Black & White
Black & White, the latest creation from Lionhead Studios, is an ambitious, innovative title that seeks to redefine current ideas about strategy games. You're not a powerful sorcerer or a mighty warrior, but a god who shapes the forces of good and evil at your whim. Given a follower creature of epic proportions and the ability to interact with your environment on a massive scale, you decide the fate of entire civilizations.
With game design that allows your moral behavior (good, neutral, evil) to affect the world and your place within it, Black & White offers unprecedented gameplay. As the game puts it, "Will you be a blessing, or a curse?" Not really belonging to one particular genre, Black & White has elements drawn from real-time strategy, fighting games and SimCity -style village management, while still maintaining a very original identity.
As you proceed through the adventure that waits, you'll meet many other gods, learn a host of powerful miracles and battle Nemesis, your greatest enemy, for the power of the Creeds and the secret to godhood itself. Will you save the universe or reshape it in your own image?
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Black & White starts out with a simple introduction to godhood -- the point and click interface! Seriously, your main control is a hand, representing your divine power; it has complete freedom of movement over the face of Eden (the first land you encounter). This hand allows you to move and orient the camera, as well as pick up and throw objects in the environment. You'll be able to throw rocks, trees, sheep and the occasional villager. You can't demolish buildings with the hand, but you can toss rocks on them, removing that pesky problem. Using this hand properly is the key to advancing through the game, as you'll be solving many, many puzzles by moving stones, people or even livestock around the landscape. The only problem this style of interface presents is that sometimes it's difficult to move around the landscape.
Beyond the hand, you'll be given a creature early in the single-player game, a massive Titan imbued with your power. The Titan is a normal animal that's been turned into a giant bipedal creature, given to you purely to serve. Not only does the Titan learn and grow, he is able to use the same miracles you cast and can be taught to perform tasks. He'll start off about three times the size of a human being, and can grow tall enough to crush small buildings underfoot. His alignment changes the same way yours does, and he'll learn how to throw rocks, consume only certain foods, and harvest resources for your villagers. You've got three different leashes to control him: one allowing him to learn, another for kindness and compassion, and another to make him aggressive in whatever task he's performing.
Along with your hand and creature, you've got miracles to cast. They're performed with a simple movement of the mouse, tracing a symbol which activates the miracle. You'll be able to create miraculous food, water and wood -- even destroy a small village with fireballs if you'd like.
Progressing through the game requires solving story scrolls, which come in two flavors: gold and silver. Silver scrolls do not need to be completed to finish the storyline of the game, but rewards are provided should you choose to follow them. Gold scrolls allow you to proceed to the next chapter of the game, and usually involve a long-term task or puzzle. The best thing about the story scrolls is that they trigger the events in the game, and if you don't want to follow one you don't have to.
Far and away the most interesting feature of the game is the alignment system. Everything you do, and I mean everything, determines whether you are good or evil. Nearly every task in the game can be finished in a good way and an evil way, and different consequences await you for your decisions. Your creature also has an alignment, and as he tips towards good or evil he'll change before your eyes. A lion will become dark red, grow giant teeth, claws and a hunchback as he becomes more evil. If he starts becoming good, he'll glow golden, stand straight and tall and have a resplendent mane.
Black & White's multiplayer support allows you to fight in a land with up to seven other gods, either as ally or enemy. Essentially reproducing the same effect as the single-player experience, playing Black & White online allows you to interact with other gods, winning over their populations to your belief or working together to defeat a common foe. The only drawback to this multiplayer feature is the poor design of the multiplayer interface. The Internet game browser is cluttered and disorganized, and the menus that allow you to connect to a game are unpolished and look half-finished.
Using a powerful new 3D engine developed specifically for Black & White, the visuals in this game are amazing in both scale and variety. Each gameplay area is a small island inhabited by you and any other gods with whom you're playing. You can zoom around the entire island by zooming out to a bird's-eye view, and then immediately focusing on an object as small as an apple. As a good demonstration of the performance of this technology, you can find a worm poking out of an apple. Once you've zoomed up close enough to see it, you can zoom out to above the clouds, looking at the entire island like it was a postage stamp.
The quality and design of the graphics are top-notch as well, with the ability to handle the multitude of creature forms and alignments, and a noticeable difference in the villagers as they grow from child to adult. With rocks, trees, mountains, birds, fish and more, they didn't leave a lot out when designing the look for this game. While not as immersive as the graphics from a game like Rainbow Six, Black & White manages to cram all this detail into a game that can do much more.
The background music in Black & White is extremely well done, with a slight Celtic tone. Given that this game isn't strongly oriented around action, the music supports the game in areas that would otherwise be slightly boring. Even so there isn't a lot of music, and the game doesn't always provide that nice musical edge. Making up for any blemishes in the score is a feature that allows you to substitute your own music from CD or MP3. This music has an in-game effect, and your creature and villagers will even learn to dance to certain music styles.
The amount of thought that went into the beings that populate Black & White is immense. If your creature, god forbid (no pun intended), happens to take a liking to eating adult male villagers instead of grain, he may develop a preference, and may selectively eat only adult male villagers even if offered sheep, grain, or a young male villager. Combine that with an artificial intelligence that allows your creature to learn from example, using positive and negative reinforcement to guide its growth.
Although on a much smaller level, your villagers are equally intelligent. They're able to function as a society on their own, gather all the resources they need and continue to grow in population. The only thing they won't be able to do is build new structures, since only you control where the new buildings are made.
Windows 95/98/2000/ME, 350 MHz Pentium II MMX processor, 64 MB RAM, DirectX 7.0a (supplied with CD-ROM), DirectX 7.0a-compliant sound card, PCI/AGP 8 MB 3-D hardware accelerator card with Direct3D support, 600 MB free hard disk space, 4X CD-ROM drive, TCP/IP Internet connection at 56K or faster or Internet access via LAN (for multiplayer support)
Black & White is a high-quality game that lives up to its hype. It has an innovative style, quality design and some elements that have never before been seen in gaming, like the alignment system. It's easily one of the most entertaining games I've played in a long time. There are only really two drawbacks I've seen. First, small parts of the multiplayer interface seem disjointed and unfinished, something I'd normally not expect on a game this polished. Second, given that you can let the game progress at whatever speed you like, it can really bog down if you stick to a plan of training your creature and letting your civilization grow before continuing the storyline. These problems aside, Black & White is an excellent game that deserves to be in every gamer's library.