Some first-person-shooter history: On December 10, 1993, Id Software released the shareware demo of Doom, and it's no exaggeration to say that it changed gaming forever. Doom wasn't the first first-person shooter, but it was so far ahead of every other game out there that echoes of the collective jaw-drop it triggered still resonate today.
Black has a lot in common with that astounding first version of Doom. First and foremost, it's like nothing you've ever seen, heard, or been forced to restart a dozen times for no obvious reason before. The idea behind the game was to make the most destructive, chaotic, gun-centric experience possible, and did they ever: The graphics are gorgeous right down to the scuffs on the receivers of the lovingly modeled firearms, almost every object in the game takes damage, and the thousands of terrorist enemies die in lots of interestingly cinematic, though bloodless, ways. The sound is equally incredible—gunshots, ricochets, explosions, the screams of the wounded, and the game's three or four non-weapon-related sounds are so well engineered that it's really best to just wear headphones while playing and avoid distressing everyone. In short, the presentation quality is stunning.
For as long as it lasts, anyway. Another uncanny Black/Doom-demo parallel is painfully obvious: Each one initially takes about six hours to complete. That was awesome for Doom, a free download with 16 extra maps available after registration. But 40 bucks for Black's eight levels, with no multiplayer mode, and unlockable difficulty settings the only incentive to replay? The question is really whether renting this lovely oversized tech demo is worth a whole weekend.
Beyond the game: Those nine levels of Doom are still available as a free download to this day. If Id Software's download page isn't up, get your copy here: compactiongames.about.com/ library/free/bl_doom95_free.htm
Worth playing for: Six hours. Pretty good hours, but still, The A.V. Club can't stress that number enough.
Frustration sets in when: You realize a lot of developers have been cutting a lot of projects off at the knees lately, and that the trend will continue until there's a little more confidence in the viability of the hardware platforms, like maybe next summer.
Final judgment: Judging by this little taste, Black 2 will probably be amazing.