So… what's it gonna be, today? Do you feel like being good, spreading light around the world, or at least your piece of it? Or are you, perhaps, in a different sort of spirit? A spirit that would like being bad basically for the sake of being bad? Do you want drop rocks on people, toss them through the air like a beach ball, or simply watch as they toil on to entertain your whims?
Well, all of this can be yours if you decide to purchase a copy of Lionheart Studio's Black and White 2, the sequel to the game that let us all enjoy what it meant to be a deity in our own world. For those of you who haven't played the first game, in the Black and White series, you assume the role of a god, shepherding your people through various trials and tribulations. A hallmark of the series is its open-endedness – the player makes the decision whether or not they'll play their role as a force for good (building up society by improving the lives of the people) or evil (ruthlessly destroying any and all opposition while making the people little more than playthings).
In testing, I ran the game on a Pentium 4 Compaq at 800X600 resolution, using a ATI Radeon 9500 graphics card at approximately 34 FPS. It ran very smoothly, with no lag or other issues.
The plot behind B&W2 is much the same as its predecessor. You, the anonymous god, have to build up your race from rags to riches by whatever means you deem fit. Those of you who played the last game may be asking yourselves what possible reason there could be for doing this stuff all over again? It's a good question and the answer is that your race was all but exterminated by the Aztecs at the start of the game. You might call it a plot hole; I call it a cameo appearance. Also, unlike the previous game, there are no other gods but you around to squabble with – this time around, it's the mortals you have to worry about.
After the cataclysm is over and your Greeks (yes, you are essentially Zeus, but don't let it go to your head) have started on their new path in life, you will have to take charge of them and lead them to their glorious future. As you go along you will be advised by your two consciences, good and bad, who will advise you on what they think is the best course of action during any particular event. The final choice of your spiritual polarity is entirely up to you.
Managing the lives of your citizens is the basis for the game and will be what takes up most of your time. The tool you use for this: the extremely large, disembodied, and airborne hand, is quite, umm.. handy. Yes. Moving on. You can use it to change the direction of the camera and zoom in and out and also use it to gather resources, place and build structures, gather resources, or to assign your citizens to the various roles they can perform such as farmer, breeder, builder, worshiper, mineworker, or forester. Once you set them a task they will keep doing it until they die, but if you have a surplus of villagers they will leap in to help on various projects.
You are not entirely without help in performing your godly duties, though. One of the best things abut the original Black and White was the ability to create a gigantic, animal avatar in-game, to serve as your earthly enforcer, and this system returns in B&W2. Just as in the original, your creature can be anything from a lovable pet that can either be a helpful friend and guardian of your villagers to a massive, villager-eating hell beast that they will flee from. Four creature types are available: ape, tiger, wolf, and cow. He can do a lot of the things you can do, and therefore can be used to take some of the burden away from you. He can build, he can farm and irrigate, he can entertain, and he can fight. You are, on the other hand, responsible for training him and encouraging or discouraging his behavior depending on what alignment you are planning to follow.
Your creature can be anything you want it to be. There are a variety of roles he can perform from being a gatherer, an entertainer, a builder, a soldier, or you can let him wander about as he likes. Be careful, though, for under the Free Will setting he will run around and do whatever leaps into his head, from playing a nice game of "toss the farmer" to eating his own poo.
The buildings you construct can also add to your good or evil score. Civic improvements such as universities, wells, retirement homes and the like will add to your good score as well as the impressiveness of your civilization. If, however, you decide to build a torture pit instead of that nice shiny tavern, then your city will become less impressive and also your alignment will slide toward the dark scale. Being evil can certainly be effective – the game does not force you to take the high road to win – but every decision you make does affect your peoples' happiness, loyalty and reaction to your avatar. It's up to you whether or not you want them to love you or fear you. Winning can be accomplished not only through combat but also by making your city more impressive then your opponent's. Sometimes, though, that is not always easy.
Tribute is the currency of your world. With it you can buy new buildings or perform miracles which improve your people's lives, protect them from attack, or to attack in turn. You do this by completing in mission objectives, doing side quests or admitting migratory people into your town. The more tribute you get, the more impressive you can make things.
Gameplay- 7 The game play in Black and White 2 is much the same as in the original. You are represented as a single hand that is your main tool that you use to interact with the world around you. It can be used to grip the ground to pull you toward structures, can turn the camera to be directed anywhere you like, and can also be used to alternatively create and destroy the world around you. For instance the same gesture that you use to, say, construct a building can also be used to drop large rocks on people who have irritated you in some form or another. You can also use this tool to grab people and assign them to various roles or to assist them in building or gathering resources. The downside is that it can often be fickle; you can try to assign a person to work in a granary and you will find yourself flinging them into the far off distance. Once you get used to it, however, it works just fine.
Graphics- 8 Graphically, the game is far better than it's predecessor. Lionhead has added nice little visual add-ons, such as when tree leaves and grass ripples as your hand moves across them, the breeder disciples snogging in the streets, and other various touches which add life to the big city. Not unsurprisingly, the male and female villagers are all built to one face and body type. The artistic design of the creature is very well detailed, going so far as to change the look of your avatar as your alignment shifts. Evil creatures will be hunched and dirty, with feral eyes and bloody claws, while good-aligned creatures will be shining and noble, standing proud amongst the intricate and detailed buildings of the player's cities.
Audio- 8 The audio is nice, but it's not all that big a part of the game. There is the constant flow of conversation from the town as the people go about their business, the sound of music from the tavern as the villagers enjoy a convivial evening, and numerous other small touches that go to making your city seem more alive. The voices of the consciences are good as well, but they are the only serious voice acting you will hear in the game. The rest largely boils down to sound bytes.
Value- 8 Despite it's quirks this is a good solid game that can be fun to play and, at $20, is a good value for the price. The game may not be as grand or epic making as some others, but it's a creative game that doesn't take itself too seriously and provides you with enough of a challenge to prevent it from being dull. You can also chose to replay the game a second time using a totally different strategy, crushing the people ruthlessly instead of trying to make their lives better, for instance.
Curve- 7 This is a solid game, but there isn't much in the way of innovation here that I can see apart from the obvious graphical improvements. The original Black and White, as well as many other games from Lionhead, all have, at their core, the decision between good and evil as their primary theme, and players that enjoy such games likely won't be disappointed in Black and White 2's continuation of this game play element. For me, though, where the game stands out is the unique opportunities the game affords you. After all who could say no to being divine once and a while?