More of a Murky Gray

Platform: PS2 | Xbox

Now, I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I pretty much called this one. I'm sorry, but any game that calls the "Guns the main characters" probably isn't very deep. I was right. "Black" is an interesting experience, coupling the frantic pace of games like "Counter-Strike" with the length and flow of "Medal of Honor." The setting is modern, and the story is, of course, based around Global Terrorism.

The cutscenes are all live-action exchanges between two shady agents; one, a middle-aged G-man looking for answers from the other, a soldier who's found himself inches from life in prison because of recent events. The soldier is the main character; the gunner players control throughout the levels. The storyline is bare bones to say the least, with little being divulged in the playable parts, and only pieces being fed to the player in cutscenes.

In terms of gameplay, "Black" is an unspectacular and slightly frustrating shoot-'em-up. The enemies aren't particularly smart, but their inhuman longevity and the sheer amount in which they come provide for a frustrating experience, especially on harder difficulties. When reloading, the entire screen blurs while the hero snaps another cartridge into place, an innovative, realistic and completely unnecessary addition.

Things like this just detract from the gameplay and result from designers thinking they can pass off the "next level of realism" by throwing in a few effects. Missions are divided up into two parts, primary and secondary. Primary moves the mission along, while secondary involves mundane tasks like picking up letters and shooting laptops. The cutscenes are unskippable, a mortal sin in terms of video games. The menus are confusing, made more to look pretty than to be functional. Checkpoints in the game are few and far between, and considering how easy it is to be gunned down if you make a mistake, you'll find yourself replaying lots of parts.

The graphics are excellent, I'll say that much. Aside from mundane characters and strange, buggy animation, there's not much that went wrong. The landscapes and levels are vivid, diverse and realistic. As an added bonus, most pieces, even the buildings, are destructible. There's something fulfilling about looking behind you and not just seeing random dead enemies, but exploded gas tanks, overturned trucks and leveled buildings.

As pretty as "Black" is, developers should have cut down the time spent on the looks and balanced the game better. As far as animation goes, I'm at a loss. The player cannot jump, there's no blood whatsoever, enemies rattle around like they're being electrocuted when shot, and the ragdoll system looks cheap.

The sound is like the graphics—professional and well-timed. I liked the voice actors, and there were almost no bugs in the effects or voices.

All in all, "Black" is a standard-fare shooter with a few innovations that just aren't enough to keep it above mediocre. Give it a rent if you want, but be prepared to get bored quickly.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 7.5
Plot: 6
Gameplay: 6
Replay: 5
Buy or Rent: Rent
Overall: 6

Visit Nick Judin's gaming blog at http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/judin.php


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