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Black’ a shallow, explosive thrill

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, March 7, 2006

The first person shooter genre has been flooded in recent years with the success of titles like “Halo” and “Half-Life.” Enough derivatives have seen the market that they have begun to overlap.

Criterion Games noticed this trend and – fresh off their success with the “Burnout” series – has decided to inject a fresh perspective. With “Black,” they wanted to simplify things and remind gamers what makes the genre fun.

To stand out, Criterion made “Black” an explosive, exhilarating experience that focuses on the guns and explosions. The closest equivalent being the Hollywood action film, the game is light on plot and heavy on property damage. Cars explode, windows shatter and buildings collapse under the barrage of rampant explosions caused by the player.

There is a plot however, despite how light or worthless it is. At the beginning, the gamer finds the main character under investigation for his renegade actions while pursuing a high-profile terrorist. The story unfolds gradually with acted cut-scenes before each level, but it bears little impact on the actual action.

The characters about which the gamer hears during the investigation do play a role in the game itself, as they act as invincible squad members. However, their limited artificial intelligence makes them little better than mobile shields and bullet magnets for the main character. They do shout commands and warnings to the player that are very beneficial when trying to pinpoint a sniper or hidden rocket launcher.

But these characters only play a limited role within the game, and most of the time the player will find this game to be a solitary event. That fits the focus of the game, however, as relentless action and explosions are main course of “Black.”

The action consists of some of the most frenzied, chaotic scenes in ever witnessed in an action game. To reference Hollywood again, think of the lobby scene in the original “Matrix,” without the kung-fu elements.

Plaster powders, wood splinters and columns shatter under the repeated salvos. Every environment features plenty of destruction to satiate even the most jaded first person shooter fan. Some levels stand out more than others for different reasons, but they all serve a common goal. The asylum features a shower-room scene eerily similar to the one seen in “The Rock,” while the bridge level could be lifted out of many war movies.

The game sells for $40, and there are reasons for this. A complete lack of multiplayer may turn off some fans of the genre, as it has practically been a staple since Nintendo 64’s “Goldeneye.” The game is focused purely on the single player, and to its credit, this extra attention to detail shows.

However, the single player does have some issues. Ignoring costume changes, there are essentially only three enemy types, which are repeated ad nauseam. While many Hollywood action films acknowledge their repetitive nature by incorporating car chases or kung-fu segments, “Black” is purely a one-trick pony.

Criterion has started a respectable franchise with “Black,” starring over-the-top action and gunplay. However, in doing so they ignored the evolution that has occurred within its own genre in recent years towards a varied experience and immersive storylines.

Hopefully this will be fixed with their next experiment. But until this happens. “Black” remains an entertaining diversion instead of a must-buy.