Black & White II Review (PC)

Disappointments are not something I deal with well, especially when I’m certain someone could have done so much better. Peter Molyneux is a man capable of such awesome achievements. Theme Park, Magic Carpet, and Dungeon Keeper were all outstanding; and the original Black and White was a damn near masterpiece. With such expectations it is impossible to prepare yourself for the thoroughly average experience of Black and White 2.

If what was happening here was as cool as it looks, then this would be a good gameThe village upfar

For anyone who doesn’t know Black and White and therefore didn’t own a decent PC (the only explanation) four years ago; ‘twas the brilliant strategy adventure game in which you take the role of a God – interacting with a beautiful 3D environment as a giant not-quite-omnipotent hand. Fundamentally B&W2 is the same thing.

You have the power to physically interact with anything within your sphere of influence which surrounds the villages where your followers dwell. The size of this area is related to the amount of followers you have, and expanding the area involves catering to the needs of your followers in certain obvious ways – building them houses, helping them stock up on food, etc. However, in order to expand effectively you must either conquer or convert other villages. In the old game the primary method of achieving this was by using your creature – a giant AI animal which you teach, look after, and indirectly control.

Now in the new fancy pansy B&W you can build armies. Wow! How exciting. I haven’t seen anyone do that before. So now taking new settlements is a simple and tedious task involving a unit pump followed by a mass invasion. The imagination required to creatively use your creature to impress a village that was present in the old game has been obliterated. To be honest, it’s not so much that armies are a bad idea; it’s that there are just so many damn strategy games that have done this but with increased diversity, better implementation and more well thought out strategy. (Rome Total War, Age of Mythology, Warcraft III).

There’s no sense of exploration and a complete lack of narrative in B&W 2; and the scrolls – quests which you do in order to receive certain bonuses or progress the story line – seem like they’ve slid out the mouth of a dogmatic marketing executive who’s not actually sure what creativity is, but he’s read a marketing book around it. They range from the obvious – such as, capture such-and-such a village – to the insanely tedious – one such example springs to mind of a scroll which gets you to catch baby sheep flying out of a mother sheep as she gives birth. You have to do this for about 5 minutes, it’s insanely easy, and it’s not in the slightest bit entertaining.

This *is* as cool as it looksThese things are the annoying guides to the game

From the very beginning the original game sucked you into the role of a god. A drowning man cries out for your help, and you come into existence – formed by his need. You rescue him, and follow him through a mysterious mountain pass to a bustling village of potential believers. It’s exciting, and it paints a poetic picture.

B&W 2 makes no such attempt to capture the player’s imagination. The game begins with a confusing cinematic followed by moronic tutorial. The representations of your conscience – a demon and an angel – are flying about the screen giving you direction as they did in the first game; but for some reason Lionhead studios have decided to pump their dialog full of obvious and irritating jokes.

One positive thing worth mentioning is that the ability to enact miracles has been retained in B&W 2, and it is, thankfully, as cool as ever. They are essentially divine spells which you cast using a mana pool of ‘worship’. They range from the ability to create rain to water the villagers’ crops, to the ability to create volcanoes of mass destruction.

The latest incarnation of B&W includes the addition of a new interface menu, allowing you to have more accessible control over what your villages are building, and a new creature thought database, which allows you to essentially see every action your creature has done over the past half an hour and choose which ones you want him to do and which you don’t. Does this sound good? Because it’s not, none of it is.

The menu serves only to eradicate any feeling of immersion you may try to muster, and the complete control Lionhead studios have given you over the creature takes away from the thing that made the creature interesting in the first place – the unpredictability; the fact that the creature was a separate being to yourself with its own AI. The living thinking creature is now much more like a robot, if only because you are more aware that his mind is there and you have complete control over what he should think.

This menu system is as lame as it looksBig wooden doors are all the rage in B&W 2

Top game moment:  Creating a volcano; nuff said.

This pattern follows, and in-fact all the aspects of the original which made it brilliant have been removed or reduced and the additions seem to focus upon making the game more accessible at the catastrophic expense of immersion, adventure and mystery.

But hey, at least it’s got good graphics eh?

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