Review by agent_diner
Let's face it: the FPS genre is dying. It seems that every year, developers make a brand new FPS that just seems to be a remake of some other FPS game, or an FPS that doesn't add anything new into the genre, and oftentimes the whole genre feels stale and old. To make a truly excellent FPS game, you need to do one of two things: completely reinvent the genre, adding in a host of new and improved features to revamp the old gameplay, or improve on the old ways, creating a game that is familiar but better than any other FPS you've ever played. Black excels at the second option.
Black is a simple FPS and doesn't bring much new to the table in terms of gameplay. It's your simple run-n-gun affair, as you pick up a host of weapons and gun down your enemies (who happen to be terrorists, dontcherknow). While other recent FPS's have incorporated different things into their games like RPG elementes and character emotions etc. (think Half-Life 2), Black ignores every outside influence and does nothing but genuine FPS gameplay. While this may sound a bit disheartening, it definitely isn't. Criterion (the developers) have been able to really develop and improve the solidity of the traditional FPS gameplay simply by doing nothing else. We will see how shortly.
Black revolves around a covert secret military group whose sole job is to protect America from terrorist threats. These guys can do anything for national security, they can be as brutal as they like. However, your character is in quite a bit of trouble and can only save himself if he provides information about a terrorist cell named "7th Wave". The story is hard to follow (I'm still confused by it) and a little disjointed, but the plot is reasonably good and its never boring.
I have never been really impressed by graphics on the PS2 - being a PC gamer I consider the graphical ways of the big console a little outdated. I was soon eating my own words when Black loaded up. This is simply the best looking game I have ever seen on the PS2. It's simply incredible. The lighting effects are wonderful, dust and smoke appear each time you fire on something, bullet holes appear on walls, the wildlife sways beautifully in the outside environments, and the explosions.....well I could go on about them all day. Around each level are a host of explosive items, ranging from barrels to huge tanks and even trucks. Shoot at one and it will explode. But these explosions do more than just create fire - these things go BOOOOOOM and annihilate anything around it. Shoot a barrel sitting next to two tanks and watch the carnage unfold. Put simply, this is the best looking game on PS2 right now.
Sound is also very impressive. Guns sound authentic (of course, I wouldn't know what a REAL gun sounded like...) and deep, creating an atmosphere of total reality. Your enemies chatter and scream in some European language, explosions create a massive roar rather than a boom and each little thing you do has a beautiful sound effect to go with it, whether it be shooting at a wall to reloading your gun. Sound is great, but make sure you turn it up for full effect.
And now to the meat of the game: gameplay. For the first level, my jaw seemed to hang open in mid air. It was beautiful, that first moment when you pick up the shotgun and blast down that door, followed by a massive explosion because you just blew up that truck... Everything you could ever want ina traditional FPS is here, and boy does it rock. There is a host of guns to find, such as traditional pistols, automatic rifles, shotguns, snipers, RPG's etc, and you can also pick up your enemies gun, namely AK-47's. Each gun is very powerful (although the enemies often take a while to kill) and each is a joy to use, extra kudos goes to the massively powerful shotgun and the RPG. Black is a strange hybrid in terms of pacing - at first, the pace seems slow and tactical, like something you would see in a tactical shooter. But then you'll be ambushed by a group of terrorists and suddenly it's a fast paced firefight with bullets and commands flying everywhere. It gets VERY hectic up in there sometimes as you try to take out that guy with the RPG shooting rockets at you while two snipers are shooting at your buddy and a bunch of enemies have burst through a wall holding AK's and shotguns. The fighting is frantic, fast and fun and it beats the s**t out of the combat in any other FPS I've ever played (except F.E.A.R., which is probably the only FPS that I consider better than Black). Health is fairly routine, pick up healthpacks to regenerate your precious life force. However, when you get really low on health, the screen will go blurry and you'll hear a strong heartbeat. The world around you seems to slow to a crawl and the sound is dulled. It adds a real sense of desperation and panic to your situation and is a marvellous piece of work in Black. When you reload, your view goes blurry as you concentrate on your gun - another brilliant effect that improves the realism of the game.
And that's basically what this game is like: realistic. I have never been in a war zone or even held a weapon before, but playing Black seems so real and natural that it's hard to put down. It's simply superb. Criterion have concentrated their efforts entirely on the traditional aspects of FPS gaming, and because of this they have made an FPS that stands out above the rest. There are only a few minor problems with the game - it can get repetitive, enemies dont seem to vary, can get very difficult on higher difficulties, checkpoints often seem very far apart, you have to watch the intro movie every time you load it up - but overall, this is a solid game that improves on the fundamentals of FPS gaming.
So should you buy this game? It's difficult to say. Most people will enjoy this game simply because its so realistic, fast paced and fun and relies on nothing else but shooting things. However, the FPS purist will probably be turned off by this game, only because it doesn't add anything new to FPS gaming and can get repetitive after a while. But really, there is nothing like this game that I have played - it simply rocks.
Overall score: 9.5/10
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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