I spent a second evening playing Black on my PS2, which is ten to four times what I spend on most games. It’s very, very impressive from a technical standpoint. Its maps are huge - whenever you think you’ve cleared the mission, there are more objectives and another, significant area opens up. This is not compensated with little detail - in terms of “fluff” - vegetation, small rocks, branches and twigs on the ground, leaves floating in the air, smoke and dust particles - it rivals current PC games - Oblivion on a 6600 definitely looks bare and simplistic in comparison. They have paid for that with an extremely aggressive LOD system which pops dead bodies into another LOD a few meters away from you, and heavy compressed vertices which, when looked up-close, produce the unnerving texture swimming effect I haven’t seen for several years, as vertices pop between adjacent valid positions.
The art direction is excellent - the heavy use of pseudo-volumetric atmospheric effects, and the subdued tones make for great screenshots. Texture-wise, it’s more on par with typical Xbox games, but way above the average PS2 title.
The control is superb - just as in Halo, half an hour into it you’ll forget you’re playing with a gamepad, and think about circle-strafing, dodging and peeking out of corners, not about thumbsticks and shoulder buttons.
Gameplay-wise, it is a very well executed shooter, with some nice twists, generally in the “realistic” direction - for example, you only carry one gun at a time, and you can’t use the sniper rifle (very powerful) without looking through the scope. The destructibility of many objects is used as a game mechanic feature - e.g. in a level where you can hide briefly behind tombstones before a sniper shatters them from his high vantage point.
If you think you’ve seen enough shooters in Doom2 and Quake1, consider everything else to be “more of the same” and not worth spending time on, Black is not for you. However, if you, like me, want to enjoy two or three new shooters each year, Black is most definitely worth your attention. Somebody somewhere on a forum was lamenting that Black is proclaimed to be the last great PS2 game too early, compared to when the “last great PSone game” came in the console lifecycle. It is definitely a fitting swan song for the current generation of consoles.
Between Burnout and Black, EA got a very good value out of their purchase of Criterion. Renderware seems to have come almost for free…