Genre: Real-Time Strategy/Simulation
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: October 4, 2005
It's Black, it's White, Whoo!
Well, I know what you're thinking, but no, this isn't a new Michael Jackson song. Yeah, yeah, I know. I was disappointed too. What we have here is simply the sequel to Peter Molyneaux's innovatively large and largely lackluster God game, Black & White. I challenge you to disagree with me on that in a way that makes sense. Molyneaux himself is like some sort of game-developing god of brilliant design and half-assed implementation. To Joe Q. Gamer, that basically means he creates a ton of hype and then releases a product that's usually about 10% of what it was claimed to be (15% on a good day). Both Fable and the original Black & White fit this bill perfectly.
Of course, I can't fault the guy for aiming high; if he is ever able to make the games he dreams up into an actual reality, they'd be about five times better than what we're playing today. But what we're here to dissect today, class, is his latest project, Black & White 2.
<b>Oops, he did it again!</b>
This game's greatest strength may also be its greatest weakness – it's basically Black & White 1.5. The graphics and sound are improved, in some cases immensely (and that's saying something, given how pretty Black & White was). Hey, if I were a god, I'd want my kingdom to be cool-looking, but this feels far too much like the same game. This is a refinement of Black & White, but I think it's a stretch to try and claim this as a sequel. Frankly, I could imagine the additions in this version could have fit into an expansion pack.
Truly, the largest change has been to the user interface, which now makes it somewhat easier to play god without constantly having to refer to the instruction manual, a decidedly un-omniscient activity.
<b>...And you shall have no other gods before me...</b>
In the single-player campaign, you've been brought back as a divine being by the pleas of the Greeks, a race on the verge of annihilation by the hands of the Aztecs. I suppose that the Aztec civilization, being extinct and all, has become fair game to be video game villains you can destroy without remorse, much like Nazis or terrorists. The Aztecs are about to demolish the Greeks, and you've been brought back to save them. This grand adventure takes you from land to land, seeking aid from the other civilizations such as the Norse and the Japanese. You appear to be the only god left in existence, which gives your people a remarkable advantage over everyone else.
Clearing lands (which amount to levels) is pretty simple. You conquer the enemy's main city through either force or culture. I had serious doubts about the fun of attempting a cultural victory (terrifying flashbacks of attempting to play a "Good" god in the original Black & White), so I chose to progress through the game using good old-fashioned force. In this title, you build armories and form your citizens into armies to capture enemy cities.
Sadly, this part of the game, which is supposed to introduce RTS elements to the mix, falls pretty flat. To me, it seems like a pure numbers game, unless you happen to be fighting the enemy within your borders (which are the limits of your god-like omnipotence), where you can simply drop fireballs on opposing armies and slay them with ease. In fact, it almost doesn't even seem fair. Armies versus a god ... I wonder who'll win? This is pretty humorous at first, but even burning wave after wave of enemy forces eventually becomes monotonous.
<b> A Creature Feature </b>
Your creature is a bit easier to control this time around; it has a value for every action it can take, from "Never" to "Always." You can see what action it's thinking of doing inside a thought bubble which pops up above its head. Simply click on your creature at this time, and you'll zoom in and see exactly what it thinks of that action. Pet it for 5-10 seconds and it'll jump up to "Always," but slap it a few times, and it drops to "Never."
Additionally, your creature has five leashes you can use – Free Will, Gatherer, Soldier, Builder, and Entertainer – and you command it to perform a subset of actions by changing its leash. On the bright side, you can keep your creature from running off to take a dump in a field when you need it to be fighting enemy armies. Even with all of this, though, it was a complete pain to get my creature to do what I wanted, unless I spent my time micromanaging him (which is a complete pain in itself).
<b> Let There Be Light! </b>
Black & White 2 is a sight to behold if you have a newer video card because it looks splendid. I was playing it in 1920 X 1080 resolution, and some of the visuals are jaw-dropping. The most amazing thing is the attention to detail at every level. You can zoom out so far that the entire land looks like it is miles distant, or zoom down to the point that you can make out the grass and see textures on rocks and trees. Water is especially stunning, and the lighting effects breathe life into the environment.
The sound is not quite as impressive, but is still quite good. If you have the hardware, you can get surround sound which works fairly well, but could have been implemented better. I noticed a few times where there was a distinct shift when sound would move from the front to the rear.
<b> I am the Alpha and the Omega... well now I'm just the Omega </b>
If you liked the original Black & White, you'll probably like this iteration, too. It will be very familiar, with some fixes in place to help expedite gameplay. The developers took out the Creature vs. Creature combat, but villagers are less helpless and can do things like get their own food and take care of their most basic needs without your constant supervision. It's fun for a while, and who knows, maybe Molyneaux will finally get it right with Black & White 3.
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