“Beyond the army. Beyond the law. Beyond consequence.”
“It’s a shame you don’t like FPS’,” a friend said to me recently whilst we were talking about possible games to feature here, “Because Black is one of the best I’ve ever played!”. He had a point, I’ve never been as keen on shooters as the rest of the mainstream gamers out there. To be honest, they all just seemed like the same thing to me. Shoot, duck, reload, lather, rinse, repeat. Okay so sometimes you’re a silent but deadly space marine, and sometimes you’re a soldier in the trenches, but the basic formula never seems to differ. But maybe I’ve been wrong all these years, maybe it’s time to finally welcome gunplay into my life…
So here I am with Black, one of the most critically acclaimed FPS games on the PS2. Released in 2006, this was developer Criterion Studios‘ first attempt at the genre, but they approached it with the same sensibilities that brought them success with their Burnout franchise by turning the action dial up to 11! They also aimed to make one of the more realistic shooters around at the time, making you a regular black ops soldier with lifelike strengths and weaknesses! But all of this means little to me, as I enter the game as an outsider; a non-shooter playing “one of the best” shooters around. How will I find it?
I’ll admit it right now, I was ready to hate Black. When I first started I was convinced I was playing the same copycat shooter they’ve been making for the past 10 years. But I’d made a commitment and I was determined to, ahem, soldier on. Okay, you can definitely see and hear that the production budget has been very well spent; for a 4-year-old game it still looks very good, and the Hollywood-esque soundtrack definitely makes you feel like you’re in the heart of the action. The little touches like the field of vision shift as you reload, and your heartbeat racing as you run out of life, all enhance the experience, but it ultimately seemed like a very run-of-the-mill shooter.
All of a sudden, somewhere between desperately trying to find cover in the middle of a firefight and getting the chance to launch an RPG for the first time, I came to a strange realisation. I was… having fun! I hadn’t truly enjoyed an FPS since I was hiding proximity mines in the toilets on GoldenEye but that was all starting to change! The adrenaline rush I got from exchanging bullets with the enemy, the sense of achievement at getting across the border… have I been so blind all these years? Are all shooters this much fun?!
Nope! Well, maybe my prejudice has led me to avoid a few more gems, but on the whole I think my opinion still holds sway. Black mixes things up in several ways – first, you have almost complete control over how you tackle a mission. All too many games will say “This is a stealth mission” “This is a fast-paced level” and such, but with Black you can choose when to go all-guns-blazing and when to be softly-softly-catchy-monkey! Second, and this kinda relates to the first point, the levels are huge! Being the FPS noob that I am, I died several times on the very first mission, but this allowed me to realise just how many ways there are to progress through the streets. Once you reach the forest in the next level, the world opens up even more! My only gripe is that, without any jumping ability, you don’t quite get to explore as much of the levels as you might like.
Thirdly, and this is crucial, there’s so much to do! Sure, a lot of the secondary missions are optional on most difficulties, but the aforementioned exploration element actually makes you want to get out there and complete it all anyway! Especially when those missions often involve finding hidden, powerful weapons or blowing things to smithereens!
Is this one of the best shooters ever? I guess I’m not the right person to ask. But Black’s beauty is that it has opened my eyes to what I previously thought was a seriously over-hyped genre. “It’s a shame you don’t like FPS’…” My friend said. Well thanks to Black, there may be hope for me yet!
Thanks for your patience everybody, and I hope that The HyPE was worth waiting for! From now on, Thursday will be the official day for new installments, and by this time next week I will have a brand new PlayStation experience to write about! In fact, I’m going to start playing the next game right now! Which is it? You’ll have to wait and see!