Sunday, March 05, 2006

Black (Xbox) - Review

The other game I picked up to rent was Black on the Xbox. I had to take out my Xbox and hook it up again (gotta love that Backwards Compatibility on the 360, eh?) in order to play the game. I didn't have any sort of high hopes for the game at all. I knew the game would look good, but would it blow me away with its gameplay as well? Short answer: not really. If I could say one thing to Criterion it would be that it may be smart to keep working on the Burnout series over an FPS game.

Black is certainly a great looking title for the current generation of machines out there (PS2 and Xbox), but it's tough for anyone that owns the Xbox 360 to readjust to the fact that the game is not going to look as good as something like Perfect Dark Zero (just as a genre comparison) or Call of Duty 2. I personally never noticed any slowdown in the game and with all the lighting effects going on I found that to be pretty surprising. Criterion isn't necessarily known for having awesome graphics (even Burnout Revenge could be seen as less than Need for Speed: Most Wanted graphically on the Xbox for instance) so Black is a nice change of pace in that regard.

Beauty, in many cases, is only skin deep though. That old saying fits Black quite well. The story of Black is very nonsensical and I almost wish they would have done CGI work with it instead of actual people in live action sections. They revolve around the main character (Keller) being chained up and talking to a shadowy government type via a poorly acted interrogation session. Keller describes the last 4 days (the subsequent 8 missions that make up the game) and his hunt for the Seventh Wave group and their leader Lennox. Needless to say once you reach the ending it is quite brief and you wonder why the heck they ever put those cutscenes in.

The gameplay in Black revolves around unending destruction with your weapons. The game is rated M, but surprisingly there is no blood spilled in the game (this is an old EA edict from long ago) so I'm guessing the rating is simply for the extreme killing and violence that goes on. There is an almost unlimited supply of ammo for the AK-47 (the gun you will probably use the most) while the other weapons have ammo here and there and serve their purpose around the area you pick them up in. You can only carry two weapons at one time and you can also get up to 3 health packs that can be used by hitting the d-pad down. Health packs are very important because you often come under overwhelming odds and this game isn't like Halo or Call of Duty 2 where you can hide for a while and rebuild your health meter. Many of the guns are quite cool, but you will find you rely on the AK-47 a lot because of the ammo situation over other guns.

Everything sounds great in Black at the moment, but there are 2 glaring problems with the game:

1. The AI of the enemy borders on the infantile
2. The game is just way too short

The first problem is that the AI is stupid. You will see this in the first mission right off the bat. You turn a corner and see some cover availability. As you run toward the cover you are shot at by someone at the 1 o'clock position. When you reach your cover you crouch. The enemy no longer fires at you. This is weird because the cover you are against can be batted away by an automatic gun if shot enough times. The enemy won't fire until you stand up again and start shooting at them. The only enemies that will continue to shoot at you will be the ones on higher ground. There are also times when you can run up to an enemy and they won't fire at you. They obviously heard you running toward them, but they don't care. You can just unload a clip into them and continue on.

The second problem is that this game is just too short even if you do take the secondary objectives into account (you have to finish a greater number of them as you go through the difficulty levels). It took me 6 hours to plow through this game and that is on the pretty short end for an FPS game nowadays. There are better FPS games out there than Black even on the consoles (Far Cry Instincts and even Killzone come to mind when you think outside of the big ones like Halo) and each one last longer than this one.

In the end Black is a nice little distraction and I would recommend that you rent it because you will beat it within the rental window. There's no reason to drop $40 on this game because you'll have no wish to go through the game again once you beat it the first time.