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Black & White (Windows)

90
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.7
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Shazbut (158)
Written on  :  Dec 18, 2002
Platform  :  Windows

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Summary

An exercise in AI but really not enough of a game

The Good

The hype surrounding this beast was HUGE and frankly Lionhead had no way of making it what everyone expected it to be. Which was a pity really because this has so much going for it.

Technically, Black & White is astounding. The complete freedom of movement, viewpoint and personal game-playing style has hardly ever been seen before and certainly not done to this degree. It's perfectly possible to zoom in to the extent that a sheep takes up the whole screen, and it's just as easy to zoom out so the whole island and then some can be seen. With such a difficult trick to pull off, it was always going to be hard to get the control system to work effectively with a fully viewable and rotatable 3D world. And, while not without fault, it does the job pretty much as well as it could have done.

The Gesture Recognition Technology is a neat addition (of course, that is ALL it is...) and works well for the most part. It's nice to be able to train yourself to swing the mouse around effortlessly to pull off the funkiest spells. To this day, I still haven't managed one of them though.

The AI is the game's biggest asset. The incredible intelligence of your creature; which can be trained, learns from experience, learns from watching you, learns from watching anything else, picks up habits, forms a personality, forms a physique, and pretty much becomes the physical shape of your style of playing; is almost too beautiful for words. Memories get formed so easily: I remember a time when I was spending hours teaching my pet monkey to play football. By the end it was having so much fun I was worried it was going to starve, so I stuck it in it's pen and went off to do other things. I was wandering around the land aimlessly after a few days had past in the game. My monkey couldn't sleep so, to my disbelief, he got up, looked around the village, felt worried, spotted the ball, clapped with enjoyment, rushed over to get it, took it to his pen and started kicking it against the wall for fun.

Wow.

That wasn't scripted. It wasn't "told" to do that by the game. It just did it. That's just...staggering. Oh and the graphics are good too.

The Bad

But OH NO! It all goes horribly wrong! After so many right ingredients, Lionhead suddenly undercook the whole thing. There is no game in Black & White!

Well OK there is. But not much of one. The fact is, the total freedom that you are presented actually becomes boring as hell after a while because there simply isn't enough to do. There is always something to be doing, but just not enough. Your jobs are always mundane and monotonous as hell. Sometimes you have to reach just far enough outside your influence to grab a tree and take it to your village store. Except you have to repeat this mind-numbing task about 50 times to get enough wood. Then you have to build a house with that wood so that you may expand your influence by a centimetre before doing the whole thing again. All so you can take over another village by impressing/helping them. For example...say...by giving them wood. It's enough to make you nail your face to the wall.

The spells are dire for the most part. Don't think on the levels of Populous-style carnage. There are no earthquakes and volcanoes here. In terms of attack: fire and lightning are pretty much your only options. The others are just boring.

Also, if you were a God, would you spend all your time fishing or chopping down trees for people? The extraordinary AI of your creature is almost negated by the abysmal AI of your followers. They don't do ANYTHING for themselves. This means killing them is one of the only satisfying options. This in turn unbalances the moral slant on the game because it is ten times easier to complete it being evil than being good.

I know I touched on this too but the levels are just boring. The worst of which is level 3. Not only do you have to spend something like 20 hours trying to overtake some cities with an absurdly high belief in another God and are miles outside of your influence; but they take away your creature! Are they stupid?! That's the whole reason anyone is playing this game!

The Bottom Line

It could have been the RPG to end all others. It wasn't, and this is a crying shame. It had so many things in the right place but Lionhead forgot to add a game with them. So we have a completely open-ended production with nice graphics, AI without peer, some clever tricks but...what are you supposed to DO half the time again? Er....