BLACK is a 100% visceral experience, 100% of the time. It's engaging, enthralling, and moreover, it's simply the definition of fun imbibed into two analog sticks and a handful of buttons. You'll have an extremely hard time finding a game that does a better job at placing a gun in your hand and letting you blow the utter $@%* out of everything in front of you.
But in the end, that's all it is. While Criterion has basically nailed every single aspect of pure destruction via 1,412,758 bullets and a crateful of grenades, it's essentially as straightforward a shooter as they come.
It's somewhat odd to say this, but nearly every aspect of BLACK's strengths and weaknesses lie in its pinpoint focus. It's such a direct and no-holds-barred FPS that it almost entirely ignores the ways that other shooters have branched out in recent years and attempted to bring storytelling and outside emotions into their games. In this way, it feels like something's missing, something almost intangible. But at the same time, what BLACK attempts to do, it does so well that it's an experience that shouldn't be missed. This is a popcorn game through and through, but it's really damn good popcorn with the perfect amount of salt and butter to make it taste just right.
Explosions and Fire The essence of BLACK is destruction. It's not meant to be a game where you precisely aim every shot and conserve ammo like it's a natural resource. Rather, you're encouraged to unload round after round after round in the general vicinity of your enemies, and should your bullets not find their way directly to your target, the explosive crates, barrels, oil tanks, mines, chunks of cement or whatever else near your foes will surely get them.
One thing that BLACK absolutely nails, unquestionably, is the way that each and every single bullet fired interacts with the environment in some fashion. Each shot gives you some sort of visual feedback in one way or another, be it as simple as dust kicking up when a bullet hits dirt or an absolutely enormous silo exploding upon impact with a rocket.
This is really the bread and butter of the game's experience, and it's rather amazing how well Criterion has done this on current-gen systems. While a simple cloud of dust might not sound amazing, when this happens multiple times per second, per shooter, and said dust begins to rise and fill the air, you begin to see visual confirmation of how chaotic the gunfights are. When shards of glass begin flying through the air and muzzle smoke mixes with that of plaster and metal, completely clouding your vision, and then you hit a gas canister and its explosion cuts through the smoke like a knife, you'll actually be glad you'd been missing your target.
On top of the smoke, dust and shards of glass that'll become the footnote of your way through the game, much of the environment in the game is destructible as well. Not only will barrels and vehicles explode as you'd expect, but you can chip off pieces of concrete, blow holes through walls, knocks chunks out of pillars and so forth. Not everything in the game is destructible, mind you, but what you'd assume should be, probably can be destroyed.
This is not only for visual kicks and giggles but it ties directly into BLACK's over-the-edge gameplay as well. If there are heavily armored guards near a pillar, you can take out chunks of its higher section and crush your enemies below it. If a hallway is filled with steadfast enemies, you might be able to blow a hole in the wall of an adjacent room and flank them. If an enemy has taken cover behind something, you can very likely chip away at it until you have a clean shot.
Honestly, it's rare that graphics really do make a game better, but in this case the visual cues that Criterion has thrown into BLACK really do go hand-in-hand with its core design. Had bullets simply left decals on the environment, the game would have fallen apart. But the fact that every shot leaves some sort of signature really goes a very long way into making the game a truly visceral experience.