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Black

By Michael Waskiewicz

michael_waskiewicz@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2006-03-20


Genre: First Person Shooter (FPS)
Rating: M (Mature)
Platform: XBOX, PS2
Rating: 4.5/5

At a time when we're all looking forward to the possibilities of next-gen gaming systems, Burnout developer Criterion Games reminds us that our old horses still have some kick in them. Black is a Hollywood-style, all-out-action First Person Shooter triumph. Although it's short and its gameplay wears thin after a while, it is no less than the most playable and best-looking shooter on the PS2 and XBOX consoles.

In Black, you play Keller. That's all you really need to know about the story; the game has very few cutscenes and very little in the way of exposition. The story is told in a series of badly-acted flashbacks where we learn that Keller was part of an elite military team whose mission was to take out a terrorist organization known as the Seventh Wave. If you want to know more, you can't, because that's about it. This is why movies based on games are usually bad. But we don't play shooters for the story, do we?

On the surface, Black seems very typical. It is a "duck 'n' cover" FPS where your objective is to get from point A to point B and solve some minor objectives along the way. What makes Black special is that it does the typical FPS conventions really well. The controls are easy and responsive. The level design is magnificent, with open-ended levels that have multiple paths to get to any destination. This encourages exploration, which is a way of artificially lengthening an already short game. But you won't mind.

Black boasts some terrific enemy AI, which is where the game really cuts its teeth. The enemies are smart and know how to duck and cover, rather than mindless targets who stand there and wait to get shot. They will also try to perform flanking moves, forcing you to always be aware of your surroundings in case you need to jump behind a tree or explosive crate.

It seems unfair that developers hit their graphical strides at the end of a platform's life cycle. Black's graphically rich levels are plush environments with ample amounts of foliage. The explosion effects are first rate in a Hollywood blockbuster sort-of-way. The lighting effects are amazing and create eerily realistic environments. This feels like a next-gen title. Heck, it's at least as good as any XBOX 360 title out there.

Although a lot has been made about the length of this game (it's short, about 6-10 hours), Black's biggest problem is that after a while the gameplay starts to get old. So I think the game's length is about right. It's almost a guarantee that you're going to get some thrills from it, in a Die Hard movie sort of way. As long as you don't need much story, this is a "must-try" action game that is sure to be the first of a long-running series.

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