Backwards compatibility may be getting dismissed by some for many it is a huge quality of life improvement that will absolutely get me playing more old games. The fact that these original Xbox games play and look better than ever is also an incredibly welcome addition to the initiative. There are so many games that will get more love with them not only working on current hardware again but also with them playing, looking, and sounding better than ever. This is especially wonderful for games that came late in a console’s cycle like Black, which came out on Xbox and PS2 after the Xbox 360 had already released. A lot of gamers either trade in old systems or move systems off the primary gaming TV to make space for the shiny new systems and so this really limits the appeal and success of games like Black.
I never got to play Black when it released. I had an original Xbox and certainly don’t sell old systems when new ones came out but I was in eighth grade with limited income and so I wasn’t able to play as many games when they released. It was for this reason that as soon as this was announced as backwards compatible on Xbox One I made sure to run to my local retro shop and purchase it immediately. I’d heard a lot of great things though so I was really excited to jump in and experience it for myself.
Black is interesting from the start because of who developed it; Criterion Games was mostly known for developing Burnout 3: Takedown before they helped bring this tightly crafted shooting experience to our living rooms. They would later go on to help develop Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017) but before Black, they had only really developed games in the racing genre. It’s no surprise they were in the front seat for the development of Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017) because even though it has aged some, Black absolutely showed Criterion Games had a sense of how to make a great shooter.
Black starts off with some stylish FMV sequences that help open the tale of the protagonist Sgt. First Class Jack Kellar. He is a Black Ops soldier that you’re going to play as through missions that already happened as he explains the events during an interrogation. It’s gritty enough while also serving as an interesting backdrop. The story certainly isn’t its strong point but contextually speaking this game came out while the genre was just starting to mature and really have grown into what it has become now. The story is good enough though and it ends on an interesting note that even left room for a sequel. My hope is that renewed interest fueled by backwards compatibility gives EA reason to greenlight a sequel. I feel like the story and themes would really be able to stretch so much more now that we have had games like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Spec Ops: The Line.
The gameplay is great and really where this game shines the most. There are eight missions that will take about five to seven hours to complete, depending on the difficulty you choose and also how interested you are in tackling secondary objectives. The game is one of those traditional first-person shooters. You can carry two weapons at a time. You can crouch and lay on the ground. You’ll run through areas blowing enemies up, causing explosions, and there are also some instances where you’ll take a more stealthy approach. The game is mission based so you will go from area to area but they are more open than some of its contemporaries. For those more familiar with modern shooters it will feel a lot smaller and less open but levels are open enough where you are able to utilize strategy and approach situations guns blazing or using a more stealth-based approach. I enjoy picking enemies off when I’m able to but I will quickly start throwing grenades and firing off rounds loudly and quickly as soon as I am detected.
The customization options are much more conservative than games now but at the time the details were what made this game so special. The details on guns both in appearance and sound still help this game shine, even though it shows its age in every aspect. It still seems to wear its age on its sleeve though because despite looking, feeling, and playing like an older game it was certainly aware of its limitations when it was made and so it wasn’t stretched too far in terms of what it tried to do. It’s a solid FPS experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome for the most part and is pretty fun from start to finish.
The controls and speed definitely have aged even more than the graphics though. The game looks pretty good despite its age and the guns sound incredible but man, does this game feel slow! I had to customize the controls quite a bit and even then it felt sluggish and everything just felt off. I wish more time would have been dedicated to getting the feel of the game right and maybe a little less time on the audio for weapons. I mean, the audio is magic to the ears even over a decade later but this game just feels so sluggish that it’s harder to enjoy than it should be. I’m not sure if this decision was to help framerate stability, graphics, or some other reason but whatever the reason, it’s a shame.
Once you get used to the “feel” of the game and get the controls as close to your liking as possible then this game can be a lot of fun. It’s not very long but some sections do start to feel repetitive so I think it’s for the better that the length isn’t longer. Once you get used to how everything feels though this can be a fun game. I would recommend playing the game in a few sessions though to help combat the sometimes repetitive nature of the game.
Black is a fun ride while it lasts. Certain missions do have some segments that start to overstay their welcome but there is enough fun for fans of the FPS genre to at least play through this gem once or twice. There are some fun unlockables for completing secondary objectives and completing the game on higher difficulties for those that really dig the game. On top of all of this, you can download this game on the Microsoft Store for only ten bucks which is a fantastic deal for this game, flaws and all. You could probably grab a physical copy for 3-5 bucks if that is your preference instead of a digital copy. If you’re into the FPS genre at all then you definitely need to experience this piece of history at least once–who knows, maybe we’ll get a sequel in a few years that takes full advantage of all the improvements the genre has experienced since Black released in 2006.
- Incredible audio even over a decade since its initial release
- Fun explosions, combat, and even some spots where you can employ stealth give it good variety, especially for when it released
- Unlockables for completing optional objectives and harder difficulties keep the fun going for those wanting to invest more time after their first playthrough
- Xbox One enhancements are nice and help add some shine to the game
- Controls really show the game's age and it never feels as comfortable as it should
- The game feels slow and sluggish
- There are some sections that begin to feel very repetitive but they don't usually last too long