Peter Molyneux's Black and White was universally hailed as an innovative switch-up in gaming prior to its launch, and frustrated critics referred to it as a toy once they'd had a chance to see the depth of the title's gameplay. The design of the sequel, Black and White 2, seems to be a deliberate response to the denouncements leveled at the original game. The result is a more traditional, less open-ended RTS with some identity issues. Despite that, being a god still has as much appeal as it did back in the days of Populous. Read on for my impressions of Molyneux's marriage of Nintendogs and Age of Empire: Black and White 2.
- Title: Black and White 2
- Developer: Lionhead Studios
- Publisher: EA
- System: PC
- Reviewer: Zonk
- Score: 7/10
As your people's almighty, you are tasked with propping up and expanding the influence of their civilization. Gameplay to accomplish this is an interesting blend of the open-ended structure of the previous title and more traditional RTS elements. Your presence within the mortal world is personified by a great hand, which you can use to manipulate the physical realm. Using the hand, you can harvest grain from a field or turn trees into lumber. You can dictate roles to your citizens, instructing them to act as fieldworkers or breeders as you see fit. Via interface elements, you can indicate where you'd like to place structures within your civilization's sphere of influence. Structure placement is very intuitive, and every building has some effect on the well-being of your people. The goal is to be as impressive as possible by placing structures on high points, ensuring that the citizenry is happy, and designing the city with certain elements in mind. Simple rules like placing homes a little ways apart to ensure privacy add a layer of strategy to what might otherwise be a mindless mechanical process.
In this fashion you can take on the role of caretaker, and usher your people into a new golden age. Impressive cities attract people from other villages, and if you manage to impress the citizenry of the entire island you are successful by default. The only problem is that if you're dedicated to using this tactic to defeat the game, it may take you longer than some television seasons to work through the title. In a word, the 'good' gameplay is boring. While it's fun to get your civilization up and running, once you've run through all the building types you'll spend hours and hours breeding more citizens, building more homes, seeding new fields, rinsing and repeating.
On that note, placing nursing homes in your cities will make people happier but won't let you kill the enemy any more effectively. (Though the idea of crack trained granny ninjas is appealing.) Armories are the structures that allow you to build military units, platoons of swordsmen and archers. These platoons are your offense and defense, and along with your Creature are your only means of waging war against your enemies. By placing a flag from an armory, you call your citizens to arms and form a platoon. Platoons can vary in size from 10 men to more than 50. The number of able-bodied men available in that particular city dictates the maximum size of the platoon. Once you've formed your platoon, they start consuming a lot more food. They consume even more food when on the march, meaning that quickly your idyllic city will start craving grain.
This is where your evil side can quickly gain hold, as it's tempting to turn your cities into nothing more than food producing slave factories. Waging war at all is regarded as an evil act by the game, meaning that if you enjoy the combat elements of the game you'll gain at least some evility. Raising some platoons to take vacated towns is generally taken in stride by your enemy forces, but converting settled villages by converting their altar is not. Unfortunately. reactions to your military conquests are really the only response you'll get from the enemy AI. Battles are tumultuous and dramatic, with hundreds of individuals involved in final and climactic confrontations. The slow trickle of attacks you'll face, though, means that you can safely reserve your forces with no fear of a campaign unless you start one.
Besides graveyards and better lodging, you can purchase some impressively godly things. Miracles allow you (or your Creature) to cast spells of healing, destruction, or plenty as you see fit. Epic Miracles can also be purchased, each with a dramatic effect on the environment. In a single deific moment you can raise a volcano beneath your enemies, shake their cities to rubble with earthquakes, or convert their people with the power of a Siren. These elements are beautiful looking icing on the cake, and are moments that can remind you of the level of power you're capable of wielding.
Above and beyond the gameplay, Black and White 2 is a stunning game with a unique soundscape. The production values of the Lionhead game are top notch, with an incredible amount of detail in every moment. While the hype for this game didn't include being able to zoom in to observe a worm in an apple, the freedom the game gives you to zoom in and out makes for some breathtaking views. Pulling back to observe the entire island you're currently on is as easy as pushing in to monitor a single citizen. The audio environment is just as lush, with warcries from clashing armies and crashing underbrush from deforestation adding highlights to gameplay elements. The musical cues are few and far between, but just like the original game are beautifully orchestrated.