Review by ghallo13
"Fitting for a Grunt, not a Black Ops Agent"
Get ready for some grunt work, because there is lots of it in Black.
Black centers itself around your character, Kellar, a member of a US Black Ops squad based in Eastern Europe whose prime objective is to combat terrorism. The storyline of the game progresses in between levels by viewing FMV sequences of a US government agent interrogating Kellar about his squad's operations in the area. The acting is pretty good although the characters are a bit cliché. Your squad was assigned the task of investigating Seventh Wave, a terrorist organization operating in the area. This plot is pretty interesting but doesn't keep you fully engaged while progressing through the game. I think this comes from the unusual setting for the scenes. They involve sharp camera angles, unique lighting techniques and are a bit difficult to follow.
I'm neither fully impressed nor disappointed by Black in this area. It wouldn't be fair to say that the sound is simply mediocre, because it has its moments where it really does shine. The sounds made by the weapons, explosions, and ricochets are realistic and believable. It appears that effort was made by Criterion while making each weapon sound unique to its real-life counterpart. The music is parallel with game play. During firefights and tense moments, music is energetic and during stealth moments, the music turns calm. It fits with the game. This isn't uncommon and difficult to do, but Black pulls it off with decent and well-composed music. My main concern with sound is the voice acting during game play. The enemies' responses get repetitive fairly quickly going across the eight levels of the game. The biggest quip I have regarding sound is when Kellar is speaking into his radio during the game. It sounds unnaturally loud and sounds as if it's echoing throughout the environment of the game. During parts of the game where stealth is key, the music quiets down, you equip your silencer, and you must sneak by the enemy. Yet Kellar still blasts away on his radio but is undetected by enemy guards 10 feet away. Just like other aspects of Black, the sound simply lacks a bit of refinement.
The effects in this game are impressive. Whether it's the explosions, muzzle flash, dust or debris; these esthetics are captivating in a way that makes you want to make as many explosions as you possibly can. The detail level of the weapons is also very high. Each weapon you hold looks very realistic based off the real-life counterpart. It even goes to the degree where you can see small nicks and scratches on weapons. An interesting aspect of the game comes while reloading your weapons. Your vision becomes focused on the weapon and your peripheral vision of your surroundings becomes a bit blurry. This adds more of a realistic feel to the game by creating the illusion of peripheral vision, something other FPS games lack. The frame rate even during large firefights with multiple enemies is consistent and fairly smooth throughout the game. However, despite all these praises, Black falls short on some other graphical aspects. One of these is the destructible environment. Although Black features this type of environment, it is easy to identity what can or cannot be destroyed. You can see cracks and lines from where something will break apart if you blow it up. Other small glitches like weapons and boxes sticking out of walls hinder your appreciation of some of the other great graphics in the game. The reactions from enemies when being shot are somewhat unnatural and unrealistic. As I said about game play, it takes a lot of shots to down a soldier and while they are getting shot, a whole lot of flailing of the limbs seems to occur. Some other small quirky drawbacks are how slow the bullets seem to travel. It just seems very unrealistic. As with other aspects, the lack of refinement seems to be a battle between the extremely detailed and the blatant lack of detail.
Game Play 6/10
There are a total of eight levels in Black. Don't let that fool you because each level is considerably long. Game play consists of watching a short movie of the interrogation of Kellar followed by the mission. These FMVs give the impression that your character will participate in covert operations involving skills fitting for a Black Ops agent. The skills and talents that a Black Ops agent like Kellar would possess never come into play during the game. You pretty much feel like a Marine grunt just plowing through enemies. It's still fun, but it clashes with the whole concept of the game. Therefore, it's best to just have at it during missions since ammo is abundant and mostly everything can be destroyed.
As far as each level goes, it would be fair to say that your objective is to get from point A to point B. This is generic for most FPS games but Black stands out because you're pretty much free to wreck as much havoc as you please along the way. This is where the game's destructible environment comes into play. Mostly everything can be damaged or blown up by your weapons. This is a pretty entertaining part of the game since the shear destruction is delightful but some of the graphical glitches hinder its full potential. Keep in mind that not everything can be destroyed. There are lots of walls and structures that are completely immune to destruction simply because there is a door in it that you must go through. It's a little too planned out to be a fully destructible environment.
There are times when checkpoints to save mission progress are miles apart and this can lead to frustration during difficult parts of the mission where dying means you must re-hash terrain all over again.
Controls are easy to use for the game and have options to change depending on your personal configuration. Enemies take a lot of shots before they go down. Manually aiming to shoot an enemy's head ends up with a 50% succession rate since the different weapons accuracy issues come into play. This is realistic but the game fails to make gunfire and impact realistic. Bullets travel slower than expected and do no produce realistic impacts when hitting enemy soldiers. There is a good variety of weapons that sound, react, and look very much like their real-life counterparts.
Contradictions of logic plague Black. Weapons involve lots of detail and realism but fire slow bullets that unrealistically damage enemies. It's very realistic for Kellar to only be able to carry two weapons, but makes no sense whatsoever to make Kellar unable to open ANY doors unless he uses a shotgun to blast them open.
Black fails to offer much variety or depth to game play. There are no vehicles or devices to utilize during missions. Maps are very linear and straightforward which lack any alternate methods to complete missions. Black does not contain any multiplayer or online functionality either.
After completing Black, you gain the option to replay and obtain Silver Weapons, which essentially gives you unlimited ammo. Other than that, there are no real secrets or unlockables worth playing the game again. The only thing that keeps this game in your collection and willing to play again is just the fun you get out of causing mass destruction, even though the game's destructible environment is limited.
Black has got some great innovative features but execution is lacking. The detailed weapons, blurred peripheral vision, firefights and good graphics make this game great, but the lack of logical character actions (opening doors) and lack of game play and story depth keep this game from being a favorite. This is certainly a great rental game to play on your own (since there's no multiplayer) but unless you are a huge FPS fan that can re-hash old ground over and over, then I wouldn't recommend buying Black.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 01/03/08
Game Release: Black (US, 02/28/06)
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