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Black Review

Developer: Criterion Publisher: EA Games
Release Date: February 28, 2006 Also On: PlayStation 2 and Xbox

Criterion’s Black has been on the receiving end of more attention than a needy newborn baby since it was unveiled at E3 2004. Talked about for its Hollywood-style action, next-gen quality graphics, and explosive environments, Black has quite a rap sheet of expectations for its February 28th release. After playing through a brief PlayStation 2 demo version of the game, I am left wondering if the next month is really enough time to fix up the game and make it live up to its potential and its hype.

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The demo version of Black loads up with a long demo movie showing clips of shooting, things blowing up, enemies dying, and all sorts of mayhem; it does a great job showing some of the explosive, environment-destroying action that awaits gamers next month. However, when the game loaded up and the demo put me in a windowed room being shot from all sides, I quickly noticed that there are a few things that need work.

Almost immediately I noticed how unfit the initial weapons are for the situation at hand. I’m trapped in a room with boarded-up doors and broken windows with no cover being shot from distant enemies. I have a shotgun and a pistol. The utility of these weapons is slim to none as the enemies are so far away that I had trouble even seeing them as dust and particles fill the air from the bullets headed my way. The only solution to this problem, I found, was to take the shotgun and blast one of the doors down. I headed outside into the streets and picked up an AK-47 mysteriously left lying outside the room I was in. From here I zoomed in and picked off some of my attackers, taking cover behind blown-up cars and telephone booths and benches scattered around the area.

I have to hand it to Black, the game’s intense. It seemed that I got stuck with more metal than Ozzfest, so I had to make use of the cover I was given. For a game that claims that the weapons are the stars, I took cover quite a lot. I did notice one of the things that EA and Criterion are so proud of, the environment is very destructible. Near the end of the level I came across the entrance to a building with a replica cannon, circa 1800’s, sitting above. I threw a grenade behind the cannon and watched as the entrance exploded, killing all of the enemies nearby and sending rubble and impressive particle effects in all directions. From here I was swarmed with some enemies climbing over the walls barricading the street and more running out of the buildings nearby. I took out my shotgun again and pounded them into the ground, watching the somewhat-realistic location detection as enemies would grab their legs or arms if shot there.

After a few waves of enemies are killed, a nearby building explodes and a few more baddies run out but the demo ends and doesn’t let you kill them. Believe me when I say that it has taken me longer to type this preview, at about 90 words per minute, than it took me to finish the demo. As brief as it is, it did give me a good taste of the game. An early evaluation would show that Black has a long way to go in becoming the revolutionary first-person shooter that EA is hoping for. Criterion hasn’t really made anything out-of-the-ordinary happen here.

Destructible environments were the novelty in 2001’s Red Faction. Sure, the guns are pretty fun to use and they act realistically, but the enemies you use them on aren’t the most intelligent anyway. Unless they’re reacting to dust or things blowing up around them, they’re not the sharpest nails in the batch. They don’t take much cover, and basically they strafe around waiting until you peek your head out. My last complaint is the health system, which simply has to go. I wouldn’t care if Criterion delayed Black for another month; the medical pack and health bar system simply have to go. They’re terrible. Searching the rubble for the small white health packs isn’t what I’d like to be doing when I’m supposed to be blowing things up and shooting guns. I’d much rather use the “hide and heal” system of Call of Duty 2 than this.

I’m still anticipating the final version of Black, but my eyes have been opened from the demo, there is still a lot of work to do. The graphics, while loaded with superb particle effects and excellent gun models, could use a little work. The character models are pretty bad, to be honest. The animation also didn’t look complete. The sound effects are exceptional, however, and capture the explosiveness of the game that Criterion hopes to have. I guess, come February 28th, we’ll see if Black is what it was supposed to be.

Written by Cliff