Being honest, I have a real mixed experience with EA. They are undeniably a huge force in the world of video games, one of the biggest in fact, but their output is rather inconsistent. This is, of course, a risk of being such a giant in the industry. They’ve gotten behind some truly huge franchises in the past, however every now and then a standalone game came along seemingly out of nowhere, and proves to be a pleasant surprise.
Black was one such game, released back in 2006 for Xbox and PS2. I picked it up for the Xbox myself, not quite sure what to expect, but remember it catching my eye. This was especially true of the simple, but striking cover art which I still love to this day. It really reminds me of a Christoper Nolan film poster.
Anyhow, in the game you assumed the role of black ops agent Jack Kellar (see what I did there?), who was undergoing a nasty interrogation at the hands of a shady individual looking to discover more about Jack’s past endeavours. Jack was a member of the “BLACK tactical squad” who operated with complete authority, and totally independently. They were set up to protect the U.S from domestic and foreign threats, so you can imagine the type of information our hero had been privy to.
The game had a big-budget Hollywood feel, taking place in Russia, reliving Jack’s missions as his captor tries to extract the key information he requires. Black was an FPS with a focus on large scale environmental destruction, tied together with the narrative as told mostly by Jack himself.
In a sense, it was a gritty straight-edged tale that was pretty simple and very much grounded in reality (or pretty close anyway). Your HUD was simple and non cluttered, you could only carry two main weapons at once and the missions were classically structured and clearly defined, with more of Jack’s past being gradually revealed after each one.
For those seeking a challenge, Black changed your mission objectives depending on which difficulty you were playing on. For example, if you were attempting the harder options then you would need to complete extra tasks, such as gathering intelligence, or destroying certain parts of the environment.
Another way in which Black offers replayability is by rewarding you for completing the campaign on the harder difficulties. Infinite ammo and a grenade launcher attachment were up for grabs, but once earned were retained permanently allowing you to replay the game kitted out with some serious firepower.
The game was well received, and was in fact nominated for a “Best Audio” BAFTA. It also ended up sharing the honours with Burnout Revenge (more on that next month) for the “Best Art & Sound” gong at the Develop Industry Excellence Awards. All in all, the experience was very close to playing through one of your favourite action films. Despite a strong single player campaign, Black did lack multiplayer which was disappointing and felt like a missed opportunity.
A direct sequel never materialised, however Codemasters released a “spiritual successor” to the original some five years later. The game, Bodycount, was inspired by the original but did not continue any of the story strands or revisit any characters from Black.
Happily, I can report that Black is available for the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S thanks to backwards compatibility. You can purchase it digitally or access it through EA Play for free, which nowadays means it’s automatically available via Game Pass Ultimate also. Not a bad deal at all.
Black was a really enjoyable, if a little short, single player adventure which is still easy enough to get hold of if you fancy giving it a go yourself. I’d absolutely recommend doing so, especially if you’ve always wanted to play at being your favorite action hero.