I know what you’re thinking, didn’t this come out in 2006? Why yes, dear reader it did, however just last week Microsoft rocked my world by re-releasing a small selection of Xbox (the first one) games onto the Xbox One store, with 1080p support and for the bargain price of just $10. I went through the list of released games and while all we’re nostalgic overloads, such as Fuzion Frenzy and Crimson Skies, one really stood out to me, BLACK.
It’s weird to think BLACK (all caps) only came out four years before Call of Duty: Black Ops, the games are very clearly a generation apart, however the influences are clear. From the dark moody secret government facility cut-scenes, to the hordes of generic militants from the Caucasus, this game inspired a generation.
Modern Warfare, in 2006.
It just has that modern serious war game feel, with no moments of brevity, just pure, non-stop, unadulterated MEN GUNS WAR with a forced level of intrigue that fools no one, it’s not really compelling, but it almost borders on fun. The cut-scenes push the point by being visually unintelligible and a blurry garbled mess even by 2006 standards, the use of real footage rather than pre-rendered cut-scenes helps but the post-processing hides any visual cues.
Released in 2006 for Xbox and PS2, BLACK was a powerhouse of technical ability, the graphics stunned then and surprisingly still hold up today, I mean textures and shrubbery pop in like nobody’s business, and if you get too close to anything you can see the first gen level of detail, but the lighting effects are stunning, with sun rays and flashlights actually looking quite beautiful. There’s also some …interesting visual effects, like a really intense depth of field shift whenever you reload, essentially blurring everything but your gun and making you temporarily blind, which started off really cool but become infuriating when trying to keep track of what’s going on in a shootout.
The only thing that let me down visually was, due to some difficulty differentiating enemies from their background, especially on darker levels full of trees and brush, led to enemies annihilating me before I even knew where they were. This made trying to stealth through open areas frustrating if I wasn’t ultra careful, as the AI had so such qualms regarding seeing me.
Music to my ears
The graphical prowess was matched by the insanely immersive sound design. Wind howled, boots crunched, and using sound to locate enemies felt natural and was legitimately life-saving. Guns had a satisfying pop, and the crackle of a sniper shot instilled proper fear. While on the topic of sound, the music is probably the best of any game I’ve ever played, ever. The first time some violins and cellos started rattling the walls I legitimately laughed out loud, I felt like I was in a 1960’s spy movie, it was such a strange experience, the music didn’t feel like it fit at all. It didn’t take long however for me to acclimatise to the ridiculous music and it actually seemed to fit the mood quite well, it felt really well polished and it was a nice break from themodern heavily distorted guitar sound that battlefield made big.
I mentioned the stealth just before, and this game tries really hard to let you sneak through the game with a silenced weapon popping off enemies without detection. However, the lack of visual aid combined with the enemy’s impossibly long eyesight and instant reactions make the stealth nigh impossible, although the game does make an effort of not making every enemy in the level open their eyes after gunfire from their allies. If you use an unsilenced weapon however, every single enemy in the area will instantly be drawn to your exact location ready to unleash hell. With incredible lighting comes the ability to shoot out lights to extend the darkness, but the enemies have 20/20 vision regardless and it doesn’t really seem to help, but it still makes you feel like a tactical mastermind.
The bad guys can take a serious amount of bullets too, with gunshots hardly interfering with their ability to shoot back. This, combined with the reduction of damage silencers provide, means headshots are essential and a hit anywhere else just leads to them firing back without hesitation and alerting their friends. This game is absolutely unforgiving. When you do crack off a long-range headshot with a silenced AK however the satisfaction and reward is immense. The game also implements a surprisingly realistic bullet travel time adding to the suspense of sniping.
The stealth sections aren’t the entirety of the game however and you’ll often find yourself fighting through heavily defended linear streets and the call of duty feel really settled in again. It’s a nice blend of big open spaces with multiple paths and ultra linear street settings where you are funnelled through a series of encounters with enemies. It does try to use elevation to try to mix it up by guiding you onto balconies and up hills but the linearity really shone through. This isn’t a serious complaint it’s just extra noticeable beside the large open plan levels.
You are extra limited by the lack of a jump button. You simply can’t jump, nor can you clamber over obstacles, which takes a bit of the realism away when you’re blocked from a path by a two foot tall picket fence. Most of these are somewhat destructible to allow passage but this is all but impossible while staying stealthy.
Value in spades
All in all, this game was mind-blowing in 2006, and seriously good fun today. The gameplay still holds up and while it doesn’t have the graphics or technical aspects of modern games, it conveys the same emotions and I had just as fun as I’ve had with many modern shooters, and for $10, it’s a downright steal.
BLACK is available for Xbox, PS2, and Xbox One.