Black & White 2

30_1How many games let you fling crap at people’s houses?

Black & White wowed many people with its whimsical take on the old ‘god game’ genre. Unfortunately, after a month of gameplay, its flaws became apparent and most of the novelty of the title faded. Needless to say, Black & White sold well, and a sequel was inevitable. While on the surface, this game may appear merely as a graphical upgrade to the original title, Black & White 2 actually improves gameplay tremendously.

Black & White 2 places you in the role of a god. Summoned by a lost tribe of people in need, the Greeks, it is your task to help rebuild them to their former glory. The path you take is completely up to you. You can be a benevolent and merciful god, working with the people to build a city that makes them happy. On that path, you help them with daily tasks such as gathering grain and wood, and you protect them from the dangers out the world. On the flipside, you can be an evil, ruthless and vengeful god causing general pain and suffering. As a new addition this time around, you can build a war machine to crush the other tribes.

Being a god is no easy task, and Black & White 2 provides aid in the form of a creature. In the original title, training your creature was a trial and error affair. There was a creature cave that provided stats, but there was no way to actually see the lessons your creature learned. Also, you could change his behavior on the fly by slapping or petting him in response to an action he performed, but you had to actually wait for him to engage in that action before you could reward or punish him (causing you to spend a lot of time following your creature around, hoping he’ll do something specific).

Many Black & White players, by the end of the game, had creatures that were usually psychopaths – sometimes performing a role like helping to build a home or gather resources with ease, but also flipping out and flinging crap on homes and villagers. The guesswork involved has thankfully been removed, as there is now a collapsible HUD/Interface that reveals all.

18_1This new interface is greatly improved, although it takes more than a little time to get a hand of the mouse pointer. Still, all information is easily accessible by hitting a function key, whether it be for buying new structures, checking on your disciple count (people you assign to a specific task such as breeding or farming), or getting a better handle on your creature. For example, by hitting F2, you can now bring up a creature-learning menu. Any action your creature attempted appears on a list, making it an easy task to click on a lesson to immediately reward or punish your creature to reinforce or deter that behavior.

At its core, Black & White 2 is more of an RTS than the original, though the RTS part is completely optional. Players now have the ability to create a war machine to take over the land. You get to your pick generic classes such as swordsmen (melee units), archers (ranged units), and even siege weapons, the last of which are needed to tear down the imposing walls that surround cities in the later island stages. Each unit class has its own strengths and weaknesses that make sense.

Take archers, for example. From a distance, they can rain down death on swordsmen and can even take out a creature, but without protection from swordsmen or another creature, they are worthless in an up-close and personal fight. While your creature can become the strongest military unit in the game, he isn’t immortal, and just like in the original, he’s prone to scarring and trauma from war.

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There are two ways you can win over the hearts and minds of the various cultures in Black & White 2. Warmongering is the evil, more entertaining way to play the game. If you walk down the path of evil, raising armies and leveling cities isn’t a problem. Your city will crack and burn and take on a dark tinge, wildlife will twist and distort, and even your people will begin to hunch over and look sinister. On the other side of the coin is winning via impressiveness. A benevolent god has the option to solely focus on building his or her city. Placement is key, and a lot of enjoyment can be found in laying down roads, houses, and industrial structures in a way that promotes happiness among your subjects.

Whichever path you choose to follow – a benevolent god bringing sunshine and butterflies or a vengeful one striking fear, fire and brimstone on people, there’s plenty of variety, fun and hectic gameplay to be found in Black & White 2. In the end, it’s a marked improvement and a worthy successor to an already great game.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win95

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