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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Criterion Games
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1
Rated: M (Mature)
Release Date: February 27, 2006
Written By: Daniel Sims

The folks at Criterion Games, currently best known for the Burnout series has tried their hand at the first person action genre and the result is BLACK, a first person shooter for the PS2 and Xbox that is supposed to give players the ability to literally destroy the environment around them with guns that look and sound closer to the real thing than ever before. For the most part, BLACK succeeds in this, but is that really enough to save it from turning out to be just another shooter?

At first glance, to many, BLACK will probably seem like just another first person action game. It has all the right ingredients to make one: missions, challenging gunfights, solid controls, and action that overall is pretty entertaining.

Now just because the game is supposed to be a totally destructive action experience doesnít mean that itís an all out run-and-gun shooter. Far from it actually. Progressing through each level actually still requires some sense of strategy as players will still have to use cover to their advantage and believe it or not, it actually is possible to get through a large part of the game with some degree of stealth, which opens up the possibilities for playing through each level a little bit.

What is supposed to separate BLACK from other shooters though is how itís supposed to give players the ability to destroy certain parts of their environment to provide new strategies. While this does work to some extent, for the most part you wonít actually be using this feature as much as you may think. A lot of the time the enemy might take cover behind a tree stump, a crate, a weak wall, or other object that you can destroy with your gun, allowing you to take away your enemyís cover and allowing them to take away your cover. There are a couple of levels in the game where this feature is implemented quite well, but most of the time it really just comes off as a nice novelty that makes the game look a little more realistic.

The only true flaw in BLACKís action mechanics is the AI, which can be pretty stupid at times. Enemies will take cover, form up when attacking you, and are generally pretty aggressive. But there are parts where they may do (or not do) things that just might make you wonder, like not moving at all when youíve shot a rocket right past their head, or allowing you to sneak right up beside them with relative ease. Although enemies in this came can be pretty dumb at times, many of them are exceptionally durable, sometimes taking as many as two or three headshots before going down, which sometimes just feels a little odd. Friendly AI isnít much better. Theyíll follow you and shoot at enemies at will with some sense of accuracy, but there were situations in the game where I wish I could somehow get them to cover me while I advanced into a building or while I tried to snipe out a guy with a rocket launcher, which could have made things much more manageable.

Whatís so over the top about BLACK though is the explosions. When something blows up in BLACK, it blows up. And a lot of things in BLACK blow up. Enemies will constantly hide behind and around crates, barrels, and tanks that all explode when shot. Thereís even a bright yellow triangle painted on the stuff that does explode. One of the cool things about this is that, well, you get a lot of explosions. Usually in an action game when I fire a rocket, Iíll expect to get one little explosion, a couple dead guys, then just move on. In BLACK, Iíll get that one explosion, the dead guy, and like seven or eight more gigantic explosions that rip through the surrounding area.

During the first few levels of the game, all the explosions and destructible environments can make BLACK and incredibly fun game. However, even though firing a rocket at a building and watching explosions rip through it as dozens of windows shatter, or firing at a group of enemies in the distance and watching one explosion blow them all across the screen in every which way is fun as hell the first few times, eventually the whole thing just meshes together and you end up having just another FPS where you happen to be able to blow a lot of stuff up.

Because of this, depending on how much you love a good FPS, the gameplay BLACK can get old rather quickly. After you finish BLACKís eight missions, there are different difficulty levels, extra side objectives, and unlockables like infinite ammo which can prove to be a very interesting mix with some of the gameís more powerful weapons, but the extra objectives are really nothing more than either finding or destroying some kind of document lying around, and not many will probably want to play through the whole game again for another difficulty level.

Although the game design in BLACK can get repetitive, its technical prowess on the PS2, probably itís greatest merit, is what should make the game stand out.

By the time players get through the second and third levels of the game, they should realize that BLACK is one of the prettiest games on the PS2. Crisp, detailed environments mixed in with superb lighting effects and smoke and explosion effects comparable to those in Call of Duty 2 on the Xbox 360, means that BLACK is one of those games that makes destruction look pretty and pushes the PS2 to itís limits with only occasional slowdown.

BLACK may be one of the prettiest games on the PS2 and still pretty good looking on the Xbox, but what really sets it apart is the absolutely phenomenal sound quality. Some of the explosions in this game sound absolutely epic. The best part about the audio in BLACK though, is the guns. Itís all about the guns.

BLACK is a game that has been marketed as ďGun PornĒ, and in a way that name suits it, as it really is all about the guns. Each of the real life guns in BLACK feels and sounds very distinct from each and every other gun, and most of them sound more different from each other and louder than guns ever have in most other games. When you are being fired at by enemies the sound of fire from different guns and the sound of bullets hitting the walls near you, combined with the gameís smoke and dust effects really gives off the feeling that you are truly being fired at by an enemy. Eventually it gets to the point where you can tell exactly which gun an enemy is using just by what it sounds like. The first time someone shot at me with a sniper rifle I damn near jumped out of my seat as it sounded like nothing Iíd ever heard from a gun before.

When you yourself are firing guns the distinctive sounds help to give you a real feel for each gun and will probably allow you to choose a favorite one. This actually works into the gameplay too, as Criterion was able to give different guns different capabilities, like one gun being better for short range shooting while another might more accurate from longer distances but less powerful. Tips about these guns are even given during the loading screens, which shows the work that Criterion put into making the guns feel authentic.

One thing that surprised me about BLACK was its presentation, which is actually pretty impressive. Although the storyline may bore some of you, you can still definitely see that Criterion didnít simply throw in some cheesy action plotline. Itís presented through gritty, live action cutscenes with above average voice acting that all give it a bit of a Hollywood movie-like presentation that doesnít hurt the game at all. The music in BLACK, which is sometimes orchestral and dramatic, actually feels good during a lot of the more intense action sequences.

Now the most obvious shortcoming with BLACK is that the game is single player only. When I first heard about how Criterion wanted to focus on a good single player experience I could kinda understand why they didnít want to put resources into a multiplayer. But after playing through the game and seeing how the whole destructible environment thing worked out, I canít help but think about how that could have been implemented into a multiplayer mode to at least make it somewhat unique.

Closing Comments
BLACK is a pretty solid First Person Action title that features a selling point that while makes sense, doesnít really affect the gameplay enough. Perhaps when a sequel is made (the story definitely leaves an opening for one) on a next gen console and an actual physics engine is added into the game we may see this ďtotal destructabilityĒ thing bear some fruit but on the PS2 and Xbox that eventually just fades away, leaving another FPS that can get boring for many pretty quickly.

To itís merit, BLACK is an absolute technical powerhouse on the PS2, with crisp, detailed environments and impressive special effects as well as audio quality that is nothing short of incredible, making it one of those games you gotta play on a big HD set with a badass sound system. The presentation and story progression also exceeded my expectations and for some may really add to the experience.

Overall, if you only own a PS2 and are dissatisfied with its somewhat lacking FPS library, BLACK is probably worth at least one rental. If you own an Xbox however, thereís definitely plenty more to choose from which makes paying $40 for the game a questionable purchase at best.


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