unfolds through cutscenes that involve your character being interrogated after the events of the game. The game itself is basically a flashback. Essentially, you're part of a black ops team that engages in covert missions. That's really all the background you need. The cutscenes are well down as they involve real actors who play their parts well. However, the story is a little choppy, and it doesn't really help that there's a cliffhanger at the end.
I'll admit that I like playing good-looking games. However, it isn't the end-all-be-all for me except in the case of FPS games. IMO, it makes a huge difference in gameplay when FPS games have detailed graphics and a smooth framerate. Fortunately, Black delivers on both counts. The game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, and as far as I can remember, there was only one instance of slowdown that really didn't affect gameplay at all. Criterion is known for their Burnout games, which have fantastic graphics, so it's no surprise that Black looks great as well. Everything from the guns to the characters to the environments looks fantastic. The guns are very detailed and have impressive reload animations. The characters, particularly the enemies, wear detailed clothing (body armor, fatigues) and move realistically. The environments themselves are very convincing looking from run-down city streets, to war-torn bridges to underground bunkers. The environments are also very destructible. Explosions look fantastic and dust often flies up when bullets impact the ground, destructible cover, etc. All in all, I can't imagine a PS2 FPS looking any better than Black.
With FPS games, the sound score normally boils down to whether the guns sound realistic and whether explosions rock your eardrums. Black succeeds on both counts. If you have a good speaker system, then playing Black will make it seem like you're in the middle of a real war zone. All the guns sound authentic and the environmental explosions are a treat for the ears. There are subtle things to take note of such as the sound of footsteps, the chatter of your squad mates as well as the enemies, and the music that kicks in during certain key areas.
When it comes to gameplay, there are normally several important areas to look at when it comes to first-person shooter:
Control I've never played an FPS on a PC, so I'm not going to judge the controls based on that standard. IMO, the controls are spot-on in Black. You're character doesn't move too fast or too slow, and the camera moves very smoothly when you're aiming. Most enemies wear body armor, so headshots are important. Fortunately, it won't take too long before you're picking off enemies with ease. There's no jump or sprint button, but I honestly never hit a point in the game where I felt like I needed either. Overall, the controls allow you to do what you need to do in the game.
Guns Black goes the Halo route by only allowing the player to carry 2 weapons. This adds an element of strategy as certain weapons are useful in certain situations. The guns in this game are realistic, so there aren't that many to choose from and most don't have quirky secondary fire option. What you'll find is an assortment of hand guns, SMGs, machine guns, shotguns, grenade launchers and a sniper rifle. All are useful depending on the situation, but you won't really find many weapons that will wow you.
Secondary Weapon Most FPS games give you the option of using multiple types of grenades and also give you more control over how you throw your grenade. Black only has one type of grenade and the only way to affect how far the grenade goes is to change the trajectory of your throw. That may be bad news to some, but I guess Criterion wanted to keep things simple. Fortunately, there are very few situations where you'll wish you could throw your grenade farther than you can.
Environments/Missions This is where Black really excels. I got a huge kick out of exploring war-torn streets, sprawling jungles, semi-destroyed bridges, etc. There's a lot of variety in the environments throughout the 8 levels. One level will have you combing through the city streets picking off terrorists. Another will have you exploring a forest that eventually leads to you holding off waves of enemies in a farmhouse. You'll find yourself crawling through a graveyard as you avoid sniper fire. One of my favorites involves you making your way delicately across a demolished bridge as enemies attack you from various levels. There's so much variety in the environments, and there's generally a lot of cover (which can be destroyed) for you to hide behind. This allows you to play more deliberately if you choose to, which is more my style. As far as the missions go, you won't find a lot of variety. You'll generally be killing every bad guy in the level. However, what's great is that each of the missions is pretty long (45 minutes to an hour each).
Enemies/AI You'll kill dozens and dozens of enemies in this game, but you won't fight any boss characters. Still, the game is enjoyable due to the mostly good enemy AI. Most enemies will run and seek cover when they are fired upon. You won't find too many enemies who will blindly charge at you unless they happen to be a shotgun wielding maniac (some of the most dangerous enemies in the game). There are a decent variety of enemies in this game and most of them have different behavioral patterns. You have standard, machine-gun toting grunts. You have the aforementioned shotgunners who are looking to rip you a new one. You have riot police-style enemies who wield shields (that can be destroyed with enough fire) and powerful handguns. You also have long distance enemies who use sniper rifles and RPGs. Enemies will normally recognize your movements even from far distances, but you can take advantage of the AI sometimes by picking enemies off at a distance with a machine gun. In some cases, the AI simply doesn't recognize where the shots are coming from. Overall, the AI in this game is enough to make you think about your gameplan. You can't just run-n-gun and expect to live through the missions.
NPC Several missions will give you one or two AI controlled partners. Fortunately, they are pretty useful. They won't do the work for you, but they will provide sufficient covering fire. They normally like to fire from long distances, so they aren't extremely accurate. However, any enemies dumb enough to get within killing range are toast. Interestingly enough, your allies can't be killed (by you or the enemy), and they never seem to run out of ammo.
There isn't much to do outside of the single player campaign (no multiplayer co-op or deathmatches), and the game only lasts about 6-8 hours. However, there are multiple difficulty weapons and the option of playing with silver weapons, which give you unlimited ammo and allow you to abuse RPGs and sniper rifles. However, the length of individual missions and the size of the environments that you explore give you sufficient reason to play through the game using different strategies.
As I prefaced earlier, I'm not an FPS junkie, but I have been getting into the genre lately. IMO, Black belongs right up there with the best the PS2 has to offer in terms of first-person shooters.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/02/08
Game Release: Black (Greatest Hits) (US, 12/31/07)
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