Black is a first-person shooter where the focus lies squarely on the single-player experience. In fact, there's no multi-player to speak of - truly a rarity for the genre. Set in Eastern Europe, Black places you in the role of Sergeant First-Class Jack Kellar, a veteran of the US military and the leader of a Black Ops team sent into the field to bring back a traitor. Forget sneaking around Sam Fisher style; Criterion wants you to experience the feeling of being in a Hollywood blockbuster where it's you and your arsenal of weapons against the enemy. Some of the films they've cited as inspiration include True Lies, Diehard, The Rock, and Predator.
"MP5, Uzi, Remington 12 gauge shotgun, AK-47, Glock 9mm, M-16, rocket launcher and a grenade launcher" are just some of the weapons Alex Ward, Creative Director for Criterion rattles off when discussing the weapons you'll have at your disposal. "If we saw a cool gun in a movie, if it looked cool, if it sounded cool, we've put it in our game." he says.
The controls are smooth and easy to pick up, and the game makes good use of the d-pad, allowing you to quickly perform minor actions with the tap of a button, rather than navigating a series of menus. Aiming is a little difficult at first, but once you've gotten accustomed to the touch required for precision aiming and learned to make use of the zoom feature, you'll be capping bad guys left and right.
The AI is pretty relentless as these terrorists have no qualms about blindly squeezing off a couple rounds in your general direction, even if they can't see you. Sitting back and picking off the onslaught is a dangerous proposition since the enemy is so aggressive. While they may be anxious to kill you, they're by no means eager to die. Bad guys will hide behind cover, snipe at you from a distance, and they love flanking you while your attention is occupied elsewhere. Of course, you don't have to sit there and take things lying down - you've got options as well. Sometimes a well-placed grenade will flush out the enemy, while other times climbing on top of a building will give you the element of surprise needed to pick off a pesky foe. If that doesn't work, you can always blow the door away with a shotgun blast, take out some scaffolding, or shoot out an entire wall.
Many gamers in search of great looking visuals have moved on to the Xbox 360, but recent games like Shadow of the Colossus and Resident Evil 4 have shown that the PlayStation 2 is still capable wowing us with high quality visuals. From plentiful particle effects to destructible environments, Black's graphics are nothing short of amazing. At any given moment you'll see empty shells flying from your weapon, bullets ripping into bad guys, errant fire splintering walls, barrels exploding, and smoke billowing throughout the room. One look back at an area you've just cleared will reveal a level of destruction that would make Jerry Bruckheimer proud. Of course all of this is done with a smooth framerate, which is just what you'd expect from the team behind Burnout.
One of the cool effects you'll notice is the blurring effect that occurs when you're reloading your weapon. The theory behind this is that when you're reloading, all of your focus is on your weapon. There are even multiple reloading animations - one for when you're under fire, and one for when you're not. The animations do look fantastic, and it's easy to believe the team's claim that they spent more time on this area than any previous FPS developer.
No game can be called a hit just from playing a short demo, well, other than Metal Gear Solid 2, but Black seems poised to be a heck of a game. It's intense, it's gorgeous, and given the recent lull in releases, its timing couldn't be better. We'll have a full review of the game soon, so check back soon for our final verdict.
2/13/2006 Aaron Thomas