Review by theVoid620

"A lot of potential, unfortunately, a lot of it unrealized."

Black was hyped to be the last great shooter on the PS2, and while it could be more accurately described as the last good shooter on the PS2, its numerous shortcomings prevented both it from reaching high acclaim, and the PS2 from extending its longevity among shooter fans.

Black is set up to be a high adrenaline, fast-paced, no-holds-barred shooter, and for the most part, it succeeds in that. However, many of the gimmicks and techniques it uses to lure gamers in are never fully utilized, or at least not to most players' satisfaction, leading to an inevitable "that's all?" feeling. The game is a fun trip through the first time, but with little incentive to play through again, most gamers will find this collecting dust on their shelves after a couple weekends of trigger-happy destruction.

I'll start off with the good in Black. The game's design is geared towards fast firefights full of explosions, environmental destruction, bullet casings and dead bodies. For the most part, the gameplay fits that description. Black is full of high-energy shootouts, and the game is essentially one long gunfight from start to finish. Players progress through the game by picking up weapons and ammo found lying around or from downed foes, use said weapons and ammo to rip through a wave of heavily armed enemy soldiers inhabiting run-down facilities across a bleak Eastern European backdrop, and repeat as necessary. During these firefights, environments become involved, which is one of the game's main selling points. Every bullet leaves a pock mark or dent on the surface it strikes, and kicks up a corresponding cloud of dust or sparks on impact. Certain objects scattered throughout the walls and streets, such as signs, windows, tables, sheet metal, crates, and barrels, may be knocked down or destroyed by your onslaught of bullets. Furthermore, designated objects such as cars, trucks, propane tanks, and marked boxes may explode with violent force when shot. This environmental interaction helps keep the action lively and semi-realistic, and also plays a strategic role in your confrontations. When you encounter a particularly tough squad of enemy soldiers, your first reaction should be to scour the environment for a gas tank or parked jeep to detonate with your gunfire, knowing the resulting explosion will clear the region of enemy troops. This formula of "run and gun" with intermittent "stop and blow up" remains throughout the game, and for the large part, it works. There is always a lot of action in Black, and being able to watch your bullets crush and crumble your surroundings helps keep the excitement in your kills.

Along with bullet interaction, the devotion to weapon detail was another main focus of Black, and again, it is noticed. Gunfire is loud and crisp, the weapon models are detailed and accurate, and there is a decent selection of sub machine guns, assault rifles, and shotguns in the game with which you get to lay waste to your opponents and their structural cover.

The presentation comes off well, as the graphics and sound in the game are very good for its generation, and the game wouldn't be able to pull off its premise without quality visuals and sound. There isn't anything in the A/V departments that comes off as spectacular, but the draw distance, lighting effects, frame rate, and textures are all smooth and well used, and as previously mentioned, clear explosions and gun effects round out a good audio performance.

So, in the long run, the high-energy, high-destruction, gun-centric atmosphere of Black makes for a decent game. However, there are several flaws in the formula that prevent the game from really holding its audience and rising above the flood of other FPS's on the market.

My first complaint is that while the destructive nature of Black's gameplay definitely rises above any level previously seen on the PS2, it doesn't feel like all it could have been. As previously mentioned, many of the game's environments are bland, run-down industrial facilities which seem to be colored with a palette consisting entirely of grays. This means that once you've gotten used to busting bricks with your bullets, there's little else to smash. Explosions are always fun, but if the game had featured some more lively environments, say with active equipment, civilians, and other types of "destructibles," the action would have remained fresh and more exciting. For example, the television ad campaign for the game consisted of an off-screen shooter shredding offices and living rooms with a machine gun, complete with foam, paper, ink, and wood flying in an unholy storm of destruction as the bullets rained down on their targets. This is the type of environmental destruction that could have bumped the game up a level, keeping the player on the edge of their seat.

Another complaint that most gamers will recognize immediately is the generally poor enemy design and AI. After the introductory first level, all enemy soldiers are coated in body armor, allowing them to often take nearly a full clip of ammo from mid range before they eat dirt, unless you land a coveted head shot, which doesn't even always seem to properly register. Even more aggravating are the shotgun-toting enemies, who must be wearing armor made of some tightly woven super-material, because they can withstand several clips of SMG ammo or a few point-blank shotgun rounds before going down. Their strategy of madly rushing you while ripping off shotgun fire at a near automatic rate means that you must stop what you are doing and devote all attention to killing them, usually using several of your grenades in the process of doing so. I'm all for a challenge, but I'd rather face more enemies or smarter enemies than these walking tanks that they claim are human. On the subject of grenades, it is disappointing that in a game so centered around explosions, your grenades will rarely be of use against standard foes. This is due to the fact that grenades are the one weapon which will trigger any intelligent response from your enemies, causing them to run, dive, and roll at high speeds to avoid any damage, unless you stun them with gunfire first or are such a crack shot that you can blow up your grenade in mid air. This wouldn't be such a shock if your enemies exhibited some kind of planning or value for their lives in other situations, but they do not. Their general strategy for combat is to alternate between standing still while shooting at you, and running at you while shooting at you. Some guards may make use of light cover, but it is in a manner very reminiscent of the N64's Goldeneye, where if a guard is programmed to stand behind a crate or car for cover, he will do so, but no one will have the common sense to join him or take his place should he fall. There are some situations where you will see an opponent sneaking over to crouch behind or by an object, but usually it is because said object is combustible, and the game is just setting you up for an easy kill, not demonstrating strategy by your foes.

My third complaint is that the game is, to put it bluntly, too short. It has 8 levels of varying length, and can be completed on Normal difficulty in 7-10 hours. Harder difficulties may take a little longer, but the simple gameplay isn't expanded in any real way. On Normal level and above, some basic mission objectives are added, but they consist solely of finding items, destroying things, or reaching an area. There is no multi-player, which is a real letdown, as the energetic gameplay would be well suited to it. Even a simple offline deathmatch mode would have been a nice addition, and greatly improved the game's replay value. Overall, the single player campaign is short and simple, and with no real unlockables and no multi-player, there isn't much reason to come back to the game after beating it once. There are a few notable shootouts you may want to play again, but there is nothing to really keep gamers hooked.

My last complaint is an admittedly minor and cosmetic one, but it is very noticeable none the less. There is no blood in Black. Some may argue that blood is an unnecessary aesthetic addition in shooters, but to me it makes the game more enjoyable, and also serves a tactical purpose. For enjoyment, killing waves of enemy soldiers is much more satisfying with blood present, as it gives a real sense of the carnage involved and makes the kill feel more important and realistic. On the tactical side, the amount of blood spilled also serves as a subconscious tally of how much damage you have dealt and how much health the enemy has left, which is especially important in a game like Black, where opposing soldiers are gluttons for punishment. It also is clear that blood was not removed to preserve a lower ESRB rating, as the game is rated M anyway, largely due to profane language. The omission of Blood in the game just does not seem like a wise or logical decision by the developers.

In conclusion, Black is an enjoyable ride the first time through, and provides a decent amount of intense shooting action and environmental mayhem. However, several flaws and an overall brevity keep the game out of the upper ranks of first person shooters. Perhaps a sequel on next-generation platforms could improve upon its faults, as the game does a have a story (somewhat at least, it is present mainly in poorly acted cut-scenes between levels), and seems to be geared towards becoming a series.

Rating breakdown:
Graphics (20%): 8 (for its time)
Sound (10%): 8
Gameplay (40%): 7.5
Length and replay (30%): 4.5
Overall: 6.75
Rounded score: 7

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/11/08

Game Release: Black (Greatest Hits) (US, 12/31/07)

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