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Black & White 2

Score: 86%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Media: CD/4
Players: 1
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/ God Games

Graphics & Sound:

Black & White 2, simply put, looks stunning. Every island is incredibly detailed and contains a variety of different schemes. Not only do things look great from a distant view, but zooming right up to the ground yields some great visuals as well. Whether youíre staring at a precariously mounted boulder or crops waving in the wind, the level of detail stays at a constant high no matter the distance. The biggest notable improvement from the last game, however, comes with your creature. The hair on your creature is almost as lush as the grass on the islands, and their animations have been given a considerable boost.

Dialogue plays a big part in Black & White 2, and as such, the recorded voices are delivered in both quantity and quality. Everything is pulled off in a tongue-in-cheek manner, but it is descriptive enough to keep the gameplay going. The music is well composed and suits the nature of the game perfectly. Soft, serene tracks play most of the time, but ramp up when things are getting hectic.


Gameplay:

Black & White was the definitive god game of our era, created by the man who defined the genre, Peter Molyneux. In it, you played a god who must spread his influence over the land in either a benevolent or malevolent manner. While a mix of the two was possible and the easiest to achieve, the challenge was in trying to go completely to one side of the spectrum, limiting yourself totally to your good or evil ways.

While the goals have not changed in Black & White 2, the method of achievement has. More emphasis is put on achieving a mix of good and evil. The opposite ends of the spectrum are imbalanced, as it is now extremely hard to be completely good and a bit too easy to achieve your gains through evil means. The addition of standing armies in Black & White 2 is a testament to this, as it is almost impossible to beat any level without an army, and the simple act of raising an army is considered "evil".

You progress through Black & White 2 by completing levels. Each level has a series of goals, some of which you must complete, and others which you donít have to complete, but will grant you benefits if you do. The main goals usually consist of persuading all of the towns and cities on an island (all the levels take place on islands) to join you. You can do this by either impressing the hell out of them, or simply raising an unstoppable army and turning them by force.

Black & White 2 seems like much more of a strategy game than the prequel did. A large emphasis is placed on combat, as well as constructing defensive fortifications around your cities. While keeping your population fed and happy is still a large part of the game, the added dynamic of maintaining an army is almost as time consuming and resource intensive.

What separates Black & White 2 from other god games (aside from the prequel) is your creature. This giant beast is your representation on the planet, and you must care for it like you would any other pet. In Black & White 2, you can pick from four different animals to represent you: a lion, ape, wolf or cow. The AI of the creature is what drew people to this series of games in the first place. It will take your orders, but you canít attend to it all the time. It has a life of its own, eating, sleeping, playing, or destroying, and as you progress through the game, it grows and learns from all of its previous actions.

Sadly though, there is no Multiplayer support in Black & White 2. Multiplayer in the first game was interesting as you pitted your creature against other playersí creatures and had them fight it out Bloodsport style. Why there was no support in the title is beyond me, and it seriously detracts from the replay value.


Difficulty:

There is a lot of micromanagement involved in Black & White 2. You must construct buildings, tell your citizens to breed, teach your pet, raise an army, and make sure that everybody is happy enough or afraid enough to continue worshiping you. Because of all this, there is quite a steep learning curve in this game. The first few missions are lengthy tutorials in disguise, and much information is thrown at you despite the steady pace the levels take on. Thankfully, the interface allows you access to all of the information you could possibly need to make good decisions. The game is incredibly deep, but when knowledge is power, you can rest assured that you are well armed.

Game Mechanics:

You influence the world of Black & White 2 through a hand. With this hand you can move around the map, manipulate the environment (including the time of day), and give orders to your creature. This simple interface works very well and is extremely intuitive. The only problem that arises is when you try to pick up very small objects that are next to or on other objects, the worst of all being the villagers. Though the hand will highlight anything that it can pick up when it is hovering over it, trying to align it with villagers can sometimes be a bit of a chore.

Every interaction you have in Black & White 2 is labeled as either good or evil. For instance, pulling a tree out of the ground is considered evil, but placing the tree in your townís storage center is considered good. As you go through the game, your percentage of good and evil actions is tallied up and you slowly proceed down one of the two alignments. Compared to what you could do in the first game, you seem much more restricted here in terms of becoming completely good or evil. This time, the game takes a much more conservative approach to completing each level, forcing you down what is more or less a balanced path of good and evil each time you play.

Training your creature has also been "dumbed down", as it speaks in bubbles above its head, and you have a meter that tells you how much you need to reprimand or reinforce its actions. For instance, if your creature is going to eat a villager, it will warn you first. You can either react and tell it not to (or to go ahead and do it), or just wait for it to do what it wants. You tell your creature whether it has done something good or bad by either slapping it or rubbing its belly. In the previous game, you got no warning and there was no meter that told you how much you had to pet or hit your creature in order to get your point across. These changes seem to have been made in order for the game to reach a wider audience, but in doing so, Black & White 2 loses the essence that made the first one so interesting to play.

Black & White 2 is much more structured and holds your hand (no pun intended) a great deal more than the previous game. While this allows it to be marketed to a lot more people, and despite the new graphics and combat system, it becomes something less than the original title. Thatís not to say that it is a bad game overall. What is bundled in the box is a solid RTS with god game-like elements, and if you were ever hesitant to try out the genre, this is as good a place as any to start.


-Snow Chainz, GameVortex Communications
AKA Andrew Horwitz

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows 2K/XP, 1.6 GHz Processor, 512 MB RAM, 64 MB Video Card, 3500 MB Free Hard Disk Space
 

Test System:



Windows XP, 2.4 GHz Processor, 1GB RAM, 256 MB GeForce 6800 GT Video Card, 160 GB Hard Drive, Cable Modem Internet Connection

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