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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  :  Dave Schenet (130)
Written on  :  Jul 23, 2001
Platform  :  Windows

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Summary

A grand experiment with user interfaces and AI - but nothing more.

The Good

The engine in this game blew me away. There are no icons or menus, and every task is performed by making gestures with your mouse. You can zoom far away, hundreds of feet above your island, or you can zoom in so closely that every colonist is in full detail. The physics system is also highly detailed - you can throw objects around, and your mouse movement in the "throwing" stage determines the arc, and how the object spins. Going "bowling" with a large boulder and several buildings was highly amusing (I played Evil, naturally).

The creatures can be very amusing, when they start learning. Some of the things they learn are so bizarre, you can't help but laugh and shake your head. For example, my Stupid Tiger(tm) learned that when he was thirsty, he could cast a Rain Miracle on himself. However, he also knows that if he happens to be on fire, he can cast the same Rain Miracle to save himself.

So what does he do, when thirsty?

He sets himself on fire with a Fireball, then casts the Rain Miracle. This moment of hilarious stupidity on the part of my creature bumped this game up several notches, in my opinion.

There is also a multiplayer capability, which seems to be the real meat of the game. A handful of players can connect to a host, and play with or against each other. In addition, the state of your creature is always persistent - that is to say, anything he learns in the multiplayer game will be carried over to any singleplayer game you load up later, and vice versa. If you find yourself doing poorly in multiplayer matches, just load up a single-player mission, and teach your creature some new tricks.

The Bad

Once you've played for a while, and get beyond the initial awe at the interface and engine, you quickly discover that there isn't an actual "game" here. It's essentially Populous - you build up villages, and the more villagers that believe in you, the more powerful you become. In addition, there are only five levels in this game - some of which recycle. Level 4 is the same map as Level 1 - with a very large environmental difference (it rains fire), but it's nothing "new".

And while funny at first, the pets become infuriating. My Stupid Tiger(tm) watched an enemy creature attacking my village with fireballs, and he learned that. No matter what I do, he'll always shoot fireballs at my village now. I have to keep him chained up at the temple, where he'll do no harm - he's essentially out of the game, unless I give him constant supervision and direction.

This game is also quite resource-intensive. This unfortunately makes it almost impossible to cast miracles with complex gestures - if your system starts hitting swap, and the action pauses even slightly, your gesture won't be recognized. It would be nice if there were keyboard shortcuts for miracles, but alas, there are only a couple of keys that actually serve any purpose, none of which are related to circumventing the gesture system.

The Bottom Line

A beautiful game world, and fans of Populous would love it. If that's not your thing, though, or you're looking for a good single-player experience, you might want to wait until it appears in the bargain bin.