(Electronic Arts; PS2, Xbox)
GAMER Black is a first-person shooter game in which you play a soldier killing for some kind of shadowy government "special ops" group. Games like this are a little strange politically. They always seem to have some kind of subtext geared for Ruby Ridge types. Creepy. The makers of Black, however, were good enough to make the enemies white, at least. Apparently Russia is still some kind of threat to America. Whatever.
After getting past the weird ideas behind such a game, Black has a lot going for it. It’s easy enough to play, so that within minutes you are wasting the bad guys and surviving long enough to make it to the next mission with a minimum of learning and relearning. It’s all pretty intuitive. More important, basically anything you shoot — anything — either gets damaged or explodes. It’s awesome. I’m always disappointed with these games when I shoot a building and nothing happens. Here the shit falls down. Walls cave in, oil tanks explode, huge plumes of flame shoot up into the sky. Also, when you kill a guy, his body stays where it is — it doesn’t magically disappear, like it usually does in other games.
I like first-person shooter games a lot. A good one has to have
1. Carnage factor. This includes spurting blood, killing, the way characters fall down when hit, environmental destruction (as mentioned, Black has an unprecedented amount of this), killing, the occasional disorientation or overwhelming of the player, and killing. The first level of Medal of Honor: European Assault, where there are fucking planes crashing and you die like a hundred times before getting five feet (it’s D-Day) set the bar for carnage factor.
2. Guns, guns, guns. The key ones are the shotgun and the sniper rifle. The shotgun is almost always the best weapon in any game in which the point is frequent and gruesome killing. For some reason, Black has two types of shotguns and both are virtually the same. I am pretty sure this is just a gun fetishist marketing ploy. There are, like, two dozen guns, including all kinds of machine and submachine guns. Good sniper rifle action is important, for the satisfaction of head shots. Black has it. But Black also has this Magnum revolver that’s a cross between the shotgun and the sniper rifle — it’s superaccurate, has a long range, and kills guys with one shot. It’s awesome, awesome, awesome.
3. Mission failure. When you die, how far back do you have to go? This game sucks here. Let me say that again: This game sucks here. There are a ton of missions I had to repeat 50 times, going back farther than I should have had to each time, doing all this easy stuff over and over again, but dying again right away at the hard part, which is, like, 15 minutes down the road. You end up screaming at the game a lot.
A pretty cool feature is an autosave function that I’ve never seen before, and it actually may be the reason the missions restart so far back. The game saves your progress for you without any "Would you like to save your game?" crap. This is good in that it means you can play until your eyes are bleeding and not even notice it. But maybe it screws up the mission length. I don’t know. I said "yes" to the option, and now I can’t turn it off.
All in all, Black is a really good game, if maddeningly repetitive at times. I played it for so many hours straight that my back fell asleep. I didn’t even know that was possible. And that’s all I want from a game, really. I want days, even weeks, to pass before me while I engage in the least possible amount of reality. That and the killing. I do love the killing. (Mike McGuirk)