This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X
Black is the Soul That’s Led Astray
On a whim, I decided to look at Criterion’s Black. Originally released in 2006 the objective of the developer was to do for FPS games what they had done for racing with the Burnout series. While they did not quite succeed as this is still the only shooter they ever made, the gameplay and sound design of this game still pack a serious punch.
I was in my mid 20’s when Black released. The instant I saw the fuzzy 480i live-action cutscenes I was immediately transported back. Video games for me were dominated by Halo and World of Warcraft. I traded in my original Xbox to get a 360 on launch, which meant I did not think to look at the original Xbox games that had released shortly after. So I never played Black, and it barely registered on my radar as WoW dominated my free time.
Thanks to the backwards compatibility system built into the Xbox One and now Series platforms, along with the availability of EA Play on Game Pass, I can finally give this game a look. Most of the coverage I remember from the time focused on three things, a ridiculously powerful shotgun, booming sound effects, and damned impressive graphics for the aging Xbox and PS2 hardware it was running on. That gunplay holds up well. The movement, or really lack thereof, and input lag feel terrible at times but shooting someone with that SPAS shotgun is one of the most satisfying things I have ever experienced in a video game. There is a decent variety of weapons including pistols, assault rifles, submachine guns, sniper rifles, and RPGs. Of these, my second favorite was the RPG, not because of how it felt to use but because of the fantastic-looking smoke trail that it left behind.
In my research, I saw it said that “the narrative was a bit of an afterthought” and boy does it show. Each level starts with a terribly acted, filmed, and sound mixed live-action cutscene. The tier of writing is at the near bottom of the barrel as it taps into the “lone angry soldier who doesn’t follow the rules” approach. It is trite, a bit offensive by today’s standards, and thankfully minimal. The music is as standard as it gets and does the job it is supposed to do without being offensively bad or remarkable in any way.
The sound effects though are excellent. I know I keep bringing it up but that shotgun, holy crap does it sound ridiculous in the best way possible. It looks good, it sounds great, and you send your poor enemies flying back even from afar further than standard range by video game standards. As there is no multiplayer, they give you a gun that is delightfully broken in how powerful it is, and it is the star of the game for me.
A Graphical Quality That Stands the Test of Time
Running at a 4k resolution on the One X and Series X the game looks far better than it ever has before. The stark contrast between the resolution of the live-action cutscenes and the rest of the game is a stark reminder of how things used to look. Sadly, it is stuck to a floaty feeling 30 frames per second but that bump in resolution showcases surprisingly detailed texture models in decently large levels.
The design of the levels is standard and the system for advancing in each difficulty is a bit odd. Instead of just beating the level you also must complete a certain amount of side objectives to be able to push forward into the next level in that same difficulty. Failing to do so lets you go to the next level, but only at a lower difficulty. It is a weird system, and I am glad it’s not one that became popular.
While I cannot say that Criterion lived up to their promise thanks to EA Play and Game Pass this one is an easy recommendation for anyone looking to experience the greatest shotgun of all time for the majority of a 5 hour or so campaign. I ended up going for all the side content I could find and finished in 7 and a half hours and had a damned good time doing so. I will not be giving a score for this as it is unfair after two generations of console hardware have proceeded it, but it is an easy yes at “part of Game Pass” and a hard “sure why not?” for $10 on the Xbox Store.
Two Thumbs Up
*This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X