Written by  :  Matt Neuteboom (989)
Written on  :  Apr 22, 2006
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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From God game to city builder, with a very unpleasant transition

The Good

When I think of Black & White (BW), I think of it with mixed emotions. On one hand it had a great storyline coupled with great atmosphere. Everything felt like a God-game, and the system for training your creature was beautiful. On the other hand, it was VERY frustrating trying to take over other villages, and taking care of the villagers was not just a hassle, it was a nightmare. So I was glad to finally see a sequel to it.

The first thing I was looking for was the villager AI. It was something that dragged the first game down a lot. So that’s why the biggest point I bring up in this section is the fact that the villagers are actually smarter in this game. For one they are independent. They are no longer those slowpoke villagers from the first game. Before, the villagers really lagged behind. You as the God practically had to take care of them for every village. Now, they are finally self-sufficient. In fact, they go do a task even though you don’t assign them something to do. Villagers have become independent. I was quite surprised to see my villagers taking grain to and fro and their improved efficiency when compared to the last game. I would have to say the villager AI is probably the best out of any game I have seen.

And finally the city-building part of the game comes to life. In BW, you had to do the demeaning task of gathering wood from surrounding areas to build “scaffolds.” Besides the fact that these scaffold to ungodly amounts of wood to create, then you had to wait for those scaffolds to build. Then you had to place them down and wait for the villagers to build the building. We are talking those ungrateful, slow-as-hell villagers had to build it. One building could take ages to get built. An entire village was slow to get started. Building this for every village on the map (you could have 5 or more villages on the map under your control) to a lifetime.

So I was entirely glad to see that city-building was simplified and glorified as well. Now instead of having to build scaffolds, I could pick out buildings from a menu like an RTS. Even better I could help build the buildings with my new powers, but that was sort of useless since the villagers (as I mentioned above) were now independent enough to build it. Even better I could build more stuff than before. There were new houses available, new public buildings, and other random things that made my city-building dreams come true. I could build meadows, statues, fountains, universities, taverns, and pillars. Every structure you can think of is under your control. But not only this, but you can customize and beautify your city any way you see fit. I created a magnificent Utopia of fountains and trees. In my public square, people bustled about in the warm sunlight, as they passed statues and fountains. With the new city-building aspects set in place, you can create a literally beautifully customized city that was never possible in other games. You can put tons of stuff everywhere that really make the city feel alive.

But the simulation. Good God the simulation. That is what truly amazed me. BW2 can bring a city to life like no other city-builder has before. The SimCity series had great customization, but it made the people seem like robots. BW2 brings city-simulation to a whole new level. Instead of feeling like cold villagers, with predictable AI and programmed responses, the villagers are dynamic and seem like real people. For one, like the original, BW2 gives every villager a respectable name. As these people go about their daily lives, you notice small little things that they do that shock you. People are assigned jobs by themselves, as if it were an actual society running their lives. They get up at the crack of dawn and retire home at night. During the evening the adults like to have fun and mix it up at the local tavern, and retire at night. People go into the graveyard to mourn the dead, or relax in a meadow after they are done work. Others go to the university to study, or go to the temple to pray. In other games, villagers never actually “use” a building, they’re just there. But in BW2, people actually “use” the buildings on their own. People go about their lives without you having to tell them to. Its little thing like these that make the villagers seem like real people rather than robots like many other city-builders.

And still, the game gets into high detail. If a group of villagers migrate to your town, they set up their own little part of town as well. For example, a group of Japanese settlers came to my town, and after a while I noticed a little Japanese section of town start to spring up. People have very detailed faces, and villagers can even buy things at the local plant or statue store and place them in front of houses. So if you place a statue store in particular neighborhood, soon statues will be appearing all over the neighborhood. If you place houses too close, the villager AI kicks back and senses it as “slums”, and land-value decreases. Dogs can be seen roaming the streets of your village.

And even the buildings become parts of the simulation themselves. In game like Command and Conquer, Age of Empires, and SimCity, villagers and citizens never interacted with buildings. They served some purpose, like increasing the population limit or building some troops, but people never went in or around them. In BW2, people interact with buildings all the time. As you look through the streets, people will be leaning up against buildings. People will be walking across balconies or climbing up and down stairs. In the tavern, people take a break and sit on the edge of the tavern, while others lean against the bar while the barmaid serves them drinks. Buildings become part of the environment as people go in and out of them and use them as they need. It creates a great and welcomed changed that makes buildings seem useful rather than scenery like in the SimCity series.

Because of all this, it creates a wonderful atmosphere of the city. It feels like the city really comes alive. During the day you can see people hustling and bustling about the day, and you can practically feel the warm breeze coming out of your computer. During the night, the town looks beautiful as the sound of dogs barking and the music at the local tavern drifts off into the night wind. All around you your city becomes alive, and it feels great just to sit back in your chair and watch as your disciples go about their daily lives.

The music is still pretty good for the Black & White series. It’s often very serious and somber for the game, to add to that divine god-game feeling of it. It sounds like it was made by an orchestra, though I could definitely be wrong. All in all, it’s definitely pretty good and worth mentioning. The ambient sounds are pretty amazing, especially when speaking of the atmosphere around the town. Children playing, tavern music in the background, and other things, again, make the city feel alive.

The last thing I was happy to see was that the characters were still kept for your conscience. Good old Blackie and Whitie. They may have changed in looks but they haven’t really changed in their wonderful personality, which is good since I liked them in the first game. They even picked a few better jokes, so it’s nice to see Lionhead keeping some friendly familiar faces.

So finally they fixed many issues. No more stupid villagers. They’re finally independent, and you can concentrate on being God now instead of baby-sitting. But then it goes a little further…..

The Bad

Good God what have I done. If you haven’t read my review on the original Black & White, I would recommend you do that now. In his review, Inderanta of the Clan Depari states that it really isn’t the developers fault, the public demanded the reforms and got them, and they sucked. Out of all due modesty, I am one of those people that contributed to the downfall of this game. I demanded a lot of changes in my original review. Better villager AI and better city-building, and some good army-building, and seriously it does make this game much more tolerable.

But I slowly realized I had traded one fault for another, because for every annoyance they fixed they took out another key concept to the very game of Black & White. Black & White 2 sucks out everything that made BW1 a god-game. Now it has devolved into a city-builder game that pales in comparison to the original/ The creature has become a robot, villagers have become obsolete, and miracles are never ever used.

Let’s take each issue one at a time.

The biggest, stupidest, and most perplexing issue I found was the creature. In my original review I praised the system of AI for the creature. If you don’t know, it was sort of like trial and error. Not only did the creature notice what you did, but HOW you did, WHERE you did it, and WHAT you did to. So if you cast a water miracle around him, he would learn it too. But he would notice small details. Like whom you did it to, or what you did it to, like trees or farms. Then he would only cast the spell on that object. Or if he saw you casting fireballs on the enemy, he would follow our lead and do so as well. But if he sees you casting fireballs to impress people, he would only do that. But the trick was, he wouldn't tell you how he learned it. So you were sort of left in the dark to what he had picked up until he actually cast a miracle or something. If you didn't like it, you had to beat it out of him and reateach him. He would learn only from your experience.

It was brilliant system. It made parenting a fun challenge, and made the creature seem very lifelike. He was like a real creature. Well now that’s been thrown out for a horrible system of attributes. Now you change the creature’s reactions just by going to a panel and clicking each “personality trait”. It completely ruins the very concept of Black and White. Now instead of a neat system of learning and punishment, I can go to a screen, and simply click a trait, then slap or pet him a couple of times. And not only is theis a horrible system, but its stupid things like “should I go poop on this tree”, or “should I eat the lamb”, simple things that the creature is supposed to learn through example. It makes the creature seem like a robot. It takes the fun out of parenting the creature. One of the best things in BW1 was the ability to teach the creature, but now that is completely gone. They ruined one of the things that made BW1 original.

The miracles, the 2nd best part of BW1, has been tossed aside like it was a minor detail of BW1. There are no more than 5 or 6 spells, and worse yet they play very LITTLE, if not any part at all, in the role of BW2. Miracles must be purchased off of a screen. Worse yet ,in order for the creature to learn these, instead of teaching him through casting the spell in front of it, all you have to do is buy the spell from a list. Even so, the idea of casting spells to impress everyone is gone. In fact there is no more impressing. That’s right, it’s gone.

They pretty much killed the very idea of Black & White with this next move. They took out impressing the people. In fact, there’s no more need to. Do you know why? Because other towns and cities are taken over by making your town bigger.

If that last statement didn’t hit you like a ton of bricks then you should be ashamed of yourself. If you didn’t flinch, I’ll give you second chance to let it hit you. Let me explain. Now, instead of impressing other towns to come to your religion (like converting people when they think your religion looks cooler than theirs), everything is done by the size of your town. Every town on the map is taken over by building bigger buildings. Sooner or later the inhabitants of other towns become impressed by your shinier buildings and come to join you. How is that in any way a god-game? In BW1 you had to impress them with your powers. Like most gods. Now people are impressed by buildings. Instead of you going out to get them, they pretty much come to you. In fact, now your ring of influence is affected by buildings. Instead of how many people you have worshipping you, your rings expands as you build more buildings. How is that in any way godly at all?

If that entire paragraph didn’t hit you like a ton of bricks, NOW you should be ashamed. Now do you see what I mean by it has become a city-builder? What I a m basically saying is that they totally took something that was practically the definition of God –games and turned into the biggest city-builder on the planet.

And an army would have been a miracle itself in BW1, but instead it’s useless here. Why? Well, in BW1 you had to go out and get other towns, and the army would have been much more useful. Building was an essential part, but you had to go out and take the cities in order for them to become yours. Now as long as you keep building they’ll pretty much come to you. No need to go out if they’ll come to you instead.

So it pretty much devolves into a basic repetitive cycle. Build up some cities and get people to migrate and once your city is big enough, you pretty much win and do it over again. There’ really not much need of an army. In BW1 it would’ve been great because you actually had to go to THEM, but now you’re pretty much all you have to do is build and just wait for people to come to your city.

As a result, the entire concept is just dead. Black & White has no meaning since being nice is way too easy. In the first one it might have pissed you off, but it was the challenge. Now all you pretty much have to do is build cities and it raises itself to good. By the third level I was about 77% good. Teaching is no longer an option. It’s done through a menu. The creature has become a robot, and the villagers are pretty much the focus of attention. Spells or impression plays no role in the game whatsoever.

From all of this, BW2 feels very cold and dead. The first one gave me a great sense of warmness and godliness as well. The creature was cute, he played around a lot and he seemed like a creature. He was like a pet. Now he’s pretty much a robot. He feels very programmed and not very animated. There were plenty of good in-jokes in BW1, but now it just seems so empty. Like they took another game, and just slapped the Black & White 2 title on it.

Off of the concept, the graphics seem pretty overblown. If you take a look at the screenshots, they’re all nice and pretty, but for people like us, the buyers of these games, we just don’t have the graphics card or processor to support those types of graphics. I though the minimum requirements were pushing it, but the minimum of the game is actually pretty bad. I mean, if you have a 3 GHz processor supported by dual ATI X800 graphics cards you’re going to be set. But I have a budget computer. For your reference, my computer is a 1.5 GHz processor with an ATI 9500 graphics card, and the graphics were decent, and this is coming off a computer that will run Battlefield 2 on medium graphics without an lagging problems. The game constantly teased me about how much it could do. In the tutorial videos, there was much more it could do and I could tell this is a game that you should have a top of the line computer to get. If you’re expecting the graphics you see in the screenshots here at MobyGames, have a high-end computer ready.

The lack of anything to do outside the main game is very disappointing. In the last game when I was tired of the main game I could quit out and go do a random skirmish. In fact, I could even go online. But now there’s none of that. At first I didn’t notice, but then I went looking for it. It’s just not there. It’s not only disappointing, though, it’s annoying. This option was available to me before, why isn’t it available now? How much memory did they seriously need for just graphics? Or was it that advanced villager AI. Or maybe it was the city-building. It just make you wonder where the Hell did the effort go. I mean, the city-building is good but it doesn’t strike me as something that would cause the rest of the game to sink like an elephant in the Atlantic Ocean. So why remove these things. Did Lionhead really see these features as unnecessary?

And lastly, the game just seemed so rushed. There’s really not much of an opener to the game. It’s just opening scene, choose a creature (you choose your creature first thing in the game), and do some stuff on a tutorial island. Then right into the storyline (which was only okay in my opinion). There aren’t as many challenges in the game, like silver and bronze scrolls. The main menu is just a picture of two islands. The main menu in-game demo movie is probably the most lackluster movie I’ve ever seen. It’s just a few shots from above of a city, then cuts to a few scenes of the creature and troops fighting, then a volcano, then it ends. The whole thing lasts about 15 seconds. It’s pretty pathetic. Well you can definitely tell they wanted to get this one out for the holiday season…

The Bottom Line

Well I’m going to point out the obvious here, but the city-building part of the game is actually pretty amazing. It has good tools for building an amazing city and the simulation is just great. I’m, sorry for those who hated this game, but I can’t help but appreciate that they put a good effort into improving villager AI and the city-building capabilities.

But for a Black & White game, it will have no appeal to fans at all. Lionhead pretty much just reversed the problems with this game. It gave us the great AI and city-building we needed, and then took away everything that we actually liked about the first one. I might have been harsh on BW1, but this isn’t exactly what I was thinking. I think I’ve found new respect for the original game; I might just play it now if it’s installed.

Like I said before, everything just goes back to city-building. Spells and creatures have been traded for buildings and enhanced villager AI. Now impression lies in buildings instead of spells and people. The ring of influence is based on buildings as well. The Black vs. White system has been reduced to a menu system.

Oh well, plenty of sequels fail to deliver like the original, and this is no different. The fans really screwed up on this one, and the game flopped. My only true regret about this game is that it won’t discourage other companies from listening to the fans. I guess we should just be happy that we have a solid original to fall back on when this one fails. Maybe if we ignore this game long enough, people will forget about it and we can pick up and (hopefully) move on to Black & White 3. If there is one after this