Black

Say "hello" to my little friend!

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The Fly and I spent a magical Sunday joining our views of Black together in holy matrimony. We can finally share our special moment with you, enjoy the Conference Call.

Fly: I suppose I should start by noting that I haven't finished Black. I'm about four hours into it so far, and I'm playing it on the PS2. I'm assuming you played the Xbox version.

Certis: You would assume correctly, the PS2 version of any ported game is inferior and leads me to judge you accordingly. I hope you're happy now, what with all the judging coming your way.

The thing about Black is that four hours into the game, you're probably about halfway through it, if you're taking your time. This may be the shortest, most stripped-down FPS title I've ever played. There's just not a lot of meat here.

Fly: The PS2 is truly the lowest common gaming denominator for any current-gen console release, and that is in fact why I've chosen it for Black. You see, I am a game reviewer amongst my people, and I aim to please the PS2-loving masses. I want the experience at its most unrefined. The fact that I do not own an Xbox is irrelevant.

You've hit on the point that I fear will color the majority of this conversation. Namely, Black's meatlessness. Given its lack of common FPS features like drivable vehicles, multiplayer options, or even the ability to jump, it is decidedly un-meaty. But more on that later.

Criterion's been marketing Black as a new and improved first-person shooter, where the firearms are ostensibly the focal point. They were initially billing it as "gun porn," but they dropped that tag in favor of sillier but less politically troublesome lines like, "Every bullet is your baby." Early screenshots and video hinted that the game is sort of a Burnout with guns, where you can demolish or detonate anything on screen with a hail of bullets from your trusty weapons.

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Certis: In that regard, they were not kidding. There is not a lot of subtlety to be found in Black; aside from the occasional opportunity to slap a silencer on your pistol to make some quiet kills, the game focuses entirely on balls-to-the wall gun play and it doesn't make any apologies for it. This is good if you're not worried about silly things like "clear objectives" or a plot that makes sense, but for the rest of us, a better idea of why I'm killing all these bad guys and why I'm in an asylum and why I'm blowing up random laptops and safes would be nice.

The best you see are between-mission, live-action movies that are either really edgy, or else moonlight as educational videos for young, hip dentists. The amount of shots that show incisors is staggering. The dialog that accompanies the gum-flapping is about as overdone as the camera work, offering a thin membrane of plot stretched to breaking over each level area.

Fly: Yeah, Black's "story" is little more than a nebulous afterthought of a plot, contrived to tie a bunch of levels together. It has something to do with terrorists and operatives or something. It was delivered so hammily that I immediately stopped caring, and tried to find something else to do for a few minutes every time one of those awful live-action sequences came on. I desperately wanted to skip them, but couldn't. Even when I died and had to restart a level, the game forced me to watch them again.

Certis: It smacked of a game developer wanting to play director/writer really, really bad. It wasn't completely awful, but it was close. Thankfully, the nitty-gritty gameplay elements are where the game truly shines. The guns are all rendered with care and I can at least confirm the AK-47 sounds spot-on based on my own experience shooting one. The controls are tight and stick closely to the formula Halo used so well; this makes diving into the game easy and immediately familiar. Situationally, you'll encounter some basic obstacles to overcome throughout the game, and they rarely change or offer much variety.

We have guys some distance away shooting rockets at you, we have "room full bad guys who spawn in until you blow up barrier" and your basic kill patrols quietly bits. That's about all and it's totally fine if you're into that sort of thing. Black does it very well.

Fly: Look at you, you just can't resist throwing in that bit about your AK-47 experience, can you? Well, I can vouch from my experience that the game's depiction of blasting through the walls of an insane asylum with an RPG is just as I remember.

As for the gunplay, I think Black does a decent job. I've got a lot of minor quibbles with the game, most of which revole around its failure to do something really engaging with its guns. The simple act of aiming, for example, is pretty generic. Although most weapons offer a zoomed-in perspective, there aren't any views through the gun's sights, which is a bit baffling for a game that supposedly allows the player to interact so closely with its firearms. The targeting reticule is simply a tiny white dot, which turns red when you've got it pointed at an enemy. And the guns themselves aren't anything special, either. They're mostly what you'll find in any other conventional shooter. Except for the aforementioned pistol with a silencer, none of the weapons are upgradable, modifiable, or have attached grenade launchers, laser scopes, or other cool features.

Certis: Except you can see the bullet in the chamber when reloading, which is totally hot!

It's worth noting that you will at times have a couple A.I. teammates in the game who operate without any direction from the player and cannot die. They even kill bad guys once in a while and provide sniper over-watch in one mission, which was pretty fun to watch as enemies suddenly dropped in front of you.

Black shows that the Xbox has plenty of graphical splendor to share with us as it gasps its last breaths. Particles flying off walls, bullets on the ground and bullet holes that remain as evidence of your destruction don't noticeably disappear as you progress. It lends a great atmosphere to the game and gives you plenty of moments to savor when the battle is especially fierce and things everywhere are exploding.

Speaking of explosions and death, I don't care what the terrorist handbook says, do not stand around exploding barrels when you're guarding something. It's silly.


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Fly: Even on the creaky old PS2, Black looks very good. The draw distance is impressive, and the game's visual effects and general style lend great ambiance to the game's levels. There's a decent variety of locales to explore, from a huge steel foundry to a misty forest to the aforementioned asylum, and they've all got a unique character. Each level probably lasts around an hour, and after the initial brief load screen, everything else streams in in the background. Though the player's progress through the levels is generally linear, there are often multiple ways to approach an objective. The result is that the levels feel large, varied and organic.

I was disappointed by Black's enemy A.I., which I thought was probably its weakest point. Enemies randomly dance back and forth behind cover and generally don't do anything interesting, like try to flank you or take you out with grenades. In close-up firefights they sometimes seem befuddled, and shoot or dodge aimlessly for a few seconds before running for cover. And "cover" is invariably a box of dynamite, fuel barrel, propane cylinder, or other highly explosive object. The friendly AI fares a little better, and adds a little variety to the game, like you mentioned.

Certis: I DID mention that, I'm very smart.

All in all I think Black is the perfect renter. It's short, tightly focused and not worth paying full price for. Even at $39.99.

Fly: I'll second that, I suppose. I think Black is an average, stripped-down, low-on-features shooter with enough newfangled whiz-bang particle effects, stylish visuals and big explosions to make it worth a look. There's more about the game I could subject to my curmudgeonry, but I think you've got the bottom line, so let's leave it at that.

Certis: Indeed. Last word! Ah ha ha ha ha ha!

Black
Official Site
Release date: February 2006 (Xbox, PS2)
Developer: Criterion/(Electronic Arts)
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Comments

I love the icon for the Conference Call. That is all.

Although, I agree with you guys... one thing that this game have as a saving grace is that it's fun to play no matter what!

Poppinfresh wrote:
I love the icon for the Conference Call. That is all.

seconded

Fun read!

I couldn't agree more -- it there was ever a more perfect "weekend rental" game, I haven't played it.

Almost makes me wish I hadn't ditched my trusty Ex Box. I like the format, and third the enjoyment of the CC icon.

Certis wrote:

...and I can at least confirm the AK-47 sounds spot-on based on my own experience shooting one.

Purrr....

I found the Remington shotgun to be insanely fun because it acts like a real shotgun instead of the typical video game shotgun. Tight spread, good range, pull! Not awesome enough to convert Black from a rental to a purchase, but still pretty awesome.

Also I thought it was a little odd how little the environment was deformable. Not that I care. It's just that they touted that so much that it was odd to only find a few destructible walls and such.

Did Certis finish it? I'm curious about how other people liked the very last room in the whole game.

Was there a way to open a door that wasn't shotgun based? I got the impression that shells doubled as one-use keys.

What's the re-playability factor on this one? And does that add to the "rent don't buy" recommendation?

Did Certis finish it? I'm curious about how other people liked the very last room in the whole game.

I did indeed, the last room was annoying as hell. You just squatted in one of the side-rooms and picked people off until they quit spawning in. Bah.
Was there a way to open a door that wasn't shotgun based? I got the impression that shells doubled as one-use keys.

Grenades. But not RPG's, which was stupid.
Montalban wrote:

What's the re-playability factor on this one? And does that add to the "rent don't buy" recommendation?

Difficulty levels are added if you replay along with "silver weapons" or something. The levels don't change though, so I wouldn't put the replay value high unless the basic game play appeals to you enough. I suppose it's short enough that if you play through it twice and have fun with it, you get closer to a full game's value. Closer, but not quite

Certis wrote:
Difficulty levels are added if you replay along with "silver weapons" or something. The levels don't change though, so I wouldn't put the replay value high unless the basic game play appeals to you enough. I suppose it's short enough that if you play through it twice and have fun with it, you get closer to a full game's value. Closer, but not quite ;)

The silver weapons apparently have unlimited ammo. And if you play all the way through hard, you unlock "Black Ops Mode" *cue scary music* and can unlock some MP1412957sdkljf gun. Like the boss said, not a lot of replay.

Yeah I'll back Certis up on that one. Silver weapons are just infinite ammo. It's kinda neat to just run around with an everlasting RPG but only for about twenty minutes. I knew RPG's wouldn't open doors, never tried a grenade. I can see not having an "open door" button, but why doesn't melee work?

I'm happy to see I'm not alone in the pansie approach to endgame. Personally I found the stairs to be safer than the rooms since the AI is smart enough to rush a doorway but not stairs. I still can't believe how many guys they kept spawning. That was just ridiculous. Sooo, was one of those guys spose to be the main bad guy? I don't understand why the main character thought he'd offed main bad guy.

From my impressions from playing it. I got the feeling that Criteron held back. They didn't make the game that we wanted, which would be the Burnout of FPS games. Instead we get a weird mix of an arcadey game that occasioanlly takes itself too serriously.

I wanted guns that were bigger and badder than the real guns, like the cars in Burnout.

The complete lack of everything else made Black feel like it was trying to go in a few directions at once. It wanted to be Arcade, it wanted to be all tactical, and budget but have high production values. What I got was a game that made me hide behind cover and shoot at far away targets, because kids like sniping. Real men don't use cover, they shoot incoming bullets with more bullets. It had the features of a budget game, but the production values of a AA game.

So I got no clue what Black is, except that the next one better be better. Or at least replace that stupid pistol whiping with a nice quick slice of a GIANT SHINING KNIFE and add in some blood.

I find jumping to be severely overrated.

Smials wrote:
I find jumping to be severely overrated.

I find your face to be severely overrated. Ha!

Seriously, I shouldn't have been so bothered by the lack of a jump ability, but this is 2006 man! It's like not being able to touch water in platformers. That's such an ancient concept.

Ugh, the AI is downright awful at times. However, this is a well-written article that gives a good idea of what I should suspect from the rest of the game. I really do like the fighting and the explosions... I just wish there was more of a challenge.

Heck, any form of strategic thinking would be nice at this point instead of just pointing my gun at stationary targets and pulling the trigger.

Demiurge wrote:
Smials wrote:
I find jumping to be severely overrated.

I find your face to be severely overrated. Ha!

Seriously, I shouldn't have been so bothered by the lack of a jump ability, but this is 2006 man! It's like not being able to touch water in platformers. That's such an ancient concept.

You can't jump in the Ghost Recon games, don't see people complaining about that.

I've heard people complain about it, and done it sometimes myself. Especially when you get snagged on some tiny crevice in the ground or foot-high obstruction.

I found Black to be like a drunken one-night-stand. She was great on the first run through, but now when I go back to see her, I have a horrible feeling of "What was I thinking?" I thought the story was well thought through, but poorly executed. The live-action cutscenes worked in a kind of MTV/G4-hyper-cutaway...way, but there was zero substance of any kind regarding story in the actual game. When I killed the last evil bad dude, he looked the exact same as the 999 other people I killed to get to him, come on Critereon, show a little more effort.