The original Black & White was, in many ways, a failed experiment in emergent game design. It attempted to meld god games—where you build a city to help your people grow and flourish—with the pet management games that were all the rage in Japan. You could, theoretically, teach your pet to do all sorts of nifty things—help build your city, harvest resources, turn the enemy into paste. The way you treated your creature and worshippers affected everything about the game. Benevolent players’ lands were filled with light and happiness, while evil players’ lands were dark, unpleasant places.
Unfortunately, bad controls made the most basic tasks in the game challenging, and the creatures were difficult to train. Worse, the win conditions for each map were unclear, making the game completely inaccessible for all but the hardcore. The game wasn’t a train wreck, but it was more frustrating than fun.
Black & White 2 is everything the first game should have been. The god game and the pet are still there, but the folks at Lionhead also added a real-time strategy element, giving both good and evil victory conditions for each mission.
Building your city is simple enough. Place buildings using a menu system and your people take care of construction. Place fields and your people gather the crops. While you can dedicate individuals to specific tasks (building, gathering, mining, and—ahem—breeding), it’s not necessary. Your people will automatically do everything they can to keep your city running smoothly. This alleviates most of the micromanagement pain common to god games, and in turn lets you focus on more important tasks, like turning your enemies into paste. When your city becomes impressive enough, villagers from other towns and cities will abandon their homes to live with you.
If you’re more interested in raining death and destruction upon your enemies, you’ll need to build a war machine. Unlike traditional RTS games, where you have dozens of different types of units to manage, B&W2 gives you three: infantry, archers, and siege weapons. The simplified approach eliminates much of the “I use these little guys against cavalry, except for these guys, who are immune” nonsense. Instead, you have to use all your units carefully, support them with your creature, and know when to call for a retreat. To win with an army, you’ll need to conquer each of the other faction’s cities, one at a time.
Training your creature is easier in this B&W sequel. When he pleases you, praise him. When he disappoints you, punish him. If he’s doing something you don’t like—say, eating the villagers—but you can’t catch him at it, there’s even a handy interface that lets you deliver time-delayed praise or punishment. Eventually, he’ll become an independent extension of your will, smiting your enemies and embracing your friends.
The game follows the basic rules of any world. Water something and it will grow. Light it on fire and it will burn. Exercise and you’ll get stronger. Eat too much and you’ll get fat. In addition to manipulating the physical world, you and your creature can perform miracles, spraying water, fire, or healing rays throughout your city. The real magic happens when you combine these abilities. If you want to see your enemies faces light up, try chucking a burning tree at them. Well, it makes us smile at least.
— Will Smith
Month Reviewed: Holiday 2005
+ Zeus: Playing god is great fun. Fire, brimstone, and a wrathful creature are all at hand.
-Jupiter: Controls can be a little wonky. No locusts.
ESRB Rating: M