You know, the FPS genre is a little over-crowded these days. What with all these WWII shooters, sequels and other titles, the genre is losing the luster it used to have. Everyone's putting so much emphasis on the scenery, plot and realism that it seems that they've all forgotten about what makes an FPS what it is: the guns.
Fortunately, Criterion hasn't. Say hello to a game that puts the focus of the genre specifically on the tools of whoopass you are given. Say hello to Black.
Black is actually the first ever FPS outing for acclaimed masters of the Burnout universe Criterion. They revolutionised the racing genre (albeit taking 2 sequels to really nail it), and now they seem to be doing the same thing to FPS, in their now trademark style: with a lot of stuff blowing up.
The story kicks off in a prison cell. Your character is in jail and is being questioned by one of the 'higher ups'. Every so often, you'll go into a flashback and these are the levels you play. It's a bit disjointed, really.
Just like everything else, though. Black features some of the most destructive environments I've seen since Red Faction. Cars blow up, machinery explodes and entire buildings topple from a single explosion. The uses for such explosive materials is limited only by your timing. Time it right, and a single mine can explode, setting off a chain of mines, blowing up a large gas tank, taking out multiple enemies at the same time. Why someone would set mines like that is beyond me, but when the result is that explosive, I don't care.
Especially when everything looks this good. I haven't seen wreckages look this good in a long time. From the gritty look of an intact tank, to the armor on the enemies, to even the shine off the barrel of your gun, you'll have a hard time finding something that doesn't look good before or after you've blown it up. In keeping with the idea of having the guns as the main focus, the screen blurs while reloading, whilst your gun stays in focus, allowing you to check out the totally sweet reloading animation.
And there's a lot of them. You are given a great range of weapons throughout the game, from pistols and sub-machine guns to belt-fed machine guns and even an RPG. Although you can only carry two guns at one time, that's more than enough to take out any enemies. Especially considering that you can carry 500+ ammo in reserve for most weapons.
All of which you'll need. The enemies in Black are over-powerful, in that they take a whole lot of ammo to drop. The shotgun wielding guys are even tougher than the standard enemies and take about twice as much ammo as the others. The riot shield ones are tougher still, unless you can navigate around their shield. If you can manage a headshot, though, you can drop anyone with a single bullet. Still, no matter who you're fighting, you can expect a challenge.
But not a mental challenge. The game is rather a simple one: shoot the bad guys, don't shoot the good guys. Every so often you'll get an objective where you have to blow up something, but that's pretty much it.
The enemies aren't that smart either. Most of the time they'll just stand out in the open shooting at you, hoping you won't shoot that explosive barrel/mine/tank/car they're standing next to. The shotgun guys are even worse, charging you no matter where you are. The riot shield ones are a bit smarter, using their shield to block your shots, but they can still be fooled.
This really takes the game down a notch, considering that they're all you'll be fighting, as Black is without any other game modes aside from the main story mode. No challenges, no time attacks, not even a multiplayer. Still, what can you really add in terms of extra game modes to a FPS?
Despite these flaws, I would rank Black as one of the more rewarding games I've played in a while. It may not be that 'rule-all' FPS genre topper that Criterion wanted, but it's still a firm kick up the backside, adding new life to the faded genre. With a few modifications, we could be onto a winner here.