by Doc Xenith
A review of the stellar new First Person Shooter from the makers of Burnout
|You step silently through a war-torn city street somewhere in Eastern Europe, MP5 clutched securely in your hands as you go. This city has been abandoned for weeks, the product of some conflict you have nothing to do with. Lt. McCarver, your squad leader, treads lightly a few feet behind you as she scans the surrounding buildings for any Seventh Wave terrorists. She then sees movement coming from the fourth floor of a gutted apartment building.
“RPG!!!” She yells.
You turn and see it coming. The missile screams through the air down towards you leaving a smoke trail a mile long as you and McCarver quickly split. You backtrack and find cover in a nearby building’s doorway as the rocket propelled grenade impacts close by, causing the ground to shake and you to become disoriented by the sudden jarring boom that it makes when it impacts.
“Enemy units inbound!” You hear McCarver’s voice come in over your radio before you see her stand up from behind a hollowed out car, firing her weapon. Peering from behind the doorway you see them, Seventh Wave commandoes in ski masks bearing down on your location, pouring out of the buildings and doorways like a swarm. Without hesitation, you raise your gun and squeeze the trigger. Bullets explode from the barrel and tear into the oncoming enemies. Missed bullets flying in your direction rip into the ground and shred apart the concrete that makes up your cover, kicking up a large cloud of dust that only adds to the battle’s confusion. As bullets shatter glass and bounce off of metal, you pull a pin from a hand grenade and let it fly into the thick cloud. All you hear is one of the enemy yell to inform his comrades that there is a grenade mere seconds before it goes off, killing a handful of them.
This is a typical scenario in Black, Electronic Arts’ new first person shooter. This game is all about shooting first shooting again and then shooting some more which ultimately ends up being both its greatest strength and greatest shortcoming, but we’ll get to that later.
The game puts you in the boots of US Blacks Ops specialist J. Kellar, as you hunt down a rogue American who has apparently been training terrorist organizations in Eastern Europe. The pursuit leads you through bombed out cities, abandoned asylums and foundries and bridges littered with land mines as you mercilessly gun down terrorist after trigger happy terrorist in order to dispense some off-the-books justice to the traitor. The story unfolds through full motion video cut scenes that take place before each level as Kellar is being interrogated about the mission by a superior officer, both played by real actors in a style that makes the scenes look as though they were directed by Tony Scott.
At its core, the game is all about big, cinematic gun battles, explosions and unmitigated destruction. Game developer Criterion’s engine helps to accommodate this perfectly. Your weapons, as well as those of your enemies, leave a mark on everything they touch. Stone pillars are reduced to piles on the floor, walls are riddled with holes and bullet casings litter the floor in abundance. While this sort of game design makes for a more immersive experience, it also serves to make the game play during gunfights a bit more versatile. Have an enemy ducking behind a wooden crate? Simply shoot it until it deteriorates and he’s left with no cover. Tired of those shield carrying enemies? Tear up that pillar next to him and cause chunks of plaster and concrete to fall down on him. This level of interaction is something many FPS games try to achieve and so few ever actually do, but Black nails it perfectly.
The wanton carnage brought about in the game is complimented by an outstanding graphics engine that captures every particle of smoke, explosion, bullet ricochet and terrorist-slammed-into-a-wall-by-an-explosions in great detail. It’s nothing short of amazing that Criterion was able to pull this game off on the Playstation 2 and Xbox, but if you’ve played the last two Burnout games, then it really isn’t a surprise that they did. There is occasionally, though barely noticeable slowdown brought about as a result of the excellent character and weapon models, vast environments and constant action but such occurrences are so few and far in between that it doesn’t really become an issue.
The sound is also on par with the graphics. Whether it be the voice acting, weapon fire, glass shattering, explosions or the summer blockbuster inspired music, it’s all well done with a flare that begs for your sound system to be turned up as high as it can go.
The game’s AI does a good job of keeping up with the player as enemies duck behind cover, run when they see a grenade and will attempt to outflank in their viscious attempts to take you down. Enemies will also make full use of the destructible environments by attempting to destroy anything near you that explodes, taking out any potential cover and generally making your life hell as support soldiers lay down heavy fire while white masked shock troopers with pump action shotguns try to get in close.
The game is not without its shortcomings, however. As I stated before, the game’s very straightforward approach is both its greatest strength and biggest fault. This game puts a gun in your hand, let’s you carve a path of destruction across eastern Europe and roughly six or seven hours and a few hundred thousand bullets later, you’re done. Seriously, that’s about how long it will take you to run through on your first time. Though it is somewhat ironic that the game’s short length kept the game play from getting stale as you pretty much have your finger on the trigger from start to finish. The fact that it has no multiplayer whatsoever also hurt its replay, which is a shame, because a game like this would make for some fantastic deathmatch. A game this fun definitely warrants playing through at least a second time on a higher difficulty however.
In closing, Black is an extremely fun shooter that no action fan should go without at least renting for a weekend. It blows recent console offerings such as Perfect Dark Zero away as far the combat and presentation go and in my opinion is far more entertaining than most console first person shooters of this generation.
Final Score: 9/10
Black is available on the Playstation 2 and Xbox for $39.99. It’s rated M for mature for violence as a well as strong language.