GURPS Black Ops
So, what is GURPS Black Ops about? The easiest introduction would be to say it's like the movie Men In Black, but that's also pretty inaccurate. In Black Ops there's only one intelligent alien race around -- the Greys -- and they're very much the bad guys. There are also run of the mill monsters to worry about, as well as the occasional psychic. So it's more like the X-Files, but Mulder and Scully would be in on the cover up and much quicker to use their guns. Now give them some higher tech equipment and an international scope, make them part of an agency with nearly unlimited resources that hides itself from the public (and governments), and recast the roles with Bruce Willis and Michelle Yeoh and you should have a pretty good idea of what this book is about.
The first three chapters cover the conspiracy, the Company's history and structure, and the training for becoming a Black Op. Some of this is just what you'd expect, like the Company is funded by front companies in high-tech fields and recruits only "the best of the best" to become Black Ops. The "Worst-Case Scenarios" section, which deals with contingencies for the event the conspiracy is breached, was a pleasant surprise. Likewise, the Company's structure feels solid and well thought out. The Academy (where the Black Ops are trained to become "gods among men" rather than simply heroic) was almost too over the top for me, but its cult-like brainwashing gave me something to hang my disbelief on. In all, the setting information is more than adequate for an action movie, which is, after all, the type of game the book claims to have been written for.
I was glad to see chapters titled "Things to Hunt & Kill," and "Dangerous Toys." I think touches like that go a long way toward establishing the proper mindset. And being the sort who gets easily distracted I was glad the GM's advice clearly laid out a framework of genre assumptions to build a game upon.
There are those who say they don't buy a game book for the art, and I think with this one that's the case. The illustrations are of typical quality, though I was surprised that they focused almost entirely on scenes of high-tech combat -- I think focusing on the danger those guns-blazing combats pose to the conspiracy would have been more evocative, and thus, made me more interested in playing in its world.
Each chapter begins with a splash image on the left page -- a collection of stuff like you might find on a desk, but with a different "photograph" for each chapter. I think it would have been nice to see different props used, but overall the arrangement is okay. I'd be surprised if anyone else cares, but I'm going to mention this anyway: What really seemed odd was the use of text on the floppy disk. I don't know what font was used but it's of the pseudo-handwritten variety (but clearly not handwritten) and put on the surface of the disk, so it looks like the disk itself was run through a printer. Granted, that would be one of the least fantastical elements in the book, but it looks like a design slip to me. While I'm on the subject of text I may as well mention that tilting the chapter title to match the coded document was a bit of a waste because the title's shadow lifts it off the paper's surface anyway, and because the rest of the text doesn't change it gets particularly detached. But enough of this rather tedious graphic design critique....
... And on to my playtesting: The first attempt was of fair (at best) execution but at the wrong time. I had intended to do a conspiracy game where the players would find out about the weird stuff over the course of a few sessions using the Millennium's End system, but it ended before it could hardly get started. A little while later we played a game of Black Ops proper using the Feng Shui system and it was a lot of fun. I may have tried doing a game with the GURPS system, but I've never played or GMed it before, and wasn't interested in picking up the Basic Set, Ultratech, and what ever else they recommended (I downloaded GURPS Lite to find out what the monster and weapon stats meant). Again, I found the background more than adequate, and plenty to keep the group interested.
The book does what it sets out to, and does it well. If you're interested in some big-budget special effects gaming you won't likely be disappointed. If, for some reason, you're looking for a typography thesis, maybe you should check out the latest issue of How magazine instead.
Style: 3 (Average)