BLACK is a game Charlton Heston and the NRA would be proud to sponsor. That’s because BLACK is all about guns; big guns, little guns, and the devastation they create when you empty round after round into the surrounding environment. The inspiration for BLACK is clearly the Hollywood action films of the 1980’s and 90’s like Rambo, The Matrix and anything Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay teamed up to make, and like those movies you’ll want to check your brain at the door to best enjoy this game. So grab a gun, make sure the safety is off, and join me as we head on assignment with BLACK.
BLACK is a first-person shooter from UK-based developer Criterion Games, of Burnout fame. Players take on the role of a highly trained operative named Keller who, as the game opens, is being questioned by a government official about his squad’s last assignment; an operation aimed at taking down Seventh Wave, a high-tech terrorist group acting out of Eastern Europe. The live-action interrogation sets up each level of the game as a flashback to a mission that went down a few days prior. Confused? Don’t be. The story is forgettable and quickly takes a backseat to the real star of the game: the unapologetic gunplay.
BLACK makes an explosive first impression as play begins in the fictional city of Veblensk. After blowing a steel door off its hinges with a shotgun, players make their way to the city streets where an intense firefight ensues. As the bullets start to fly, you’ll witness firsthand just how interactive and destructive the environment is. Glass shatters, wood splinters, concrete pulvarizes, vehicles explode, columns crumble, and a tower collapses. Nearly everything reacts to bullets and explosives in some shape or form. The clouds of debris in the air will be so thick at times you’ll have no choice but to take cover while the dust settles, and that’s just the first level. By the end of the 8-mission campaign, your trail of devastation will include in the neighborhood of 20,000 bullets fired, an enemy body count of 2,500, and countless millions of dollars in property damage. No wonder the government is investigating the operation.
The enemy AI in the game is typically brutish. They’ll move from cover to cover and run away from live grenades, but otherwise they’re just as intent as you are to unload as many rounds as deemed necessary to eliminate a threat. While they may not be the swiftest bunch of terrorists, they are decidedly durable. Unless you manage a head shot, you’ll have to empty a full clip just to take down one or two enemies. Ammunition is abundant in BLACK though, so you won’t have to worry about conserving bullets. There are a couple of enemies that provide a tougher challenge: a hockey-mask wearing, shotgun-wielding brute as well as soldiers with SWAT like shields. For these enemies, you’ll have to be a little more creative with your grenades or find a combustible object in the environment to use to your advantage.
There is an assortment of weapons in BLACK, of which you can carry two. The key differences between the weapons are range and recoil. Although you’ll start most missions with a pistol, you’ll find it’s usefulness is limited to those very rare instances where a stealth kill is possible, since the pistol is one of the few weapons that can be suppressed. For those close-quarter confrontations, the shotgun provides more than ample firepower at the expense of long reload times. Submachine guns like the Mac 10 and Uzi offer more ammunition with less recoil, but their damage is minimal compared to the shotgun and their range is limited compared to what will likely be your weapon of choice, one of the assault rifles. With both long- and short-range possibilities, forgivable recoil, and the ability to suppress in the case of the MP5, the assault rifle will undoubtedly take up one of your weapon slots for most if not the entire game. Rounding out the arsenal of weaponry is the sniper rifle and rocket launcher. Both of these weapons seem to only pop up when relevant. For example, if you need to blow open a locked door or a blockade impeding your progress.
You’re probably thinking BLACK sounds like a kick ass game so far. Well, let me bring it back to earth a little. I finished the single-player campaign in less than five hours. You heard me right, five hours. That’s a single afternoon or evening of gaming. On top of that, there is no multiplayer support. After you’ve run through the game once, there’s little reason to go back and play it again other than to unlock the Black Ops difficulty setting, which unlocks silver versions of the weapons with unlimited ammunition; that or simply as a way to relieve stress, which BLACK does a very good job of.
BLACK is one of the most impressive looking games on both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, though PS2 owners will notice slowdowns during some of the game’s more intense firefights. The environments, which include an asylum, a dockyard, and a bridge turned minefield, are really well designed; that and they blow up real good. The full-motion cutscenes are shot well enough and include real-life footage to increase the drama. The icing on the cake is the little touches. For example, if you shoot an enemy on a catwalk or bridge, sometimes they’ll fall over and grab onto the railing, dangling for a few seconds before falling to their imminent death (if you don’t put one final bullet in them that is).
Inspired by Hollywood, BLACK was made to sound like a big-budget action movie. The soundtrack plays a big role in that regard. It’s full of the kind of orchestral music you’d expect to find in movies like The Rock, Air Force One, or Crimson Tide. The sound effects are equally phenomenal, from the gunfire noise to the sound of bullets hitting the various surfaces and objects. The only downside in an otherwise brilliant presentation is the voice acting, which is way over the top.
BLACK is the kind of gun opera you’d expect from director John Woo, starring Chow Yun Fat. It’s explosive both in its technical presentation and gameplay, but it’s a very short experience. Brevity is a tough $40 pill to swallow, but from the opening credits to the inconclusive ending (a sequel is planned), BLACK is a blast to play. As long as you’re a fan of first-person shooters, you owe it to yourself to at least rent BLACK and watch the current generation of consoles go out in style.