There are few games that dedicate themselves fully to a single goal, most titles seem to strive to be Jacks of multiple trades: Racing games have management elements, shooters have their vehicle levels and on-rails segments, Platformers have bonus minigames.
Not so with Black.
Black gives you a dozen guns, a small gallery of enemy types with a handful of behavioral patterns, and eight levels of absolute GUNishment for you to master all of the above. Each stage is introduced by a short live-action cutscene of a “hard boiled” special-ops badass being interrogated by a stereotypical military bureaucrat while images of bombs exploding, soldiers running, “top secret” documents and newspaper headlines flash across the screen in a manner that must have inspired the latest COD.
Once this cutscene ends and the gameplay commences, the story is given nil exposition until the next cutscene.
The levels play out as flashbacks of the aforementioned Special-Ops badass’ missions on his path to taking out a mercenary organization, but this hardly matters, as nothing of significance to the plot ever occurs during the playable sections of the game.
The only dialogue featured during gameplay is either that relating to your immediate objective or combat situation, or the panicked shouts of your enemies.
As you might have deducted, Black is thematically incredibly generic, and wears it on its sleeve. Levels are treks through the same factories and bombed-out towns done to death in a million other films and games whilst gunning down familiarly bland, ski mask-wearing, faceless, eastern-european goons. In concept, it’s been done to death, but never with this degree of absolute, unwavering dedication and focus.
There is no element present in Black that has not been tuned to perfection. The armaments feel powerful (much thanks to explosives and slightly destructible scenery being everywhere, filling environments with smoke and dust during gunfights), the enemies have exactly the right level of brains, and you are seldom without some degree of freedom regarding how you want to fight. Far Cry, this is not, but there are definitely strategic decisions to be made. It is quickly becoming a cliché to knock COD, still, I was surprised at how much more Black made me think tactically compared to contemporary “cinematic” FPS games. The game is never preoccupied with forcing scripted events down your throat, and instead relies purely on its fantastic combat mechanics to keep the player entertained.
The process of learning all the ropes gives you enough to occupy your mind with during the duration of the campaign, preventing boredom from ever setting in. To suceed, you must know when to use what weapon, when to chuck grenades, when to attempt stealth, when to run n’ gun, when to stick to cover, when to retreat, when to administer a health-pack, and when to flank. And just when you have mastered these techniques, the game wisely ends.
The length of the game is nicely in proportion to the level of depth and complexity, so its admittedly meager five hours feels appropriate.
Think of Black like a maths term at school. You learn the basics of a subject, then build on that knowledge to tackle more complex tasks that require a better understanding of the subject, and then, at the end, you are given a test where you are gauged on how well you understand the subject. The final level of Black is much like one of these tests, requiring of you mastery of all of the game’s mechanics. A good education should not preoccupy you with unnecessary BS, and Black never makes you play through any filler. There are no boring on-rails segments, no annoying fights against helicopters, it’s 100% tightly-designed infantry combat.
In addition, there is a total lack of multiplayer, and I don’t fault the game for it. Multiplayer would have been an unnecessary addition an already-complete package.
This game elegantly succeeds in perfecting its own flavor of virtual first-person-firearm-based-murder. As far as concept and execution go, Black is near-flawless.
5 out of 5.