Review by BloodGod65

"... And Blue"

The name Criterion is most often associated with the crash happy Burnout franchise. Towards the end of the last generation the developer decided to take a break from the racing genre and branch out into first person shooter territory. From the get-go Black was an ambitious project with a clear goal in mind – Deliver an action packed shooter that featured the guns as the stars.

With the overarching design philosophy of “making the guns the stars” it should come as no surprise that Black is a bit light on story. The narrative takes place exclusively in pre-mission live-action cutscenes which are badly directed. As far as I can decipher, the story revolves around some soldier in his attempt to track down an American special-ops soldier turned rogue terrorist. The missions themselves are his recollections of his attempts to find the terrorist in question. Overall, it's presented a little too vaguely and what little of it is clear is painfully cliched (I'm so sick of hearing the word “terrorist”).

Actually playing the game is barely more fun than listening to the esoteric mumblings of the plot. While the missions typically take place in large environments that leave players open to explore, the game rarely gives any other option to tackling a situation other than just charging in, guns blazing. That really wouldn't pose much of a problem in any other FPS, but here the narrative seems to indicate that the character is some sort of black-ops soldier, so it's a bit of shame that the game rarely gives any opportunity to go about things in a stealthier manner. Still, on the few occasions when that option is offered, it rarely works well because the game is built on the principle of mindless, wholesale destruction.

Unfortunately, when players finally realize there's really only one way to progress in the game, it's just a matter of time until a whole new set of problems reveal themselves. Not least of these is the overbearingly archaic nature of the game itself. In the era of regenerating health Criterion has instead opted to use the old school health bar and health packs. In many a firefight, I had to risk death trying to kill more enemies in the hope that one would drop a health pack. There's a reason regenerating health has become so popular – It does away with PSOne generation frustrations such as these. And, try as I might, I can't see a single reason Criterion would have chosen to do this.

The problems go on: checkpoints are frustratingly sparse, enemies soak up bullets like they are living sponges and targeting seems a bit off (or at the very least, inconsistent). I can't count the times I shot at an enemy at point blank range and somehow missed. In addition to that, enemy types are dismally few and many may find the games length is a bit too short (although I think that is actually a blessing in this case).

There are a few highpoints to be found. Guns are varied and the amount of havoc a player can cause is quite impressive. Most levels are littered with explosives and getting them to go off typically has wondrous results (Explosive barrels next to buildings produce room clearing results). Sound effects for these guns is top-notch, as almost all weapons sound as if they're packing real force behind them.

One thing there is no denying is that Black is no slouch in the graphics department. This is possibly the best looking PS2 FPS I've ever seen. Environments have lots of detail, and there are surprising amounts of foliage and other objects within them. The aforementioned destruction of the game also looks good, with cool explosions and downright beautiful rocket contrails. Character models are also above average, and most of the lighting effects are very nice. When it comes to the guns, Criterions infatuation shows – I would say these look better than those from a few next-gen FPS games. There is one issue; when reloading the screen fuzzes out in some odd depth of field effect, leaving only the gun visible. Obviously, it's an attempt to draw the eyes of players to the guns, but it's a distracting tactic that often gets in the way.

THE VERDICT
Criterion's main goal was to make guns the centerpiece of the game. Despite the fact that the developer had ambitious plans and high hopes for the game, it doesn't change the fact that the whole idea is a bit basic and, well… not really ambitious at all. Saying you're going to revolutionize the first person shooter genre by focusing on gunplay is like wanting to revolutionize a baseball game by letting players hit the ball. It's already the most basic building block of the genre. With that inherent flaw, along with a good helping of archaic design, Black ends up not being a revolution but a step back.

HIGHS
- Guns are gorgeous
- Tons of destruction

LOWS
- Archaic design
- Brain-dead story


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 01/26/09, Updated 02/25/13

Game Release: Black (US, 02/28/06)


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