Review: Black (PS2)

Black (PS2)
Developer: Criterion
Publisher: EA
System: PS2 (also Xbox)
Players: 1

So apparently the guys who make Burnout were a little…burned out on making car games, and decided they wanted a change of pace. So they decided to make a single player First Person Shooter game full of automatic weapons fire and spiffy graphics. Things were going well. Then one of the producers let the words Gun Porn slip out of his lips, and suddenly expectations went through the roof. Could any game really live up to the comparison to Guns and Porn? Would they really want to if they could? Could a game published and bankrolled by EA really be expected to do anything new or exciting? God I hope so, Spore is coming eventually.


Story:

You are a Special Forces operative sent into one of the various former republics of the USSR. Terror is afoot, and you’re there to kill it dead. Only things don’t go as planned. The story begins with you in shackles, being interrogated to find out what happened and why. The entire story is told in this manner, as you progress through the missions you are actually recounting your tale in this debrief. The story isn’t exactly Oscar winning material, but it does get the job done, delivering you from point A to point B. Distinctly average.

Story: 5/10


Graphics:

While the story may not be all that hot, the poly pushing aspect of the game is in much better shape. While you won’t be fooled into thinking the game is running on a PS3 or a 360, when compared to the other games of this generation, Black has nothing to be ashamed of. Environments are all destructible up to a point, bullets will crash into the ground around you and kick up dirt, or leave bullet holes in walls, glass every where, be it inside a building or on a city street will shatter and explode around you when any grenade or bullet or RPG hits nearby. Seriously, you should see what happened when I threw Final Fantasy 7 against a building. Not a window left in the level.

One portion of the game that was awkward to get used to was the reload animation. Since the beginning of FPS games you have been able to see everything that’s going on in front of you while reloading your weapon. Black chooses to be different. When you hit reload your screen will go out of focus, except for your weapon, which will become even clearer on your screen. I didn’t like it at first, but I got used to it and forget its happening. I do hope it doesn’t catch on though.

Graphics: 7/10


Sound:

If graphics have nothing to be ashamed of then the sound doesn’t either. Well, for the most part. First off let’s start with the good. The theme music and sound effects are once again fantastic. I think it’s safe to say after the past few Medal of Honor games and now Black, that when EA does FPS, they go above and beyond. The intro movie screams big budget Hollywood movie, which is fitting since the theme is actually performed by the Hollywood Orchestra. I know this because they tell you that right there in the opening credits. And in a game that’s supposedly famous for its level of violence, the sound effects do their best to hold up their end of the bargain. Explosions rumble and guns crackle with the kind of volume that will have your parents demanding you hurry up and move out of their basement and into your own appartment.

Now for what’s wrong with the audio. In this game, the voice acting ranges from passable and pretty good to downright annoying. Your character is a member of a squad, and in some missions you are joined by those squad members. At these times the voice acting is performed over a radio, even though there’s no animation or even anything on the character models to indicate the presence of a radio. But this isn’t why I’m docking points. They chose to make it sound like they were on a radio, cool I’ll deal with that.

No, what the developers did to annoy me, and me personally you understand, occurs on missions when you are out of direct contact with your team. During these missions you will reach a point on the map where you are supposed to make contact with your team mates. And of course to hype up the drama you can’t raise them on the radio. Cool so far. Where the devs go wrong is they have the character continue to broadcast 3 or 4 times. It happens a few times, with lots of static in reply. Actually it’s the static that really annoyed me. I get it, out of contact. Need four bars. Can you hear me now and all that.

Sound: 7/10


Controls:

Black seems to have taken it’s cues from the Medal of Honor games, control wise, excluding the recent European Assualt, which took the controls in an entirely new direction for that series. It’s almost too bad, the new control scheme in European Assualt was an improvement. But even so, Black makes good use of the tools it has. R1 is your trigger, L1 is your zoom/scope, etc. And if that control scheme annoys you there are a number of other options, including customizing your own scheme. What the designers didn’t allow me to do however is change the speed which I can turn or aim. The point of view movement is agonizingly slow right from the beginning, and will hamper your efforts throughout the length of the game. This isn’t a PC elitist view of “Mouse/Keyboard rules man”. This is someone who enjoys console FPS games saying the speed is too slow and it’s unfortunate that the designers didn’t feel the urge to let you alter the sensitivity of the analog sticks.

Controls: 3/5


Gameplay:

As I stated above anyone who has played any of the current generation Medal of Honor games outside of the recent European Assault will feel right at home with Black, and that applies to the gameplay as well. Sadly, this is not a good thing. Criterion have taken the Medal of Honor blueprint and transplanted into it the current day with modern weapons and environments. While this should be a good thing, and trust me I am more than happy to see EA graduate from the WW2 genre, the designers haven’t fixed the problems which have continued to show up in the Medal of Honor games since at least Frontline. These problems include but aren’t limited to enemies who refuse to die after being shot at close range a number of times (with a shotgun for heavens sake) and the occasional mission where you aren’t really sure where you’re supposed to be going. Combine this with the cardinal sin of sticking too many enemies next to explosives and you get a game that’s more about figuring out which barrels to shoot than it is about surviving the enemy and moving on in the game.

Despite all these flaws there is still some fun to be had here. If you can get past the cookie cutter game elements, you will find some missions which definitely fall into the unique category. These include crossing a minefield by detonating it as you go, living out that scene in “The Rock” where the Special Forces troops get massacred, and my personal favorite, blasting your way through an insane asylum walls to bypass enemies who have the outside hallways covered with instant death. Nothing is more satisfying than getting trapped inside a room and realizing you can just do some renovating and create a new doorway to then go out the next door in the hall and silently pistol whip the guard who thought he had you.

Gameplay: 3/5


Balance:

The game is over just as you’re really getting into things. The latter levels are where the game really starts to take off in terms of unique experiences and the amount of violence you can dish out, so it’s over all too quickly. There are no boss fights of any kind in the game, just primary and secondary objectives to achieve. While the game itself seems rather short the actual levels can take upwards of an hour to complete. There is no saving in level, though there are checkpoints for the longer ones. I guess the experiment to bring back “Lives” ended with European Assault.

The main difficulty in the game comes from the amount of enemies you wind up facing once they know you’re there. Unlike most games your opponents won’t just stand and fight. One will be bright enough to run away and call for help, which results in a bunch of goons coming at you. The joy of fighting all of these enemies does get hampered by the refusal to die and the blatant use of flamables I mentioned above, but you can choose to not shoot the flamables, and headshots usually do kill with one shot. If you can get your gun up fast enough. Or if the game decides you are actually hitting the enemies head.

Balance: 4/10


Replayability:

Once you complete a game on a certain difficulty level you are awarded the silver guns, which are just silver versions of each gun in the game. These guns have unlimited ammo, making it about as close to god mode as you can get without the whole invincibility thing. Once you start it often becomes a race to find an RPG on the level. Unlimited ammo for an RPG equals explosions everywhere. Weapons like Magnums and M-249s become much more enjoyable to use because you can blaze through ammo like its going out of style.

There are 4 difficulty levels in the game, one of which requires you to finish the game on hard to unlock. There is zero multiplayer included in Black, so your replay options are limited to how many times you can play through a level before you get absolutely sick of it. Don’t get me wrong, you can probably go through the game two or three times before you really start to get bored, especially with some of the more unique levels, but with no save points in game there’s no way of easily getting to the points of interest. Which of course means slogging through the waves of enemies that refuse to die. Again.

Replayability: 4/10


Appeal:

If the only thing that bothered you about Medal of Honor: Rising Sun and Frontline was the fact that the game was still taking place in WW2, you will find Black to be right up your alley. Even if you don’t care either way and just want a good game no matter how it plays, you’re likely to find at least some enjoyment in Black.

However if you think MOH had more problems than its setting, this isn’t the game you’re looking for. Move along.

Appeal: 6/10


Originality:

The setting is new, as is the developer, but the rest feels like warmed over meatloaf. The weapons have all been seen before, though I will give the developers credit for putting a silencer on an AK-47. That was different. The game seems to be more of an excuse to blow things up.

Originality: 4/10


Addictiveness:

Addicting is not a word I would use when describing Black. It’s a serviceable game which has flaws that can cause more frustration than it can over come.

There are moments in the game where the original spirit of the design comes through. Causing chain reactions in a minefield makes me want to stop and figure out the pattern which would cause them all to explode with just one bullet. But aside from these moments, there’s really nothing to addict me.

Addictiveness: 3/10


Miscellaneous:

Not much else to say, to be honest. The lack of a multiplayer option, either split screen or online, hurts only if you don’t have access to the games that do that well, and nearly everyone who’s going to play this will have had access to those games. Still, it’s an oddity in today’s marketplace to see a game that’s completely unapologetic about not having a multiplayer option.

EA does continue to impress with its attempts to make its games as close to a Hollywood movie as possible. The introductory movie, along with the very rare full motion videos that aren’t horrible, show that somebody is paying attention when making these things. Of course, the introductory movie and those cut scenes cannot be skipped, you must watch them at least once before you can get to the gaming, so I guess you could say they are also making sure they get their moneys worth out of the videos.

But really, how many games have to gall to give you opening credits? Metal Gear Solid did, Half Life did. And now Black does. Well let me tell you something. One of these is not like the others.

Miscellaneous: 5/10


Story: 5/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 7/10
Controls: 3/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Balance: 4/10
Replay Ability: 4/10
Appeal: 6/10
Originality: 4/10
Addictiveness: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10

Short Attention Span Summary
If this is gun porn it’s that garbage that gets made in sunny Southern California, full of silicon and rubber. The game is vapid and shallow, with little depth and a wanton craving for your money. There is one thing which makes this game just like porn. You never EVER buy porn, unless you’re some sort of sex addict. Black is much the same. If you’re a gun addict, you might find this to be an interesting addition to your collection. Otherwise rental only.