You had me at hello, Black. When I first read Jeremy Chubb of Criterion Games quoted as saying "If we stand for anything, it's blowing shit up," I was hooked. The inspiration for Black was apparantly a black-powder fuled trip through the land of the free! Chubb continued, "We paid some American lunatics to let us fire machine guns and came away saying, 'This is fast cars-it's exhilarating, it's frightening, it's lethal, and it's what shooting in games should be like, but isn't."
At the moment last summer when I read those words, I was sold on Black. In screenshots that were released shortly after, the amount of firepower and mayhem that Black was promising looked spectacular, and so it was with a shaky hand that I finally inserted the Black DVD into my XBox. I can tell you truthfully that the graphics in Black have indeed impressed me greatly-- sadly, that's where my wonder ends.
Black concerns a group of anti-terrorist operatives who were involved in an operation in Europe pursuing a rather hilariously large and well armed group of machine gun smugglers. (There are probably countries whose armies would be dwarfed in both number and firepower by these guys). The story is told in flashback. The introductory movie shows your character in prison, being interrogated, and each mission is part of his recollection of what brought him there. The movies themselves are reasonably high budget and entertaining in a cheesy way, but the game forces you to watch them every time. It doesn't track which ones you've already seen, so you're going to have to sit through several minutes of FMV every time you start a mission. This annoyed me to no end.
The sensitivity of the right thumbstick (the 'look' axis) is another problem with Black. The default sensitivity is pretty good, but there's absolutely no way of changing it. Given that I suspect Black is playing all kinds of tricks to achieve the consistent framerate that it does, it may be that a decision was made to disallow customization of this control for performance reasons, but if this is the case I would rather have still had the option of changing the sensitivity away from the "optimal sensitivity".
The reason that I say that Black is "playing tricks" is that quite simply it looks better than any other Xbox game I have ever seen, and better than any PS2 game I have ever seen even including Shadow of the Colossus. A friend playing Black thought he was playing an XBox 360 game until he tried to hit one of the bumper buttons and looked down at his controller (no joke!). The models look better and are better animated than in any other game I can recall, and the enviorments are warm and believable.
In places you will notice patches that do not look quite as good as the rest, and for me this was often a "two faces suddenly become a vase and can never again be two vases" kind of moment, as I would realize that Black was using some kind of filter or post-processing effect to achieve a visual look that implied a much higher polygon count and texture resolution than was actually in effect. Regardless, these 'tricks' work seamlessly about 98% of the time, and create a game world unlike anything else I've ever seen on the XBox.
Guns are the focus of Black, not terrorists or missions or goals. All of that stuff is tossed in there, too, but in the same manner that a superflous story about a princess might be thrown into a pornographic movie: those elements are not what has brought the audience to the screen, and are there mainly to facilitate the main action. Hence, I believe that "Gun Porn" really is an apt description of this game. As for how well this works out... well, your milage will vary depending on how quickly you get bored with loud explosions and louder explosions.
The world that Black casts you in is hurmously pyrotechnic much like the set of a John Woo movie, and you can expect that any bullets missing their mark will probably tear up walls, blow up cars, or knock down unrelated structures. This creates, for me, a game that is a lot of fun to charge through in a hurry, but gives me little motivation to come back to for a second play once I've seen everything blow up.
Black only packs eight missions, and does not allow for inter-mission saving. The average gamer shouldn't have trouble getting through most of the missions within the first hour or two. Since Black has no multiplayer, this leads to an almost criminally short game with a $50 price tag.
I had a lot of fun playing Black, but I certainly can't say it was worth the price of admission. The basically linear structure of the game, combined with the aforementioned interface and control issues, make it less than perfect. Certainly, Black is worth playing at some point, and will likely go down as the prettiest FPS to grace the XBox, but that alone is not sufficient reason to reccomend Black to gamers in general. Black is a great rental.