All Features


  PlayStation 3
  PlayStation 4
  Wii U
  Xbox 360
  Xbox One


Black & White

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics engine in Black & White is truly impressive. You can look at whatever island you're playing on from miles up in the sky, with only the wind whistling in your godly ears, then zoom down into the valleys and hills with only a few graphical hiccups. The camera zooms around, panning and jumping with aplomb, and it all looks gorgeous.

Yes, the villagers aren't the most articulated models we've ever seen. Yes, it chugs occasionally even on my computer. But the game is truly beautiful -- or frightening, if you decide to take the evil route. And the Creatures at full size . . . awe-inspiring is too gentle of a way to put it.

Indeed, one of the most amazing graphical features of Black & White is the way that the world changes depending on your temperament. Evil begets evil, and soon the land will darken and your temple will look more like a place of pain than of love. The creature can undergo these gradations as well, and they don't have to match yours -- if you want a super-helpful creature when you want to play the evil overlord, that's fine. And the graphics change to match.

Sound is also very solid in Black & White. Depending on where the camera is, you can hear different ambient sounds that make sense for that location. Zoom in near the village creche, and you'll hear the kids giggling and playing. Zoom near the animals and you'll hear their sounds. Zoom out all the way and the atmosphere is your only companion. It's impressive and immersive. The music is solid as well, more subliminal than anything else, although the wonderful Middle Eastern-ish track that plays whenever you start a new game is both evident and damn good. The voice acting is top notch as well, and the game has a metric ton of spoken parts. Good stuff.


And so's the gameplay. Black & White can only be shoehorned into one category before it defiantly slips out and trods on new ground -- god games. It makes sense, then, that the originator of the genre is the creator of this game as well. And while it has its issues, some of them more frustrating than they should have been, Black & White is a genre-buster that we'll be talking about for years to come.

You play as a god, created when a young child is about to be attacked by sharks and the parents plead to the heavens. After an informative tutorial session with the game, you get down to the business of actually playing. The game takes you in small steps, giving you more information as the plot progresses, in an attempt to not overwhelm you with the complexity of it all. And your consciences -- good and evil, very reminiscent of the helpers in Afterlife -- guide you through much of the beginning of the game.

And you'll need the help. Black & White is a truly massive game, both in scope of the worlds you play in and in the complexity of the experience. There's a definite plotline to follow, but you can take it at your own pace, and most of the game's enjoyment comes from doing things that have no relationship to the story bits at hand. Indeed, the game encourages you to experiment, finding the side quests and exploring the land and training your Creature.

The Creature has been played as the big draw for Black & White, and justifiably so -- while the game doesn't require you to deal with your creature as much as you'd think, its ability to learn as you reward and punish it is truly impressive. And as it grows [and grows, and grows . . .] the experience only gets more and more surreal.

I started the game a number of times with different profiles and played a while, to see how the Creature differed between each instance. Each one had its own core personality. One, a tiger, was curious to a fault, and would run around like a crazed, er, beast in an attempt to find out something about everything. Another, a cow, rathered pooping on the temple and occasionally eating a villager. You can control most behaviours by rewarding the beast or punishing it, depending on what you'd like to do, but there are core traits that aren't meant to change, and make the game a unique experience for everyone.

The core method of the game is expansion, a la Molyneux's Populous. There are a number of villages on any given island, and to get them to worship you and therefore extend your sphere of influence, you must convert them to your faith. This can be done a number of ways, ranging from being helpful by giving them food and wood and healing the sick and whatnot, or you can destroy their homes with flaming fireballs and throw the nonbelievers across the village like so much chaff. The game doesn't make this value judgment for you -- it's all up to how you play as to how evil or good you are.

Unfortunately, this is where the game starts to bog down a little. Playing as a good god means keeping the people happy, which can be a thankless task. Teaching your Creature to do some of the work for you is a very wise maneuver, and will help the headaches somewhat, but even the Creature is limited in what it can learn to do, and in the end you'll still have to do more than you'd like. Constructing buildings has a neat method to it, but you once again have to micromanage more than is entertaining.

Of course, if you're playing as an evil god, you can just forget your people's needs and occasionally kill a few off to remind them who's really in charge. They won't be as efficient, but that's the price you pay for maliciousness.

There's a lot more to talk about here, such as making disciples, who will work singlemindedly on tasks to make them go faster but be unable to pray to get you miracles, the various miracles -- from food to fireballs -- and the gesture method used to cast them, and the multiplayer experience, which while very lengthy is also quite enjoyable -- besides the highly entertaining experience of watching your beast duke it out with other people's. But we don't need any more treatises on the gameplay, so suffice it to say that there's enough variety here to keep you going for a long, long time.


Even with the tutorial, Black & White has a hell of a learning curve, a fact which is only exacerbated by the rather weak instruction manual. The consciences definitely help in breaking you into the game, but learning the proper methods of micromanagement and people control take a lot more than some gentle pointers. Don't be afraid to experiment, and you'll do fine as you play the game. Playing as a good god is definitely more challenging than playing as an evil god, as it should be, and perhaps the easiest way to go the first time you play is that of evil. There's considerably less micromanagement, and the way the world shapes itself in your dastardly image is cool enough to see.

Game Mechanics:

When you first get into the actual playing of Black & White, you may be looking for some buttons to click. There are none -- a feature that is both impressive and downright frustrating at times. The lack of an interface means that your Hand, the embodiment of you as a god, is the only real way you have to interact with the environment. Moving the screen is done by grabbing the land and pulling it towards you, and rotating the camera is done by moving the Hand to the edge of the screen and 'spinning' the mouse. Right-click is 'action,' which means roughly a million things depending on the context that you use it in. Almost anything can be done without the keyboard.

As cool as the interface-that-isn't is, the keyboard is almost necessary. Using it to hop between important points by bookmarking, jump to your temple to do some management, and rotate the camera when the Hand doesn't feel like complying is a requirement if you don't want to scream in frustration.

One of the nice features of Black & White -- if you can use it -- is the support of force feedback mice, like the Logitech iFeel Mouse. You can actually feel the Hand picking up wood, rolling over quest scrolls, and so on. It's a little gimmicky, but it just adds that extra immersive touch.

The core mechanics of the game are solid, and amazingly complex. Yes, there are only a limited number of things that the Creature can learn, and yes, converting a city can be a major pain in the arse when two dieties are fighting for it. But it's still an impressive effort, one that could be improved with minor tweaks in a patch.

Speaking of patches, the main issue I had with Black & White is its rather buggy state. A number of people cannot play the game on their system, and even I experienced some bizarre bugs as I played -- people drowning in land, or walking on the ocean. Lionhead is hard at work at fixing the game as soon as possible, but until then it's an occasionally frustrating experience to see the game do things it is not meant to do -- if it works at all.

The skimpy manual only adds to the frustration.

Despite all this, Black & White does what it does very well, even if defining what it does is a challenge. Containing a smattering of damn near every 'thinking man' genre ever, Black & White is definitely greater than the sum of its parts, and any self-respecting computer gamer with system enough to handle the game should have it. If for nothing else, the crazy good AI will be the standard to which we compare everything for a while. Be good, or be evil, but whatever you do, get yourself some Black & White.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x/2K/Me, P2/K6-2 350, 64 MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, 500MB HD Space, 8MB Direct3D-compatible video card, soundcard, keyboard, mouse

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal Windows Blade of Darkness

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated