Let’s talk about realism for a minute. The video game industry is “supposed” to be moving towards realistic everything. Realistic gameplay that’s so technical it isn’t fun (Ghost Recon anyone?). Audio realism that’s so accurate you’ll swear you’re actually on the battlefield. Photo-realism with girls and cars that look “better” than the real thing (check out Gran Turismo). We’re told that we shouldn’t want games that look like cartoons anymore, and that we should want super-detailed, hyper-realistic looking environments and guns and character models that look just like the real whatever-they-ares. In this respect, Black succeeds completely. The guns look real enough to touch. The enemies that you battle against look superb. The environments have fantastic draw distances and excellent texturing. All of these fantastic features run at a solid framerate. In terms of audio, the game again delivers an incredibly realistic experience. As you sit in front of your television, you’ll swear that you can really hear bullets whizzing by your head and man, that score really pulls you into the game.
While Black may have an outstanding presentation, notice that I never once mentioned “realistic gameplay.” This is because Black is clearly made by people who do not have a proper understanding of the first-person shooter genre. For starters, you can’t jump in Black. Now, the game is designed so that you don’t really need to jump, I’ll admit that, but the exclusion of a jump ability hurts the feel of the game. It’s incredibly annoying and frustrating when you walk off of a ledge and can’t turn around and go back to where you just were. The exclusion of a jump ability makes it hard to strategically plan the use of health packs because half of the time you can’t get to health packs that you’ve left behind for later use. Since you can’t jump, you can’t launch surprise attacks on enemies on lower-levels. The only thing you can do is snipe them from above, which isn’t nearly as thrilling as launching a grenade down into a crowd of terrorists, waiting for it to blow, and then hopping down upon them with guns-blazing.
Black is also obnoxiously linear. There is no guess work when planning on where you need to go next in Black, which takes a lot of fun out of being an elite counter-terrorist trying to track down a very notorious terrorist who is “always one step ahead of the authorities.” Generally I don’t mind linear gamers (F.E.A.R. was incredibly linear and incredibly sweet), but again, the inexperience of the developers shows. Please, game developers, do a better job of creating an environment than just corralling me into an area with a shin-high ledge that any normal human being could walk over but for some reason our oh-so-elite counter-terrorist character can’t handle. Even worse, you can’t fall off roofs or into holes in floors unless the game lets you. In one particular sequence in the “later” portions of the game (later in quotes because the game is a measly five hours long), you have to cross a partially destroyed bridge. This scene could have been incredibly intense and easily could have topped the very entertaining bridge sequence in Half-Life 2, but since there’s no risk of falling into any of the holes in the partially destroyed bridge as you fight in vicious gun-battles, the whole thing feels fake and plastic. Without having to be aware of the environment around you, do you really think you’re going to appreciate how awesome they look?
But Black is all about GUN BATTLES!
Yeah, it really is, because there’s nothing else for the game to be about. I have to say; one thing that I did like about the gameplay in Black is that it isn’t just a mindless run-and-gun shooter. You actually need to strategize most situations (even if strategy just boils down to memorizing patterns and timing when to pop out from behind cover and shoot). It makes most battles more interesting and some battles even memorable. But the battles would be a lot more enjoyable (and my review a lot more favorable too) if the battles weren’t so unbalanced. For starters, on the last level, where you’re supposed to be finally confronting the evil terrorist mastermind, you go in alone. That’s just ridiculous. When we finally figure out Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?, we’re probably going to send in 50,000 soldiers to make sure we get him. The guy you’re tracking down is as notorious as Bin Laden is. So why would they send me in all alone? Yes, this does increase the challenge for the gamer, but it’s very unrealistic considering that you do have backup for at least half the game.
And during gun battles, why does it take nearly a full clip of ammunition to take down your enemies? Yes, I understand that they’re wearing armor, and I’ll admit that I don’t understand body armor entirely, but I’m reasonably positive that 30 well-placed shots into someone’s body armor is going to kill them. So why does it sometimes take 60 bullets to take them down? Now, before you tell me that I should just aim for their heads, let me point out that the battles get incredibly intense because this game uses respawning enemies to keep the action tight while you’re attempting to complete your objectives. When enemies are continuously respawned during several sequences in the game, you don’t always have time to aim for their heads (and for the record, 27% of my kills did come from headshots). These respawning enemies become very problematic because health packs are incredibly limited and combined with the fact that they take a ton of damage to go down, you spend a lot of time fighting them.
While I’m on that subject, let me go into depth about the enemies. They suck, too. The enemy roster includes: a guy with the machine gun, a guy with the shotgun, a guy with the rocket launcher, and a guy with the shield. No one else, just those four foes (and they’re all men too). You have to kill them all in the same fashion for the entire length of the game. For the shield guys, you need to throw a grenade behind them, because for some reason, peppering them with three or four clips of high-velocity rounds from a machine gun or sixteen blasts from a shotgun into their shield never causes damage to the shield or the shield holder to drop said shield. For the shotgun guys, you need to shoot them until they fall on their backs, and then you need to shoot them as soon as they stand up again. The rocket launcher guys always shoot one rocket in the wrong direction so you can see where they are, and when you kill them, they explode and fall off whatever ledge they were on.
This makes for a very boring game.
Black is a regression for first-person shooters. The graphics and sound might be a great leap forward, but the rest of the game fails to meet any of the current criteria for a good first-person shooter. We’ve just played through F.E.A.R. , Half-Life 2, FarCry, Halo 2, Quake 4, and Call of Duty 2. It’s been a great couple of years for first-person shooters. I really don’t want to play a game that feels like ten years old and that’s what the gameplay in Black feels like. When you’re playing Black, it feels like you’re being led by the hand and someone is pointing at all the things you should like and telling you to like them. That’s not what we want. If this sounds like a fun experience, I still suggest avoiding picking this game up because there are no multiplayer options and the game is only five hours long with very little reason to play through it again. Black is a disappointing game that you should definitely avoid.