Review by PyramidHead87

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another exciting edition of "Everything....Must...Die!" (Cue cheesy game show music)"

Well, what could the boys at Burnout Central be up to with THIS game, huh? Hm, it's not a Burnout game, this time…it's a first-person shooter simply entitled “Black.” The trailers and screenshots for the game show off its remarkable graphics, explosive firefights, and it's a sign that Criterion has decided to attempt something new in the wake of the highly-acclaimed “Burnout” series.

After wading through a review or two of the game, I finally got around to playing it to see what all the commotion was about, taking the liberty of renting it from my local Blockbuster just last Friday. Some liked it, others…not so much. Pretending not to have seen the reviews from those who thought the game was fairly competent in order to keep an open mind about the game, I finally got the game into my PS2.

Before I get to the breakdown of the game in and of itself, I want to issue my first complaint with the game's sequences shortly after booting it up. Yeah, you get the traditional logo fest to know who to blame for the game, but the opening credits themselves already detract points. I can wait through opening credits in a game with no problems, but not like this…you get the names of any of the major players involved in the game's development, but there are no pictures or images to accompany this sequence. It's just a black screen with names popping up at the bottom of the screen for about four or five minutes. And since you can't skip cut scenes if you're watching them for the first time, you'll be suffering through the credits once you realize there are no special effects to accompany this rather drab introduction.

After getting to the main menu and setting up the controls in my profile, I finally got around to the game itself.

For a PS2 game, I thought the graphics were pretty good. They serve the game well of their purpose, namely for the special effects and the weapons. These two elements seem to be the elements that gained the most attention, as mostly everything else looks just above average.

If you've looked at the news that went around about the game, you'd know that the greatest amount of attention went to the explosions that result from blowing up just about anything that can be blown up in the game. Exploding gas tanks, exploding boxes and barrels, and rocketed windows display a tremendous payoff when these objects are served with a grenade or RPG rockets. Objects can also be blown up, such as cars, forklifts (yeah, *forklifts*), etc. Most objects that can be exploded are oftentimes marked with a yellow triangle, mainly the red boxes.

Another center of attention here is the destructibility of the environments. Aside from blowing up explosive fuel tanks and such, the environment itself can be destroyed in a number of ways. Walls crumble from rocket and grenade blasts, windows shatter when the commotion becomes heavy, and massive amounts of bullet holes appear wherever the action is frantic. However, one gripe with this I have is that for some destructible objects, you can already see little seams running through it to show you just where the object can be broken. At first, I played it off thinking that maybe those objects were made to already have cracks in them, say, from a previous terrorist battle or something. Then, I realized that this is one of many action games where destructible environments will already exploit their weak points before you even attack them.

And, here's the OTHER thing where Criterion put (somewhat) high focus…the weaponry. Though there are only a handful of weapons in the entire game, the ones that are here are shown off frequently throughout the game. Each weapon looks well-polished and detailed, from the handguns to the rocket launcher. I'll talk about their weapon classes later, but for now, I will say that the well-detailed weapons are nice to look at, even if the game tries to show them off at every chance it gets. When you reload, the gun practically covers the entire screen just so you can see it, and when you're not getting shot at, the character will sometimes take his time examining the ammo clips before loading the gun (just wait till you see what he does with the Magnum rounds).

The sound design certainly doesn't disappoint. It's rather exciting getting into a firefight and listening to bass-filled explosions going off all around you and hearing bullets sharply sailing past you. This game CERTAINLY won't feel right if you're not playing with a sound system, as the sound is almost half the appeal.

I can't really get a feel for the music, though. Most of the time, you're playing the game to silent background music, but when the music does kick in, it's dramatic and more fanfare-ish than anything. I was really expecting to play this game to crazy death-metal or punk rock, but I basically remedied that by shutting off the music volume and playing my own music in the background. It's just me, but I normally play my wacky action games to frantic music, not this dramatic stuff. You might think differently, but again, that's just me.

I REALLY hoped there was an option to turn off the voices, though. Not only do the characters enjoy feeding you information you already know. It sometimes helps when they tell you the position of an enemy you don't catch at first, but to tell me to go into a building when I'm on my way in it regardless of whether or not they tell me, then the information feeding becomes pointless. There's also waaay too much swearing in this game for my tastes. I get the game is M-rated, but seriously, there's f-bomb this and B.S. that… it's like the game is trying too hard to be “edgy.” By about the 20th f-bomb, I just wanted the characters to shut up altogether, because all it was doing was making my eardrums bleed. They even swear when it's highly unnecessary. Add that to the fact that the characters are just cut-outs of other action heroes, and you've got a lame f-bomb line about every third or fourth remark.

This is where the game sharply goes from extremely interesting to fairly competent. The gameplay presents nothing new to the FPS formula. Yeah, you can blow up nearly everything in sight with disastrous (the good kind, of course) results, but what is there to do in this game besides running from room to room killing everyone? Little, that's the answer. Since the game focuses highly on the gunfights, explosions, and environmental destruction, there was little attention to the overall gameplay itself. Though each level has a certain theme going for it, the theme quickly becomes overshadowed by their most common element…shoot and kill anything that moves. The action is enjoyable, of course…but repetition kind of comes in when all you're doing is getting into gunfights. After the first hour or so of the game, you pretty much expect the rest of the game to be the same.

There are times when you can equip your weapon with a silencer to silently take out enemies, but this element is almost useless since you're expected to get into a drag-out with multiple enemies anyway. Even when you start the level already equipping your silencer, I wouldn't even bother relying on it since you'll just get into a gunfight with a group of enemies within the next three minutes anyway. It's like enemies pretty much know where you are no matter what you do to maintain your stealth.

The game also contains some rather questionable enemy A.I. At times, enemies respond to you, of course, making your presence known to them. Other times, enemies don't react properly at all to any situation. Sometimes, if you kill an enemy right in front of another one, he'll just stand there neglecting to question what he just saw. Other times, if something explodes from somewhere behind the enemy, no matter how big or loud, he'll just continue to stand there like nothing happened. But on most occasions, if one enemy starts shooting at you, all of the enemies within the vicinity will start attacking at the same time. This sometimes makes gunfights rather frustrating, as enemies will seem to have their beads concentrated on you the entire time, and many of them seem to spawn from nowhere. For example, if you're clearing out a passageway of enemies on your way through, others will seem to appear behind you even if they weren't just there before. And since there's no map or radar in the game (elements it NEEDS), you'll have to guess where enemies are stationed before you can actually find some to shoot at, unless they start shooting at you first. Expect to deplete your supply of health kits rather quickly.

There's also a shortage of enemy types, as there seem to only be a few of them the whole game through. You have the traditional shooting dummy bunch, ranging from standard attack soldiers to shielded soldier units that can really only be taken out effectively with any weapons that have explosive power, such as grenades.

Speaking of weapons, despite the many weapons in the game, it all comes down to their weapon classes…handguns, machine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and rocket launchers. You can have an AK-47 and an M-16, but they're still just assault rifles with identical functions. I sometimes had trouble telling the differences between some of these weapons, they're so identical.

One thing I found funny, however, is that when characters are yelling at each other during a battle about tactics, the weak enemy A.I. makes the obsessive radio chatter rather ridiculous.

Here's something else I wasn't very grateful for…the storyline. All I remembered about the story was this…you play the role of a member of a military Black Ops unit. Apparently, he is arrested and sent into an interrogation room to talk to some old guy. Once the prisoner sits down, the boredom sets in. Again, since cut scenes can't be skipped on the first play through, you'll be forced to sit through this, wondering when these two will shut up so you can start playing already. They're just talking back and forth about nothing interesting until the prisoner says something that triggers a flashback to a mission that you have to complete. Once you complete the mission, of course, it's off to the next mission, once again starting with a live-action cut scene between these two dudes who aren't talking about anything to make anything about this game more exciting.

I don't entirely agree with the writing, especially. I get that they're trying to tell a story, but once I already beat the game, I couldn't wait to start skipping them on the next play through. Of course, something's going on here, but I stopped caring once the dialogue became convoluted to the point where all logic behind the story became lost. I barely knew any of the characters…who the bad guys were, who the good guys were…all I knew about the story was that you play some guy who's being interrogated by some old dude. They also attempted to make the cut scenes rather shady by giving these two characters stiff, overly-serious personalities with no dimension to them. The main character you play is a generic action hero obsessed with duty, and the old man is a smarmy investigator with a deep voice and a seemingly “generous” attitude. There are supporting characters in the game that sometimes fight alongside your character, but they're about what you'd expect from supporting characters: one is a smart-a** with even a lick of a humorous personality and hardcore potty-mouth, and the other is more obsessed with duty than you are.

Again, even after all that, all I really learned about the story is that there's a guy in a room talking with another guy about a mission he did a few days earlier.

Whew, THAT was a lot to cover, as there was much to say about the game for what it was. As a rental or a buy, it's certainly a weekend rental. The game can practically be beaten within an afternoon, longer than that if the game puts you to sleep after a while. You can go back and play the game again on the higher difficulties, but the only thing that really changes are the enemies' behaviors and how much your chances are that you'll stay alive. The objectives (primary and secondary) stay the same, except in the later difficulties, you have to collect more secondary objectives. But still, nothing really changes between difficulties. You unlock some things, but they aren't all that rewarding.

This isn't a bad try from Criterion to do something new aside from a racing game. It's not a terribly compelling one, but it isn't a bad try. The game could have definitely been better than it turned out. Criterion was able to take the Burnout games and attempt a truly compelling experience from the racing game genre. However, if they want to take an FPS and stir up some Halo Soup or some Goldeneye Gumbo, they'd better start writing down some recipes, because the “Black” sequel is definitely going to need better ingredients. Oh well, at least it was quite a few steps ahead of that “Goldeneye Rogue Agent” crap I played a couple years ago. A competent 7/10.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/31/07

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