Black (PS2) – Review

Black - Cover

Black for the PS2 (also for the original Xbox), developed by Criterion Games (the developers of the Burnout series) and published by Electronic Arts, is a first person shooter that really tries to focus in on weapon realism and rather destructive environments. While these parts are captured well by the game, the rest of the game feels lacking in areas such as level design and challenging AI. It’s also got a pretty short run-through that make the game a renter more than anything else.

Story: B-

The story is told primarily in cutscenes between levels, at a debriefing of your character, Jack Kellar, after the completion of a questionable Black Ops mission in Eastern Europe. While Jack’s mission is to chase down the terrorist group Seventh Wave and their leader William Lennox, the orders given during the mission seem strange, and coupled with Jack’s trend to take actions on himself, lead to very questionable results including the escape of Lennox, which is why Jack, while being debriefed, is in chains. However, all is not as it seems, as the mission itself may just be a front…

The cutscenes use live actors to play out the debriefing that takes place after the events of the game, but has a bit too much “24” jumping around action to be easy to follow. The story itself is rather weak – the game claims that you fight certain lead figures, but within the levels, you never meet any bosses or special foes that require significantly more work to take down than others. The basic story lacks any real meat for it and only acts as a way to chain the levels together.

Gameplay: B+

Black - ScreenshotThe game plays like most tactical first-person shooters. As a Black-Ops soldier, you can carry at most two weapons and a supply of grenades; ammo and health packs can be picked up along the way. As you process through the levels, you use cover and the environment as much to your advantage as possible. Much of the environment is destroyable (similar in concept to Red Faction but much better implemented here) thus allowing you to use explosives to take out nearby foes or to wear away their cover, though they can do the same to you. One of the highlights of the game is the weapons – while they are all standard weapons today, the amount of detail given to them is quite high, and each has a significantly different feel than a comparable weapon. Weapons can be swapped with any weapon lying around including those dropped by foes and those placed as part of the level. When you reload, the game view is focused on the action of adding ammo or replacing the clip, causing the rest of the view to blur out, which can allow enemies to sneak up on you by surprise if you’re not careful. Generally, you can take a bullet or two without affecting your health, but taking several shots will significantly reduce it. Health packs that you carry and kits dropped by foes will restore your health. If your health is too low, your view is suddenly turned to black and white, time slows down, and all you can hear is your heartbeat as you either race for cover or deal with the last of the foes; staying out of cover will gradually restore health when it is this low, but only to a small level.

Along the way, you will have secondary objectives in addition to the main objectives for the level. These primarily consist of finding hidden documents and destroying blackmail evidence. The number of these that you have to find depends on the difficulty level: in easier levels, you only need a few of these while the harder difficulties require you to track down each one. Other secondary objectives include finding a “secret” weapon that is hidden on the level, and destroying a number of destroyable objects. If you complete the mission but fail to complete the secondary objectives, you’ll need to go back and redo the mission in order to be able to progress.

Beyond these elements, the gameplay is rather typical and pedestrian for a first person shooter. The enemy AI is not really as specialized in other tactical games, and the game primarily gets harder as their accuracy improves, their own weaponry gets more powerful, and their numbers increase. The AI also cheats a little in knowing that you are there; I took a single silenced headshot to a foe behind some boxes only immediately to have gunfire start up. There’s a few cases of enemies that “teleport” in (that is, appear in an area that you just might have cleared out) as well as a few points where an infinite number of foes can be generated until you take out one specific target. Levels are primarily linear although a couple do have paths that you need to retrace after completing one objective. At times, you will have one or two additional members to help you through, and though they seem to be invulnerable to any damage, they aren’t the best help in covering you as you move around and usually require you to move ahead to clear out areas as needed.

Value/Replayability: C+

The game has 8 levels (the first level is very short, however; most of the other levels can take 30 to 60 minutes to complete), with 4 different difficulty levels for each; the entire game took less than 10 hours for me to finish through the normal difficulty level. As with most FPS, there’s little that will change with a replay of the game beyond different difficulties, thus there’s really not much replay to the overall game. There’s no multiplayer aspect to the game, which would have been nice and may be a consideration for a sequel. The game is now part of the PS2’s Greatest Hits collection, so can be found on the cheap.

Black - ScreenshotGraphics: A-

Despite being a last-gen game, the game still sports rather impressive visuals. It’s impossible to fault the game for the destructible environments despite seeing that most of these are already ‘pre-destroyed’ (in most areas you can see the faint lines that indicate the sections that will fall off when you hit it). This gets around many of the slowness problems that Red Faction had yet still gives you the pleasure of being able to take out walls and the like. Two notable points include a battle similar to the shower room massacre in the movie “The Rock” with tiles and ceramic pieces flying everywhere while you get shot at from above, and then another part which feels like the building security scene in “The Matrix” with destroyable columns among other parts of the level; there was even a piece of a column that fell several seconds after all the firing in the room had ceased, a nice aftertouch of a long gun battle. The game also uses dust clouds and light well; again, in the above battles, the initial fights because very difficult to see the enemy due to the amount of dust in the area brought up by the destruction. There may be just be too much of a blur/bloom type effect at times that seems to smooth out some of the visuals, but this is not really notable in the midst of large gun battles. There are slowdowns if you have a lot going on the screen, both with the number of opponents firing and with lots of falling debris, but these points never really affected the game enough to cause me to lose the game.

Audio: B

Combat sound are pretty good and helpful to knowing what was going on; even while hidden, enemies would shout in some Eastern European language trying to find you. This actually becomes notable when you’re down to your last few health bars and all you can hear is your heartbeat, you have no idea where your foes are. When you have help, they’ll warn you to snipers and foes with RPGs, and let you know if you got them. When you get close to key battles, you’ll get some background music to help the battles around, making the game feel more cinematographic than just a standard FPS. Unfortunately, the voice acting seems voiced, as it becomes hard to feel sympathic to the main character’s plight.

Overall: B+

Black has several elements that make it work: the highly destructible environment and use of dust and light make the game a great visual treat even for a last-gen video game, and the variation in the weapons is quite notable. However, the game lacks other features that would really make it stand out against the plethora of others – the AI is too simplistic and the level design overall is unremarkable, but these are issues that if resolved in a sequel, could potentially lead to a great game. It’s still pretty exciting at times, but definitely can be played through as a rental.

One Response

  1. Sry for being OFFTOPIC but which WordPress template are you using? It’s looking stunning!!

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