Black

Black Review for Xbox

On: XboxXbox 360PS2

FPS from Criterion, the developers behind the smash hit Burnout series.

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7Out of 10
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To say Black is a stunning technical achievement is an understatement
To say Black is a stunning technical achievement is an understatement

To say Black is a stunning technical achievement is an understatement

Criterion basically rewrote the rule book for racing games with the Burnout series. Particularly with Burnout 3 and Burnout Revenge, the games were less about racing than they were about crashing. Criterion effectively carved out a new racing genre that others haven't been able to match. With an emphasis on destruction, a full-on action game seemed to be an obvious next step for the company and the result is Black - a game that has wowed journos since it was first revealed as nothing more than a tech demo. The final game is just as destructive as promised, but doesn't stand up as well as the technology that powers it.

There's a story of sorts (with live action cutscenes - something of a rarity these days), but it's pretty inconsequential. Black is all about the action, and if you've been drawn to the game expecting chaos and destruction, you won't be disappointed. If you shoot something it will probably break up or explode or smash. You won't see Red Faction-like total destruction, but everything that you want to blow up can be blown up. If you've played F.E.A.R. on a high-spec PC you'll know how much more impressive destruction looks when accompanied by the debris that comes with it. Black nails this too, creating a sense of real-world realism that few console games have managed before. How Criterion got this running on an Xbox, let alone a PlayStation 2, is incredible.

Each area is often packed with explosive cylinders, barrels, cars, crates and all manner of other things than can be used to quickly and effectively take out enemies. Shoot a large gas cylinder beside a house and it'll explode, taking most the nearby enemies with it; spray a load of bullets into a car that a few enemies are hiding behind and it'll explode, sending the goons flying; lob a grenade into a room and it will actually clear it out (assuming the room isn't too large). The explosions in the game certainly feel powerful and can't really be faulted, but the guns (of which you can carry two at a time) are another matter. While you can blow holes in a wall with most weapons in the game, they don't work quite as well on enemies. The game promotes head shots as the way to down enemies, but even this doesn't seem to make them hit the ground with any kind of regularity. You can literally fire upwards of ten shots into a guy from distance and he'll stagger a bit before continuing to fire at you.

Animation also causes numerous problems. While an enemy is performing one of the hard-coded animations to show he's been hit, he's also invulnerable to further gun fire. You can pump twenty bullets into a guy who's on the ground, and he'll continue to get up without a problem. It's quite a ridiculous system and something that shouldn't be anywhere near a modern video game. On occasion animations also look horrible, as if they're missing key frames. It doesn't occur all that often, but spoils an otherwise great looking game.

'... why on earth prevent actual saving once you've reached a checkpoint?'

Checkpoints and mid-level saves. These are things that have become the norm in video games, even on consoles. Halo handled this perfectly, with a great balance between overly helpful saving and stretches so long that you're begging for a save. You could pretty much tell when you were going to reach a checkpoint; it just felt right. Criterion has seemingly ignored what works in this area and limited levels to a few checkpoints at most, often coming after lengthy amounts of time and encompassing numerous tricky sections. This is criminal enough in itself, but why on earth prevent actual saving once you've reached a checkpoint? It's downright ludicrous. Sure, the game isn't that long, but to sacrifice enjoyment in favour of extending length is insane.

The final big problem is spawning enemies. On more than one occasion I found myself with my back to a seemingly closed door that didn't lead to another part of the level. Then, from nowhere, I'd be on the receiving end of gun fire, as an enemy spawned as if by magic a few feet behind me. You could probably play through the whole game and not find this a problem, but it'll depend on where you haul up for best cover against the enemy. You'll have team mates fighting with you for a number of missions (not that they help much) and if you stick with them and take cover near their position, this problem will be avoided.

Reading the paragraphs above you'd assume the game isn't worth your time, but that isn't the case at all. Black is an exhilarating experience. A few hours with the game will leave you hyped up, mentally drained, twitchy and in need of a break. It's intense. You might be doing the same things over and over, and the problems really do aggravate, but it's still immense fun. Blowing stuff up is something that never gets old and this is done so often and so well in Black that it alone makes up for the numerous problems. Many of the levels are also very well designed, meaning you can gain more satisfaction going through a second, even third time, with the knowledge of how best to take out the enemy. Playing through on harder difficulty settings (which require you to meet more secondary objectives) also unlocks extra weapons and Black Ops mode.

Almost everything can be blown up

Almost everything can be blown up

With the single-player campaign no longer than seven hours in length (unless you're totally new to the FPS genre) a multiplayer mode would have been a great bonus, but there's nothing at all for more than one player. The destructible cover would have made for some pretty entertaining online matches, either in straight forward Deathmatch or Siege game types. Sadly, it wasn't to be, and makes the price tag a little hard to take.

Don't be fooled into thinking that Black is the new hope in the FPS genre. Its gameplay is about as generic as it gets, but the presentation is so great that the problems that would seriously hurt another game are just about forgivable. Longevity is an issue, but there's a degree of replay value here due to the unlockables and fun environments. I doubt we'll see a better looking game on either system and that alone might be worth the price tag for some.

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Tim's Avatar
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Tim

In all honesty I was a computer engineer for 25 years and never had time for games until now. I am disabled and at home, I find these games great fun. As a new person to these new high level games, ( I come from the day of Asteroids) I loved this game because of its ease of use. Fast to learn. Not four thousand options for weapons. The lack of being able to save a game when it says you have passed an assumed critical checkpoint is really frustrating. I don't have allot of money and just got my system recently. I bought the memory card today just for this game to find the normal options for saving at checkpoints lacks in a major way. Some odd flaws already pointed out, odd because they are so obvious and fixable prior to release. At least give us a free upgrade. Over all for me , its still a great game.
Posted 05:24 on 22 September 2008
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thomato@ jamie

great game needs more cheats
need black 2
Posted 11:42 on 03 October 2006
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Colin@ jamie

I love FPS games, and Black is no exception. However, the game saves could have been better thought out, and more frequent. I have played all the way through, and now on Spec Ops, still a great game. As said bring on Black 2........
Posted 15:56 on 27 September 2006
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Al@ jamie

Disappointed as the hype led me to increased expectations. The visuals are no doubt breathtaking, but this cannot be depended upon as greatly as it is. I feel that there was a good story to tell here but criterion simply couldnt be bothered. Lack of character development was for all to see as I think knowing more about Lennox for a start would have made the story more gripping. All said though the action sequences are a masterstroke. 7/10? seems fair.
Posted 23:07 on 03 June 2006
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richie@ jamie

good game some strange saving/checkpoints but worth the money bring on black2 plz!!!!!!!!!
Posted 12:46 on 14 April 2006
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vandy

Fun though Black undoubtedly is it doesn't really do anything that interesting with the genre. It's a good laugh whilst it lasts but there's not much more to it than that.
Posted 02:30 on 03 April 2006
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aidey6@ jamie

Quote:
Originally Posted by jamie
i can agree with some of the things this guy says about blac, but a 7!? COME ON!!! this is an awesome game worthy of a 10. get it right!

On the PS2 its a "tour de force" and most likely the best fps on it, but compared to Halo, seven is more than fair
Posted 20:11 on 02 April 2006
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jamie

i can agree with some of the things this guy says about blac, but a 7!? COME ON!!! this is an awesome game worthy of a 10. get it right!
Posted 19:23 on 02 April 2006

Game Stats

Technical Specs
Black
7
Out of 10
Black
  • Decent replay value
  • Incredible presentation
  • Spawning enemies
  • Infrequent checkpoints and no mid-level saves
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 24/02/2006
Platforms: Xbox , Xbox 360 , PS2
Developer: Criterion
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: First Person Shooter
No. Players: One
Rating: PEGI 16+
Site Rank: 11,462 54
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