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PC Game Review: Black & White 2

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Like many reviewers across the Internet, I tried desperately to love this game. As a huge fan of the original, I thought the sequel would be epic, blending numerous genres to form a strategy game the likes of which has never been seen. What I got instead was an exercise in repetition, one that thoroughly bastardizes the previous game’s original and highly unique concept.

The storyline is simple: the ancient Greeks have just been bitch-slapped by the Aztecs. (I know; it makes no sense). Now you, as their god, must lead them back to glory, conquering eight island “levels” until you finally develop a civilization strong enough to challenge the mighty Aztecs. And that’s it. In fact, the story is so inconsequential that it already sets the game off on the wrong foot.

You conquer each island by assuming the role of a benevolent and good god or an evil, malicious, warmongering one. Each path has a different conquest strategy, but they share one thing in common: no matter what direction you go, you’re likely to be bored as hell (or heaven perhaps).

As a good god, you assimilate neighboring villages by creating a “city on a hill” that is a shining beacon of your glory. Reputation points are accumulated by plopping down buildings and little monuments. Gain enough rep points and other villages will migrate to your city until you’ve beat the map. The formula is simple: the bigger the building, the more reputation you gain.

Supposedly, you can expedite this process by planning an aesthetically-pleasing city. Although I’ve come to discover that this, too, is inconsequential. Urban sprawl is the fastest way to success. And trust me, as boring as city building is, success couldn’t come fast enough.

While B&W2 boasts a more developed city building model than the original game, it’s still too simplistic to be considered “fun”. (This is coming from a veteran of nearly every city simulation ever made.) A recurring problem is how Lionhead Studios tries to cram so many genres into one package – ultimately with little success.

City building and management is a perfect example. Villagers must be assigned various roles (farmer, refiner, breeder, etc.) if you want to speed production. But guess what? The only way to do this is by individually picking the people up and placing them on what resource or building you want them to work. As you can imagine, this becomes increasingly frustrating as your population grows to the 300 range.

Here’s the real kicker: your people will age and die and stop working, meaning you have to constantly check your “disciple” levels and reassign new citizens to replace the dying ones. What happened to a simple slider bar to manage this? A solid chunk of my play time was devoted to such menial tasks; I’m supposed to be a god, not a bureaucrat!

Disliking the abovementioned aspect, and the game’s shallow resource and production model, I tried being an evil god. So I built a few armories and started recruiting platoons. Previews promised me a Rome: Total War-like experience, so I was exited. While a military element is welcomed, it’s ultimately so simplistic that it becomes a hassle. You can only build three types of units – soldiers, archers, and catapults – and there is very, very little strategy involved in combat. Battles are determined by sheer numbers and that’s about it.

Ok, I thought, I’ll just raise a huge army and rush my enemies. Not bad, right? Well, thanks to the horrible city management model – and the slow population growth – I had to wait a half hour or more between battles just to raise a sizable army. Now, I never expected “free” soldiers, but this process was just painful.

Regardless of what path you choose, you’ll get a creature at the start of the game. This giant animal (in my case a cow) can be trained to be good or evil and will (supposedly) help you manage your lands.

The creature was an integral part of the original game; without a powerful creature, you could not be an effective god. In B&W2, however, your creature takes a back seat. Because I was occupied with busywork, I found it difficult to accommodate time for Mr. Cow. And when I did, he acted like a dolt. I found it wasn’t worth the effort trying to manage him. The cow was most useful as a quick-response soldier or offensive powerhouse. But even his military role was limited, as I couldn’t use him in conjunction with my own soldiers; he crushed as many of my men as he did the enemy.

Perhaps the most insulting element of B&W2 is the asinine “silver scroll” events. (I’d call them games, but that word implies they’re fun.) Click on one of these floating scrolls and you’ll be taken to a cut scene of a poor sap who needs your divine help. Cool, I thought, I get to use some awesome god powers to fulfill my believer’s wishes! Oh how wrong I was. These events involve you, more often than not, hurling a barrel of beer across a lake at some target. Or guiding a spy through a maze by switching the direction signs around. Or any other stupid thing you’re likely to find in a third grade Math Blasters game.

I had to suffer through these events because I needed the tribute points they award. With these points, you can buy better buildings and miracles. I thought this element was restrictive; you might argue that gradually acquiring such prizes promotes “character advancement,” but I’m supposed to be a god! Why should I have to progressively buy miracles as basic as water or fire? Part of the allure of a “god game” is being in total control.

As a disclaimer, I did not beat the game. I quit and uninstalled after island six. Each level offers the same thing, but on a slightly larger scale; it says a lot when I wasn’t even motivated to finish the story. The lack of a sandbox mode was also disappointing.

The game’s most redeeming aspect – and chief selling point I’d imagine – are the beautiful graphics. Everything from the buildings to the citizens are meticulously detailed and animated. The colors are vivid and the world is bursting with personality (even if the game itself isn’t). But you’re going to need one helluva PC to run this game on the high-level settings.

The sound was nice and I particularly liked the banter from my animated good and evil consciences. But the game is so slow that even the sounds started to grind on me.

B&W2 doesn’t feels like a “god game,” but rather a city-building simulation with a few novel additions (like the creature and miracles). Worst of all, it’s not even a fun city building game. The feeling of being an omnipresence and powerful deity is completely absent from the game; I felt more like a divine babysitter, watching over every nuance of my peoples’ lives. Lionhead Studios tries to accomplish so much in one game that they actually accomplish nothing at all – except for maybe wasting my time.

Graphics: 9
Gameplay: 5
Sound: 7
Replay value: 2
Overall: 5

Posted by request of Mr. Augustus Krumb, a contributor at Rich Powers’ site. More of Krumb’s gaming reviews and commentary can be viewed here.
Ed/Pub:NB

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  • http://www.zerohq.com Rich Powers

    I have no idea why the text is all italicized. I rechecked my post, but all of the italics tags are correct…

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Not your fault, Rich, it’s because of a problem with the post right before yours, which I just fixed.

  • http://www.zerohq.com Rich Powers

    Thanks!