Details have emerged about a cancelled sequel to Black, the 2006 first-person shooter developed by Criterion Games for PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox. The ever-vigilant sleuths at Unseen 64 have scraped together what little is out there about the never-finished co-op shooter.
The first Black followed Jack Kellar, a black ops CIA agent fighting a mysterious terrorist organization in Chechnya. It was a well-received first-person shooter, earning positive reviews and a few industry awards, particularly for its innovative sound design. Gameplay was solid, if conventional, featuring a standard array of guns (only carrying two at a time) and explosives to get you through a linear sequence of missions separated by cut scenes.
Black stood out for its sense of style. Criterion was best known for its Burnout series of racing games, which were distinguished for encouraging exciting, high-speed crashes and showing them with well-orchestrated slow motion.
Criterion’s creative director at the time, Alex Ward, said that Black was “going to do for shooters what Burnout did for racing games,” meaning give the genre that awesome, cinematic oomph. He specifically mentioned that explosive lobby scene from the first Matrix as a goal.
The game featured a forward-looking use of destructible environments that immersed the player with dynamic details like accurate bullet holes. To avoid a distracting cacophony of realistic gunfire sounds, the sound designer cleverly tuned each the sounds of each enemy in an encounter into a harmonizing “choir of guns.”
The design won awards from BAFTA and Develop. Other cinematic flourishes included real time blur on reload animations, improved depth of field, and a stylized, slow-motion mode when near death.
When publisher EA and Criterion started to think about a sequel, a direct continuation of the plot was considered, but ultimately scrapped in favor of a reboot that refined the gameplay and style of the first without holding on to the story.
Black 2 was going to be a cooperative first person shooter for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 released in late 2007 or early 2008. As far as is known, no story particulars were decided, but concept art shows that the lone special forces protagonist of the first game was being replaced by a group of sexy, stylish young people.
According to Unseen 64’s sources, pre-production halted after about six months when key members of Criterion and EA could not agree on the game’s direction. Senior designer Stuart Black allegedly left the studio as a result of the disagreement, and he would go on to develop a spiritual successor, Bodycount, with much of Black‘s original team in 2011. EA announced “a next generation version of Black” in November 2006, but never spoke publicly about the project again.
The game’s development never proceeded past pre-production. A concept trailer was distributed internally, but never shared with the public. Alex Ward tweeted a few stills from the “Target X” trailer, but demurred from posting the whole video. According to a former Criterion employee, the trailer showed the studio’s experiments in dynamic lighting and how it might affect gameplay.
Definitely check out Unseen 64’s full report for a closer look at the never-materialized game, including peeks at some concept art.