At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Screenshots
Matt Bailey PlayStation 2 Electronic Arts Criterion 1 Here
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Memory Card: 58KB Minimum Xbox Click here to buy Black.

Black review

Criterion will of course be known for their excellent Burnout series which has seen four iterations grace our screen over the past 5 yeas. Not many people will realise that the company is also responsible for RenderWare, the middleware technology used in a whole host of console titles that, among other things, allows developers to easily port games from one platform to another. So we already knew they weren't a one-trick pony, but since 2001's TrickStyle on the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, we haven't seen anything more than Burnout from their games division, until they revealed the long-awaited Black.

It had been rumoured for quite a long time that Criterion were working on a first-person shooter, but it was at E3 2004 that they revealed their hand. What hit people immediately was just how good the game looked on the ageing platforms, with an almost next-gen shine coming from even the PlayStation 2 edition. And ultimately in this final version there's no getting from how good the graphics look. We already knew from Burnout Revenge that Criterion could deliver something special, but there's a lot coming together that means Black delivers both a pretty and a believable experience. Firstly it's the level of detail present in each environment, with textures that are neither stale nor overly repeated. Secondly, there's the enemy soldiers which are well animated, and look more real than you'd expect. Lastly, and quite importantly, is the sheer sense of scale of the levels. The intricate environments span a large distance, with multiple objectives and sections without a single bit of loading.

Of course, the initial load times suffer, but the sheer amount of play you get out of each level makes it worthwhile. Unlike the short bursts of gameplay with cut-scenes splitting up the flow in some FPS titles, Black features both a heavy and a long dose of action in each environment. Even on normal difficulty, the levels can last almost an hour if you play the game properly (i.e. achieving the secondary objectives and not rushing through the action). There are 10 levels overall, so Black is clearly a game you won't rush through.

So we know how it looks, and it lasts a while, but how does it actually play? Well, Black certainly isn't a game that's going to revolutionise the genre, and feels more like a combination of the best elements of the modern FPS in an action-packed adrenaline-pumping adventure. There is no bullet time, wall jumping, anti-gravity guns, or team-based action. You're a one man band, armed with powerful weaponry, and you get to blast through people, vehicles, and explosive crates. The sheer scale of the experience, that comes from the amazing graphics engine mentioned earlier, as well as the constant pace of raw action, is what makes it more than a run-of-the-mill shooter. The game offers multiple difficulty settings that change not only the pace and quantity of the action, but set you up with secondary objectives, such as finding 'intel' or picking up certain arms.

The game is made more compelling by a rather tough AI. While not particularly clever, their diving for cover can make it harder to pick them off, and the fact that they arrive in such numbers always gives you a challenge. On just the second level you'll find yourself up against a huge barrage of fire as you pick through an enemy base, and after that you then have to face an RPG-wielding foe who can only be approached by zigzagging around. Sometimes one move wrong can wind you up dead, or trying to take on too many people can leave you in the same situations. It's made all the tougher by the lack of ability to save mid-game, with checkpoints very few and far between. You'll also find that even cover isn't as useful as you'd hoped; hiding behind a crate may stop the fire reaching you for the moment, but you'll soon find that the destructible environments leave you out in the open in no time. At least it works both ways.

It's not surprising that the single player is so comprehensive and so enjoyable considering the game takes an unusual step in the era of modern FPS titles; it features no multiplayer whatsoever. Instead of trying to get working online protocols, servers, lobbies, etc., Criterion decided to focus on offline play, with not even split-screen in sight. It's a bold move, against the flow towards online play that is the focus of the next-generation consoles, but a good choice, as it has resulted in a more compelling and arguably more definitive experience for the solo gamer.

Ratings

Graphics Very impressive. Full of impressive detail, amazing explosions, and a sense of scale rarely seen in console shooters. One of the best looking games on the PlayStation 2. 10/10
Gameplay Highly enjoyable but not original. It's not doing things you haven't seen before, it's doing things you have seen before very well. 8/10
Value It's a good solid shooter, and worth the money for more fans of the series, but it doesn't offer online play which has become a must for some. 8/10
Lifespan The levels are tough and long, so the game should last you at least 10 hours - particularly if you don't rush through it. But with when it's complete the only thing you can do is play though it again to unlock some new weapons. 8/10
Audio Some amazing sound effects, accompanied by an excellent musical score. 9/10
Overall Black isn't original and it isn't genre-defining, but it is an excellent first person shooter offering a consistently solid and enjoyable single-player experience that every fan of the genre should try. 8/10

Click here to buy Black from Amazon.co.uk.

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