posted 3/14/2006 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: Xbox

Black is the much-hyped new title from Criterion Games, the maker of the popular Burnout series.  Trading fast cars for loud guns, Criterion has decided to put their own touches on the popular first-person shooter genre.  But despite some amazing graphics, some of the best sound you will hear on your Xbox and a whole lot of over-the-top action, Black ends up falling just short of the greatness we've seen in their other products.

On the surface it may look like Black is a major departure from the Burnout games, but as you play through this game you will notice that the two products share more than a few similarities.  For one thing, they are both about fast-paced action and split-second decisions; there isn't a lot of time for planning ahead, this is balls-to-the-wall action like you've never seen it before.

Black's inspirations were not other first-person shooters, but rather movies like the Terminator, Commando and Die Hard.  From the moment you start playing this game you will be amazed by all of the bullets flying around and the explosions going off.  This isn't your usual first-person shooter, this amps up all of the excitement as if Hollywood has taken over and aren't going to settle for just a few bombs going off.  Nearly every can, car and box are destructible, and a good deal of the game's landmarks and backgrounds can be damaged in one form or another.  This may be March, but Black has "summer movie" written all over it.

The emphasis here is on the guns, all of which look and sound stunning.  Black is certainly not the first game to offer a variety of guns, but it's clear from the get-go that the developers did what they could to make each of them feel unique and special.  You can only hold two weapons at a time, so you're constantly forced to choose between your favorites (or the two guns you feel would be the most useful for any given level).  For the most part you've seen all of these weapons before in other first-person shooters, but the gunplay in Black is rewarding and fun … for awhile.

You play Keller, the action hero-type who starts out the story being interrogated by some government worker.  The cinemas are all done in full-motion video, something you almost never see in a game of this type.  You get a new cut scene before each of the eight levels, each filling in just enough of the back story to keep you wanting to know more.  Employing all kinds of quick edits, artificial close-ups and stock photographs, these sequences are definitely unique.  Some may dislike how disorienting the editing is, but they are certainly interesting and keep you guessing.

The eight levels you play in Black are all part of Keller's story, flashbacks to these exciting battles that had him attempting to take out arms-dealing terrorists and its leader, Lennox.  Through some twists, a few turns and a whole lot of spy-talk, you start to realize that the mission is becoming personal and that everybody views themselves has freedom fighters.  Or something like that, the story is a little murky and doesn't make a whole lot of sense by the time you get done with it.

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