You can split the history of the first-person shooter into two timelines: before you could aim down the sights and afterwards. Black was one of the final games to perfect the former and is an awesome game from the noughties that not enough people know about.
‘Balls-to-the-wall action’ is a phrase people should only use if they’re describing this absolutely manic game from Criterion Games, the studio more famous for their Burnout series. Whilst we’re on the topic, there hasn’t been a better racing game since Burnout: Paradise came out back in 2008.
Imagine if Michael Bay was developing a game but didn’t sacrifice a goat to make it happen – Black would be his finished product. A guilt-free, enjoyable update of Duck Hunt. That might be an odd comparison but the game itself was released as an antidote to some of the more serious, in-depth releases come out at the end of the Playstation 2 and Xbox’s glory years. It’s as simple as shoot, shoot and then shoot some more.
The task is simple (as it always is with an FPS): kill all of the things on-screen before they kill you and then move onto another area with things to kill. Sounds a bit repetitive and formulaic, right? Wrong.
The developers put a lot of effort into making Black as cinematic as possible and it pays off. From the blockbuster soundtrack to the box office sequences, the production values were pretty outstanding. The original Modern Warfare takes plenty of cues from Black but unfortunately, the Activision monster received twice the fanfare.
Black’s real innovation, however, comes from the guns themselves. Highly-rendered realistic murder accessories come as standard in shooters these days but Black was the standard-bearer for many other developers. Only Killzone has such satisfying reload animations and the convulsions of the enemies as you lace them with lead gives you warm feeling in your belly (in totally not a weird way).
The game also takes plenty of inspiration from a concept perfected by the Red Faction series: blowing the shit up out of your surroundings for no real reason. The room you are in crumbles as the vaguely Eastern European enemies lay down fire on your position, but that’s not to say you can’t return the favour. Enemy hiding behind a pillar? That’s fine, just shoot it into pieces.
All games have their negative aspects because no matter what fans say, even Ocarina of Time isn’t perfect. Black is no different: returning to play it now makes it look a little rudimentary compared to modern fare and the A.I is also way off at a lot of points. The difficulty levels are all bastard hard too, so come prepared for a challenge.
If you’ve never played Black before, dust off the old PS2 or Xbox and pick this game up on eBay for about £1.25.
If you’re reading this, Jamie White, I sold your copy of Black to buy cigarettes. I AM SORRY.