Black and White 2 Review

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Graphics: 9.0
Sound : 9.0
Gameplay : 8.0
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 8.0
Review by Bryan Sharp
Black & White 2 is the eagerly anticipated sequel to the revolutionary strategy game Black & White. While Lionhead’s sequel retains elements of the gameplay that made its first game so daring, it also has new features that help create a more mainstream feel.

In essence, Black & White 2 is the story of you—a god—and your quest to avenge the destruction of your city and its people. Your people are the Greeks, and they must rebuild their shattered culture following a brutal attack from the evil Aztec Empire. However, exacting revenge as the game’s central deity isn’t as easy as it sounds, and as a god you have many, many choices to make. Do you want to accomplish goals through acts of malevolent evil, or would you rather progress through acts of benevolent kindness?

This core question runs through the whole of Black & White 2, and the player’s choices will ultimately determine how the game unfolds. If the player, in a fit of godly rage, decides to pick up a townsperson and drop them from a great height, then a point is accrued on the ‘evil’ scale. Conversely, if the player creates new homes to better serve the reemerging population, then a point is added to the ‘good’ scale. This alignment system helps determine the actions of the player throughout the game. A player who chooses to adopt the way of evil will conquer by military force while the good player will see impressed cities opt to freely join his swelling empire. This system allows for different styles of gameplay, and, as a result, the player can openly swing between one extreme and the other.

Black & White 2’s central narrative progresses through a series of missions that pit the player against other rival empires. These opponents are allies of the Aztecs and the player must overcome them before finally confronting the Aztec Empire. Each mission involves the player building up his/her emergent civilization by either conquering the rival empire through direct military force or through subtle influence.

Black & White 2 is multiple types of strategy game all rolled into one. Each mission sees the player create a town—as gods do—for their people to live, breed, and work in. The player can then add houses, roads, and other structures to make the people happy. This civilization system works directly off the desires and needs of its people. If the populace requires more food for survival and growth, then the player needs to gift them with more farms, etc. The player can create disciples within the townspeople who will concentrate only on the chore they are assigned. Some of these disciples are mine workers, breeders, and farmers. The creation of disciples lets the player focus on other things while the people perform repetitive tasks that must be accomplished.

The town operates by consuming three main resources: food, ore, and wood. The player can further assist the population by watering crops or gathering wood by ripping trees from the earth—but the best town functions mainly from the labor of its people. The town is the player’s source of reverent finance and ‘mana’. Money, for want of a better term, allows the player to obtain various divine powers or town upgrades such as newer, better buildings. Mana allows the player to perform spells or ‘miracles’ such as water, fire, or lightning. The currency in Black & White 2 is known as ‘tribute’ and it is gained through creating new buildings or reaching certain town milestones like a particular population level, or other towns conquered through favorable impression. Mana is gained via the townsfolk worshipping at their temple.

The town is, by itself, one strategic element within Black & White 2, and another is the accomplishment of sub-missions strewn throughout the world map. The main mission goal of each level is to conquer an opposing empire; however, the player also has other missions they can choose to complete for tribute and mana. For example, one level has a mission that requires the tossing of rocks at a waterfall to break a blockage in the water’s flow, while another involves leading a lost man through the woods by changing the direction its signposts are facing. These sub-missions help alleviate the focused grind of the level and also offer an alternative challenge to accomplish.

And then we come to the game’s strategic warfare element. Many players may choose against focusing much on this particular aspect of Black & White 2 since it leads down a definite path of evil. But if a player remains steadfastly dedicated to the evil cause, a whole new layered atmosphere of siege engines and armed soldiers will appear. This warfare system controls much like a basic real-time strategy game. The player must create armories where troops can be trained into efficient fighting groups and then led against opposing enemy forces. Also, if the player gathers sufficient tribute throughout the game, new warfare upgrades can be obtained, such as the siege factory and armories that make different types of troops. One disappointing aspect of the warfare system in Black & White 2 is the lack of individual control. Since your armies come in groups, it is hard to get the feel of personal control. The troops aren’t controlled on an individual basis like in a standard RTS game. This makes it impossible for the player to micro-manage the battles or engage in any real complex strategies. This lack of personalization makes the military element of the game feel a little weak.

However, the lack of personalization is combated admirably by something the Black & White series is famous for: the creature. At the start of the game, the player chooses from a selection of animals, and that animal then becomes the player’s creature—remaining with them for the remainder of the game. The creature aspect of Black & White 2 could be considered a separate strategic element as well. The player must teach their creature the definitions of right and wrong, and everything the creature does during the game is influenced by the player. For example, if the creature grabs a townsperson and eats them, the player can then decide whether to issue punishment or praise for their actions, thus allowing the player to choose the creature’s alignment. A good creature will receive a parental smack or two for pooping on the local church, whereas an evil creature may get candy and a stripper by way of reward—not really, but you understand the meaning.

A creature can also be put into different modes of action, such as builder, gatherer, or soldier, which means it can participate in menial tasks around town, or even out on the battlefield. When in these modes, the creature will only perform tasks that fit the mode’s specific category. But beware, if a creature remains in the same mode for too long it loses its free will and simply becomes a mindless follower; though this may be somewhat beneficial to the more nefarious player if they desire a mindless killing machine.

Graphically, Black & White 2 is off the charts. The game is shown from an overhead isometric view and everything can be zoomed in on. Even when the game camera is at its closest, details remain both sharp and clear. However, the game does eat up a huge amount of system resources and will only run best on top-of-the-line PC hardware. The sound in this game is great as well. The music and voice acting come through well and the sound effects are dead on.

Control leaves a little to be desired; though it must have been difficult to design controls to complement the variety of things that need to be done in the game. At times it is hard to accomplish actions smoothly and sometimes the game doesn’t respond. For example, to negate a command the player must ‘clear their hand’ of whatever is selected. Say you have one of your armies selected but you wish to click on a tree without instructing the army to move there. Jiggling the mouse back and forth is supposed to clear your hand of the selected army so you can go click on the aforementioned tree. However, this doesn’t work some of the time, and it can be very frustrating to have to shake the mouse back and forth, back and forth, until the selection clears. Maybe it just takes practice and a gentle divine hand?

Overall, Black & White 2 is definitely a fun game—but does it justify the hype? No, but it is still thoroughly entertaining to play. Some parts of the game can drag a little, and the warfare system doesn’t feel fully fleshed out, but creating towns and ‘playing god’ is as fun as ever. The game’s design is a refreshing drop in the sea of real-time strategy games, and Black & White 2 ably shows that god sims still have a place of reverence in our humble computer game libraries.