Visuals beyond most PS2 titles and intensity unlike many FPSs. It all ends too soon though with nothing else to do.

User Rating: 7.5 | Black PS2
Apparently the PS2 isn’t dead. Then again, that’s what they said about 2Pac and he hangs out at my place all the time. EA and Criterion, a team better known for creating “Burnout” titles, joined forces to create a pixel blasting first-person shooter that is as ruthless as Aunt Jemima with a shotgun (you’d be surprised). Criterion has an obsession with guns and EA has an obsession with money, hence creating a blistering shooter with unbelievable visuals that are very hard to find elsewhere on the PS2. But is all this merely a façade? Is there anything behind this wall of sprinkles and cupcakes and shiny ponies, or is there a deep and enriching experience hidden beneath it all? Although “Black” has some rather strong gameplay points as an FPS, it’s still only a brief bundle of beautiful visuals lacking a point and anything more to do when it all comes crumbling down.

And when the cookie does crumble, “Black’s” story is left torn apart by the cookie monster. When it comes to video games, terrorists never get old for some reason; it’s all a matter of figuring out a half-decent plot to accompany the genocide of hundreds of terrorists by a lone ranger/American hero. “Black” puts players into the steel-toed shoes of an American soldier named Keller. Eight hours and nine dark and confusing live-action sequences later and there’s really not much more to say. Each cut-scene consists of Keller telling an American government authority of some form everything he knows about a terrorist organization. Meanwhile, you fight through all of Keller’s experiences, killing hundreds of terrorists to help “progress” the story. In reality, your job is to kill people until you reach an anticlimactic ending and turn it off. Apparently it’s what’s in between that counts.

It’s hard to walk away from “Black” without remembering a point at which you swore your heart hailed a taxi and ditched your trembling body. Yes, it’s that intense. The main reason “Black” is able to achieve such a level of adrenaline gushing action is that it, unlike dozens of first-person shooters, has brilliant AI. There are only a few types of enemies you’ll encounter, but each one understands how to use its advantages to take you out. Terrorists with shotguns and well-suited armor will come at you on a full-speed rampage blasting you to bits. Meanwhile, terrorists with police shields will come at you and sit patiently for a chance to pull their shields back and take careful aim at your head. Off in the distance, terrorists with assault rifles will start to move in, using various objects for cover brilliantly. And to top off this overbearing force, a perfectly stationed terrorist with an RPG a hundred yards away will hurtle a “Get better soon!” greeting card directly into your comfort zone. These aren’t any ordinary PS2 terrorists; they’re smart and every one of them is well-equipped with armor and the ability to flank like no other. It’s beyond refreshing to come across a group of enemies that are finally worth killing and if the story had been worthwhile, there might have been even more reason to set them in your scopes.

Because your enemies are usually as smart as Hugh Hefner was when he skipped “Career Day” in 7th grade, it’s up to you to devise your own strategies to beat theirs. This usually involves shooting at dozens of carefully placed explosive crates or cars, but it can also mean blowing the side off of a building to make another route. The environments don’t always make these separate paths or explosive objects as obvious as you might expect. There are certainly situations where a line of red canisters will be set up perfectly next to a group of terrorists, but there are other times where you will accidentally shatter glass onto enemies or turn an entire floor of a building into an ash-ridden block party. The environments can also subtly promote not blasting every building in sight in order to avoid losing far-sighted vision from an excess of smoke and flames. The guns, on the other hand, which are part of “Black’s” marketing campaign, are not very balanced and some weapons, such as the RPG or shotgun, are rendered useless for the majority of the game. Nonetheless, taking control of the environment and paving your own paths and strategies prove to be a strong point for “Black” and help make it more than just an ordinary first-person shooter.

EA doled out the big bucks to give it the classic “Electronic Arts Treatment” with a Hollywood orchestra performing the game’s epic war music and annoyingly “authentic” Russian terrorist voice acting. The soundtrack is highly underused and it appears as though EA only paid for about 20 minutes of actual music. The sound effects sound a bit muffled at times and Keller’s voiceovers sound like he’s standing at a podium speaking to thousands of people. Altogether, the sound of Black feels rushed but ultimately gets the job done with mediocre effectiveness.

But more importantly, what good is a first-person shooter if it doesn’t have cutting-edge visuals that are so sharp that they make the system bleed? Luckily, “Burnout’s” mesmerizing presentation rubbed off in “Black” and works almost just as well in the FPS genre. Criterion implemented some interesting and unique effects in “Black,” such as having blurred vision when reloading guns. However, as original and creative as this drunken haze may be, it can become quite dizzying and annoying towards the end of the game. In the end, “Black” will gain most of its kudos from its sexy and highly attractive guns that cause eye-pleasing explosions from the unbelievably destructive environments.

Frame-rate constipation is certainly visible (mainly when zooming in) which goes to show how this little monster is pushing the PS2 hardware a little too much. The sacrifices Criterion made to make the guns look pretty at all times can also be a bit obvious, such as walls with horribly blurred textures, cartoon-like death animations, levels that tend to look a bit too familiar or the fact that every terrorist is covered head-to-toe to avoid any detailed 3D modeling. These are technically not very noticeable since the experience is over so soon, but to FPS enthusiasts, they can be as clear as glass. However, the trailers will show off “Black’s” visual excellence and most likely sell a million copies to explosion-loving gamers. No gamer should deny the game’s mostly stunning presentation, but it should be noted that “Black” is, overall, a far cry away from perfection.

“Black” comes up a bit too short on three levels that keep the game a few steps away from greatness and ultimately more of a rental than an addition to your collection.

Firstly, the fact that Criterion went with a story as uninteresting as a reality show and open-ended as a Spiderman flick simply doesn’t hold water in the end. It seems as though the more recent trend with first-person shooters trying to make a name (i.e. Half-Life or F.E.A.R) is to develop a story that is engaging and at least worthwhile before reaching the inevitable “wait for the sequel” moment.

Secondly, if I am ever given the chance to meet the man (or woman according to Title 9…or something) who was in charge of deciding checkpoints, he (or she, please Mrs. Clinton, don’t ban this game) will most likely receive a friendly, yet forceful, roundhouse kick. Checkpoints are supposed to breakup a maximum of 15 minutes of gameplay, not 30 or 60. Frustration is supposed to be for games made by Electronic Ar…oh. Well, perhaps they had an excuse for this failure.

Lastly, nobody likes anorexic people; not even anorexic people like anorexic people. “Black” is one of the skinniest games you’ll find on shelves. The only mode “Black” has is a single player mode that apparently has replay value through replaying the whole game on a different difficulty. FPS fans can gain a few extra hours of enjoyment through this, but the average gamer could care less. Either give the game a terrible multiplayer just to say there’s another feature, or just declare it a “Rental Only” title. Any gamer (who is not rich and spoiled) should avoid buying “Black” at all costs. It’s fun, entertaining and most certainly intense, but after the 8-10 hours of gameplay comes to a close and you hear the utterly lame line, “You’ve reached the finish line, Keller,” you won’t hear too many brain cells screaming “Replay!” “Black” simply needs more meat on its bones to be worth $40.

Nevertheless, there’s no reason why fans of the first-person shooter genre shouldn’t rent “Black” and behold its surprising visuals and heart-wrenching intensity. There’s nothing revolutionary within “Black” as far as FPS titles go, but the game does make enough enhancements to render it a standout FPS console title, specifically on the forgotten console known as the PS2 (that’s ancient-talk for “Playstation 2”). Hopefully, and most importantly, “Black” will remind gamers that the PS2 is still alive and well and more than ready to deliver new titles over the next year (even if they may only be rental candidates). On the other hand, this revelation will only last a week before another copy of “Black” is finished and returned to a Blockbuster shelf and gamers find their way back to blogs and endless PS3 rumors. Wash, rinse, repeat.