Black Reader Review
Back in the day, I'd never have bothered with FPS games on a console because of the control scheme - I was much more a PC mouse-and-keyboard type of guy. There was nothing that could beat the precision and speed of jutting the mouse and firing off a volley of bullets. But it seems lately that console FPSes have come some way from the Saturn's Exhumed. Actually, I think Halo and Halo 2 really sealed the deal on the control and I'm now more likely to play on a console than a PC (mainly because my PC wouldn't be able to cope).
Black continues the greatness that can be had sitting on a sofa staring into a huge TV screen by being an out-and-out free-for-all bullet ballet. Not since Serious Sam have I ever seen/remember anything that involves you holding the trigger down for as long as the clip lasts, reloading and then holding down some more. It's pretty intense and keeps the pace going throughout by you walking into wave after wave of enemies, which means you can give yourself a bit of a breather whenever. But when it's full-on, just make sure that you're aware of your surroundings and cover because you'll find the latter incredibly useful. Until it disappears from before your eyes.
It won't be long until that crate or pillar turns to dust and you're left staring at the tangled metal wiring that was once surrounded by concrete. Completely exposed, it'll be time to move to another destructable point. And fantastically this tactic can be used to your advantage by unleashing rounds of shotgun shells and then switching to a machine gun to pick off the baddies. And the way that everything seems to have some sort of destructability in it harks back to Red Faction but even more so. In fact, they go as far as to make doors openably only by shotgun shells because you can't interact (unless it's to pick up guns), nor can you jump, and, in fact, it's pretty simple in its layout of levels with different heights accomplished by slopes and stairs. But that's not to say the level design is poor - far from it - there are a number of places that are incredibly impressive, like the cemetry with its tombstones made for cover for both sides of the fight, or crossing over the bridge chuckful of enemies (I love being able to go up high along the arches and shooting downwards), or navigating a minefield (which can be set off for full explosive action). And for all the running and gunning, and shooting enemy after enemy, it never felt repetitive (like FEAR) because of the level design. I don't think it totally helped the storyline (yes, there was something about you being surreptitiously used to infiltrate and flush out the head hombre of a terrorist unit or some such) what with the jumping between seeming different places and not really threading together, but that didn't matter too much - I never feel that FPSes made to be played level-by-level have much of a storyline (and hence why Half-Life with its continuous, non-break action/story was fantastic).
Other than the destruction of the levels, nice touches include being able to carry only two weapons and grenades (adds to the realism and sense of strategy), support from one or two friendlies as well as associated chatter, fantastic graphics and effects (when I first read about Black, the developers were saying that every bullet would have a consequence - I didn't quite see it bar the destruction and saw a bit of zinging off metal surfaces, but nothing that said I should look where I'm shooting), decent audio (although some of the guns sounded a little strange when on single-shot - there's burst and full-auto), and everything worked perfectly on the Xbox360 (in fact, maybe it looked really good because of the emulation). Actually, I only had to restart the game once because of a loading issue presenting a very dark unplayable screen - nothing major at all. Having only played it on Normal, I can suggest that if you're feeling up to the challenge then go straight into the hardest setting available (although I did die a good few times towards the end - it got a bit difficult on the very last section and was very close to giving up).
There was a rather strange design put in place with the reloading, where everything except the gun goes blurry and out-of-focus. I can only suspect that it's been made to feel more immersive by giving the impression of focusing on the gun during a reload - that is, in real-life you wouldn't be looking in front of you and past the gun whilst reloading because you'd probably miss putting a fresh magazine into the slot. That's all good and well, but it blurs for too long because you'd think that as soon as the magazine is located and is being pushed into the slot, surely you'd have your head up and looking for the next thing to shoot. Maybe it's also done to make you reloading less frequently during firefights, but it's still a strange design decision.
There's no multiplayer and nothing much to extend the gameplay other than unlocking a harder difficulty level or playing through the completed levels with unlimited ammo. It's a good length and needn't be longer or shorter than it currently is, but the ending felt incredibly lame (maybe I should have listened to the storyline properly?) and not exactly what you would have expected having played through some quality design prior. But I'm going to leave it on a sour note because Black really is something that everyone can enjoy; it's out-and-out firefighting with skill.