Review by xCaseyJonesx

"Black: For Adrenaline Junkies Only"

I had heard a lot from friends and coworkers concerning a new FPS that was supposedly going to rock the entire first-person world. I was skeptic, and admittedly didn't pick the title up until early this year. After the first ten minutes of gameplay, I instantly wished I had gotten my grubby mits on it earlier. Here's the low-down:

Sound: 10/10.
The sound quality for "Black" is, quite simply, incredible. The entire premise of "Black" is to throw you into a world whose elements will completely immerse you. From frantic European yelling from enemy terrorists, to the sound of rain and wind pelting your ears, "Black" does a stand-up job with sound quality. The explosion sound effects aren't awe-inspiring, but they have much more depth than the standard "bang! boom!" The ever-constant sound of gunfire will have you wetting your pants, due in part to the fact that every gun in the game has it's own unique sound. For the best effect, crank "Black" all the way up, with some surround sound speakers. If you're a night-gamer and are afraid of waking up family, purchase a set of high-quality headphones. And since "Black" doesn't come with them, you might want to go to a sporting-goods store and pick up a set of ear plugs.

Graphics: 9/10
It's easy to see that without a doubt, "Black" has some of the most impressive visuals to date. While the baddies and other NPC's may not be anything to write home about, try focusing on some of the smaller details. For instance, while reloading, anything in the background will blur greatly, putting emphasis on the details of the gun in question, and adding an element of concentration for your character.

The back of the case states the "rules of black." One such rule is that "the guns are the stars." Truer words were never spoken. The detail put into every square centimeter of every single gun is breath-taking, and can easily compare to the graphics of the nex-gen systems.

The environments in "Black" are also beautiful and have tons of variety; from war-torn city streets, to snowy forests, prisons, factories, and abandoned towns. The lighting is top notch and adds a greater sense of reality to the game.
Speaking of environments, nearly ever little thing can be blown to pieces in "Black." This adds more intensity to fire-fights, since the terrorists in the game can blow through most of your cover, and you to them. While the destructive engine in this title is fairly impressive, it doesn't quite match up to the engine in the Red Faction series.

The live-action cutscenes before each stage are also beautifully done, using a camera angle that focuses on only parts of each of the two main characters, never allowing a full-shot of either. The camera movement is fast paced, and is somewhat reminescent of a Sergio Leonne title (Focusing mainly on eyes and hands).

As stated previously, the detail put into the NPC's isn't anything special, and is the only real visual fault to the game. "Black" features very few character models and only a standard amount of character detail.

Story: 7/10
Many of the people who play "Black" often complain that the storyline is pretty lacking, if even existant. The story plays back in a 'flash-back' style, as Sergeant Keller (your character) recounts several Black-Operations missions to a mysterious interrogator. What exactly Keller has done to be threatened with a life in prison must be put together piece by piece as the story progresses. Keller sometimes provides hints for the level that is about to begin in the cutscene. He might make references to the prison he assaulted against orders, or hints as to what might lay ahead (IE in the second stage cut-scene, Keller states that "The only thing [intelligence] got right was the farm."). I have to admit that the story could have been better, but deserves more credit than most give it.

Gameplay: 9/10
Ah, finally, the gameplay. Many gamers complain that "Black" is far too repetitive, and loses it's appeal after an hour or so of game time. While it is true that you will be doing the same things for the majority of the game, this is often countered by the sheer intensity offered in "Black." A true FPS to the core, you will be doing little besides blasting through wave after wave of enemy troops. However, the sheer intensity of the gunfights will have you clenching your controller white-knuckle tight. Like "Halo" and "Killzone," Keller can only carry so many weapons at a time (2), which means you'll have to decide what weapons are best for the situation you're about to enter.

The AI presented in "Black" is not top-notch, but it isn't bad, either. Terrorists will use cover and the occasional grenade. In most firefights, it's the environment that brings forth the most challenge. For example, in the bridge level, you can climb OVER the structure on the support beams. This will pretty much nullify any cover the Seventh Wave terrorists are using, but it also makes you a very, very open target. In the Nazran Asylum level, Keller will be ambushed by a squad of heavily armed Seventh Wave troops in a holding-type area. You only have a few stone pillars to hide behind, and those don't last very long under the terrorist fire. To add to the chaos, the terrorists are armed with riot shields, so a random burst of machine gun fire isn't going to dispatch them. You'll have to focus past the death raining down on you and carefully land a head shot, or lob a grenade past the troops. As if that weren't enough, Seventh Wave infantry troops will almost literally be pouring in through side doors in the area, and will do their best to flank you. Have a towel ready to wipe up sweat.

Another very appealing aspect to "Black" is the non-linnear element present in several of the missions. Only one or two levels have preset paths Keller will be forced to take. The rest of the time, you're free to cut your own paths through forests, factories, and ruination.

"Black" also offers plenty of replayability, with 4 different difficulties. As the difficulty level rises, the number of available medkits decrease, the number of baddies increases, as do the number of bullets it takes to put down enemies. Also, as you increase your difficulty level, you'll be forced to complete more and more secondary missions to finish levels (each mission offers a plethora of secondary objectives, from finding intel and hidden weapons to destroying Seventh Wave buildings and computers.)

So, rent or buy? With an average price now down to about $20 dollars, I'd definetly say buy. However, if you're still skeptical, or just not a gigantic FPS fan, I'd say rent first and buy if you're satisfied.

OVERALL SCORE: 9/10 (Flawless)

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/06/06

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