Black (video game)
PAL cover art
Black is a first-person shooter video game, developed by Criterion Games and published by Electronic Arts. It was released in 2006 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox video game consoles. The game is notable for its heavily stylized cinema-inspired action as well as its award winning sound quality and focus on destructive effects during gameplay. Black has been said as having the best graphics for a first person shooter for its time.
Black takes place in Ingushetia and Chechnya, Russia. The protagonist is a black ops soldier named Sergeant First Class Jack Kellar (portrayed by Marty Papazian). Kellar tells most of the story in first-person at an interrogation four days after the events in the story begin.
Kellar is an inadequately disciplined member of a CIA black ops group and a veteran of several conflicts including Guatemala, Colombia, Iran and Croatia. The unknown interrogator (portrayed by Paul Pape) questions Kellar about an arms smuggling and terrorist operation called the Seventh Wave. Seventh Wave have been responsible for a number of terrorist attacks. Kellar is told that, unless he co-operates, he and his actions will be declassified, he will be dishonorably discharged and imprisoned for life. Though initially resistant, Kellar at last agrees to tell his story.
Four days earlier, Kellar and his group were assaulting a Seventh Wave stronghold in the city of Veblensk. Kellar kills three high-ranking members of the cell but then disobeys orders by rushing inside a terrorist controlled building, where a terrorist ambushes him. However, the man did not kill Kellar, who learned that his captor is an American, William Lennox, a former CIA wetworks operative. After faking his own death in Cairo, Lennox has apparently become the leader of Seventh Wave.
Kellar's next mission is to cross the border into Treneska and traverse the Vlodnik Canal, destroy a base and weapons cache, then meet a female black ops soldier named MacCarver (voiced by Cree Summer), the leader of black ops Team Bravo, at a farmhouse. Things do not go as planned; however, Kellar defends and clears the farmhouse and later meets MacCarver.
Kellar and MacCarver begin a mission to destroy an arms factory in the city of Naszran. To safely complete the mission they must navigate an old graveyard and town, both heavily defended. After doing so, they assault the town's iron foundry, destroying its productive capacity. The two black operatives then meet a third member of the team, Solomon.
Based on information gathered from the mission, Team Bravo has proceeded to a well-defended dockyard, cleared the area and linked up with Alpha Team. Alpha Team, however, is destroyed in an ambush while Lennox escapes seconds beforehand. In light of the disastrous result, the operation is cancelled as well. Despite these events, Kellar leads a retaliatory assault against the Graznei Bridge before leaving his team at the gates of Lennox's compound to successfully penetrate the defenses both around and inside the Spetriniv Gulag. During the attack, Keller triggers an explosion resulting from the destruction of two concrete barricades, and subsequent explosions in the final room of the underground bunker, presumably killing Lennox.
The interrogator then reveals to Kellar that authorities had, in fact, always known of Lennox's involvement in Seventh Wave. Kellar had acted predictably, doing what his profile said he would, and his pursuit of Lennox was both expected and welcome - and that Lennox is not yet dead. Kellar is told that a false "death" has been arranged for him, providing cover so he could continue his pursuit. The game ends with Kellar being told to get ready for his next assignment.
The gameplay is essentially a straight forward first person shooter. Players can only carry two weapons at a time; therefore, strategy is needed when choosing weaponry, with weapons differing in characteristics. The player can also carry grenades, which can be thrown without switching weapons. Land mines and grenades can be detonated prematurely by shooting them.
The game is mission-based, with each mission separated by a cut scene video. On harder difficulties, there are more objectives that must be completed before the player can progress. These extra objectives involved collecting various intelligence documents, blueprints, or destroying parts of the environment. These are all indicated by the HUD cross-hair changing color when the player points at the relevant object.
Successful completion of the objectives over all missions in all difficulties above 'Easy' results in the awarding of Silver Weapons (infinite bullets) and unlocking the M16-A2 (40mm underslung grenade launcher attachment) as the starting default weapon with infinite 40mm grenades. When unlocked, these features are permanent and cannot be removed without starting a fresh storyline.
Criterion intended to "do for shooting what Burnout did for racing - tear it apart", with dual emphasis on destructible environments and the handling and behavior of real-world firearms. Bullets that hit buildings, terrain and objects leave visible damage; moreover, the guns are rendered with great detail and accuracy, though some weapons' features are stylized or exaggerated. The emphasis on the appearance, function, and sounds of the weapons led the developer to label the game as "Gun-Porn." Another notable and original feature is the use of real-time blur while reloading, giving a depth of field and more perspective to the game. Similarly, when the player drops below two bars of health, the screen turns black and white, the sound of the character's heartbeat become the dominant noise and the game goes into slow motion, and the large and small motors in the control pads match the sound of systolic and diastolic part of the heartbeat.
The game was not developed with an overarching plot structure in mind and this was implemented as something of an afterthought towards the end of development. The initial idea for relating the plot in-game came from Black's director, Alex Ward, who wanted to have a radio-play-style voiceover spoken over a 'black' screen.
Emphasising the game's action film heritage, sound effects for the weapons in the game were based on various sounds from movies. For example, Bruce Willis' Heckler & Koch MP5 in Die Hard, Jack Bauer's pistol in 24 and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Uzi in True Lies.
Realising in the chaos of a heavy gun battle the heavy mix of sound and music would produce a cacophony of noise, the sound designers developed the "choir of guns" concept. Whereas, traditionally in a shooter game, each weapon model would be assigned a different sound, Black assigns each enemy their own "voice", similar to the way in which each member of a choir would have their own distinct voice. For example, there are three enemies firing, one would be assigned a low voice, another a medium voice, and the third a high voice. This allows all the weapons being fired in any particular scene to harmonise and deliver a distinct sound for the game. Black's sound was nominated for Best Audio at 2006 BAFTA Video Games Awards, and won Best Art & Sound jointly with Burnout Revenge at the 2006 Develop Industry Excellence Awards.
The music for Black was composed by Chris Tilton, using a theme co-authored with Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino. It was recorded at the Newman Scoring Stage. A soundtrack album was released on iTunes by Nettwerk Records.
In Japan, Famitsu gave the PS2 version all four eights, for a total of 32 out of 40. The Times also gave the game four stars out of five and stated, "As the entire game is played at fever-pitch, you soon find yourself looking forward to the next mission briefing, if only for a chance to catch your breath. The only mystery to Black is why there is no multiplayer mode, since such intense battle settings would make for great competitive bouts." The Sydney Morning Herald similarly gave it four stars out of five, saying, "Little strategy is required for each stage, with abundant health packs and aggressive opponents of little intelligence. But there are many strategies and the use of cover is vital." Detroit Free Press gave the Xbox version three stars out of four and said, "The action is intense and the effects are splendid, though the un-reality applies also to the worlds in which you battle." However, The A.V. Club gave the game a C+, stating that it was worth playing for "Six hours. Pretty good hours, but still, The A.V. Club can't stress that number enough"; and added that "That was awesome for Doom, a free download with 16 extra maps available after registration. But 40 bucks for Black's eight levels, with no multiplayer mode, and unlockable difficulty settings the only incentive to replay? The question is really whether renting this lovely oversized tech demo is worth a whole weekend."
In an interview, co-creator and designer Stuart Black revealed that plans for Black 2 were underway, but are now scrapped due to differences with Electronic Arts. Stuart Black and many of the developers of Black worked on the now released Bodycount; a spiritual successor to the game which, developed by Codemasters, was released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 during Q3 2011.
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