Review by HenchCubed
"Mind your head...BLACK will blow it off"
BLACK is Criterion's newest creation, branching rather far from the Burnout series that earned them notoriety. BLACK, being a first person shooter, isn't quite the same thing, but at times the game feels a bit like Burnout with guns. This is a good thing, however, as the game is horribly short.
Black Ops operative Jack Keller is under investigation regarding events that took place four days prior. Keller was after a notorious terrorist group dubbed the "Seventh Wave". Without giving too much away, suffice to say that the eight levels of BLACK follow Keller as he details his experiences to a rather deep-voiced interrogator. It's a little heavy with the terroristic elements, and some of the items you collect in-game relate to actual events, people, and places. There's a lot said in here, and either Criterion simply wanted to let these ideas out or what, I don't know.
BLACK drips with it. The cutscenes are all live-action and fit well with the style of the in-game sequences. The menu system is one of the most interesting I've seen.
The game is fast. I cannot stress this enough. There is NO downtime through the levels. The game will slam your eyes into the back of your skull and keep them there. Think Burnout with guns. The game is just pure fun, and you would hard pressed to find another that keeps you coming back for more.
Shoot, shoot, shoot, cover, shoot. In essence, there's BLACK. You carry two weapons and go around and shoot stuff. The catch here is that every bullet you fire does something to the environment. Put enough bullets into a crumbling wall, it'll collapse from underneath the enemies standing on it. Fire and RPG into an enemy bunker, and the bunker will literally crumble and be utterly destroyed. Puffs of smoke come from every muzzle at every trigger-pull, and smoke will obscure your vision as you pump and area full of bullets, destroying crates, walls, enemies, pipes, pretty much anything in your path. The enemies will take cover, flank you, overwhelm you, and yes, you will die. Good thing is, you also can completely outflank your enemies, sneak up from the side, behind, above, below, every which way. The levels are linear, but there are many branching paths to take, and there isn't just one way to do something. Need to take out that machine gun nest? Take an RPG and simply fire from down the lane. Sneak up from the side and eliminate the gunner with a quick headshot or grenade. Even better, sneak above him and introduce him to the RPG at close range. Speaking of, the explosions are some of the best in any game. The levels are full of explosive tanks, barrels, and spare ammo. Blow the crates and kill the enemies hiding behind them. Sniper in the building in front? Blow the propane tank supplying power to the building and gut it in the process. And so on, and so forth. Enemies will fly semi-realistically, and structures crumble believably. Some of the best use of scripting to dupe the player into thinking it's a physics engine I've seen. Not that it matters, it's all done so well and so pretty-like. Note that enemies have close to the same vision distance as you, so if you shoot them and miss from across an open area, they'll turn and see you and fire back. Also, there is a reason the controller vibration is off at default.
But here one reaches BLACK's problems. The game gets going and keeps that level of intensity the whole way through. There is little to break the flow, and while the game is excellent at what it does, there's not much else. Just the single player; no multiplayer of any kind. And this game would've made such a great multiplayer game, too.
And the game is short. 8 levels, the first of which is roughly a quarter of the length of the rest. The longest level is around an hour first time through, and one can breeze through the entire thing in less than 6 hours. I beat it in 5:33 on normal first time through. The length and lack of variety drops the score a bit.
It feels a lot like Goldeneye from the N64, though I'm not really sure why. It just has that feeling to it. That's not bad, in fact, and probably is what saves the game.
Can you say...pretty? The guns are so detailed and the resultant bullet-impacts aren't merely decals placed in the surface, not to mention every spent casing drops to the floor and stays. The level of detail applied to the levels is amazing. Some of the textures may be flat, but at the speed you blow by these you won't notice. Great care was taken to program around holes in objects, like railings on catwalks. You can actually shoot through the bars and through small holes created by stacked crates or platforms. The particle effects from the shots are impressive, given the sheer number of bullets flying at any one time. The frame rate may slow down a little in places, but it never gets choppy, so your left with a kind of impromptu bullet-time thing that actually looks kind of cool. Lesser of the two evils, I think. Enemies will spurt little fountains of blood when shot, though it just kind of dissipates into the air, and really the only thing left when you blow through an area are the bodies of slain enemies, their weapons, a few hundred bullet holes and casings, and whatever environment was spared. The level of detail in the destruction is amazing.
Superb. Voice talent is excellent, always in character. The guns sound absolutely amazing; you'll know when that RPG fires from across the map and when it's about to blow you to pieces. Music is OK, and does a good job of getting the heart pumping. An interesting addition is the ability to play custom soundtracks in-game. Perfect!
The controls are fully customizable, except there's no way to change the look sensitivity. Criterion said it had something to do with the physics engine working right. I didn't really miss the option, as the sensitivity is pretty good. Those familiar with Halo's sensitivity settings, BLACK's falls somewhere in between Halo's 4 and 5.
Great game, just very short. Highly stylized master-of-his-trade. No multiplayer or sensitivity setting, both sorely missed. Short game all in all, though wonderfully pretty at the same time. Well worth completing on all four difficulty levels, as lots of secondary items are scattered throughout the levels, prompting replays to find the cleverly hidden ones. Completing the game on Normal and Hard unlocks Silver Weapons (infinite ammo) and Black Ops mode (no health pickups) is unlocked as you beat Hard. Goldeneye-esque play style makes it feel very nostalgic, and the action never fails to keep you on the edge of your seat. The game keeps track of total kills, bullets fired, headshots, and play time. Rather convenient, I think. Short single player, no multi brings it down. The detail in the gunplay has led some to call this game an example of "Gun-porn".
Rent it first, though, as it's not for everyone. But if you like FPS's and blowing stuff up, buy it. Right now.
Pros: Excellent gameplay and story, beautiful graphics, great style, stat tracking, adrenaline pusher through and through, intensity never drops, great sound, essentially Gun-porn
Cons: Short eight levels, no multiplayer at all, can become dry, not terribly innovative, essentially Gun-porn
Rent or buy: Buy. Right now. GO.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 03/02/06, Updated 03/07/06
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