Black & White - PC

3.6 out of 5 stars 521 customer reviews
Rated: Teen

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Black & White is a role-playing game unlike any other you've played before. You play the role of a deity in a land where the surroundings are yours to shape and its people are yours to lord over. Be an evil, malevolent god and the natives will worship you with fear in their eyes. Play as a kind, benevolent god and they will worship you with love in their hearts. Your actions decide whether you create a heaven or hell for your worshipers. Then select a creature from the land to act as your representative in the world. Raise it to gigantic proportions and teach it to do your bidding--whether the animal grows into an evil colossus of mass destruction or a kind and gentle giant is up to you. Progress through the game's rich storyline performing powerful miracles to battle other deities and become the world's supreme god.


Like a long-delayed, over-budget Hollywood monstrosity, we feared that Black & White was going to be one of those epic projects that simply couldn't live up to its billing. Instead, Black & White is one of the most compelling, beautiful and impressive pieces of code we have played in a long, long time. It is also insanely addictive. It combines the city-building of Sim City with the animal-raising of Tamagotchi, yet it takes those two passive activities and throws in some good old-fashioned Godzilla vs. Mothra monster fighting. Finally, someone has allowed us to raise our own enormous, ass-kicking, crap-throwing, carnivorous chimp! It takes a serious machine to run it, and the chintzy manual doesn't provide you with all the information you need, but if you own a halfway decent PC, then you should damn well own Black & White. Black & White is not a game for people who don't like to read the manual. There are some wise guys here at Daily Radar who regard the manual in the same way they regarded the apple in their lunch boxes at school -- that is, as sheer junk. But if gamers are to succeed in a game as unorthodox as Black & White, they will need some patience and a willingness to learn. The manual is only so much help on this score, and the Good in us thinks that's because the game is so deep -- but the Bad in us suspects that it's so they can sell more strategy guides. But no matter what the reason, on the other side of the learning curve is a fantastic experience.

The comparisons to Populous are immediate and obvious. Peter Molyneux has taken the inspiration from his god-building game (in fact, there's a little taken from all of his earlier games here, from Magic Carpet to Dungeon Keeper) and turned it 3D. The goal is still the same: Players must encourage their believers to worship them so that they may in turn smite the non-believers. The single-player campaign features a battle against the current god-in-residence, Nemesis. Players must gather their strength, manage their villagers, cast some miracles and generally knock the other deities out of the god business. However, there is one thing in Black & White that is genuinely new.

The addition of learning, complex AI creatures is a brilliant addition to strategy games for several reasons. First of all, it brings some personality and a face to games that are often fought between tiny little units on a tiny battlefield. Second, most strategy games have bumped up against a technological limit in terms of sheer numbers. Both 2D and 3D fighting games reach their maximum number of units well before the end of the game. There are, after all, only so many things the computer can keep track of. But Black & White defuses that problem by having a single unit, your creature, grow and become more powerful as the game progresses.

But beyond the strategic importance of a single, massive unit is the fact that these little buggers are just so... endearing. There's nothing quite like taking your little baby tiger out for his first raw villager, his first tipped cow, his first crap in the neighbor's yard. And seeing mommy's little snookums grow up into an enormous black-eyed beast of remorseless evil that strides the land like death incarnate is just so, well, heartwarming. It is also possible to play the game on the side of Good, creating powerful versions of Ned Flanders that bring happiness to the other villages and help them water their crops and gather their wood. And, golly gee, that's swell too.

Even if Black & White did nothing more, it would earn its place on your shelf just as a monster creator. Without exaggeration, the learning AI in this game is simply beyond what has ever been attempted before. In the coming months and years, Black & White will remain the standard by which all AI is judged. Just as Half-Life is the bar over which all shooters must jump, Black & White simply raises the bar for intelligence over every other game ever made. You can teach your creature to do just about anything, and it will learn and imitate. There are even stories of advanced creatures that will play tricks on each other -- without being told to do so.

But even if molding a creature in your own image isn't sufficiently god-like for you, the strategy elements are deep and interesting. Players must encourage belief, either love or fear, in the little villagers. And the more villagers believe in them and worship them, the more power players have to convert the unfaithful. B&W uses a sphere-of-influence system that limits the realm in which the player can interact with the world. Move outside the sphere of influence, and your hand can only move, not grab or touch anything. Your creature thus becomes your ambassador, trained by you to be good, evil or something pragmatically in between.

Getting those villagers to survive and flourish can be tricky, though, and players not keen on micromanaging may have a tough go with Black & White. Desktop gods need to constantly keep an eye on their villagers, and sometimes satisfying those needs can be frustrating and distracting. Evil gods can naturally ignore the suffering of their denizens, but risk eroding their own power base in doing so. We played two different scenarios at the same time, one as good and one as evil. And to Lionhead's credit, we weren't able to find a significant advantage in playing one side over the other.

There is a significant advantage, however, in having a decent system to appreciate the game's visuals. In addition to the AI, B&W boasts a simply incredible engine. Players can zoom all the way out to see the entire island, or zoom all the way in to see individual villagers blinking. The streamlined interface takes some getting used to, but gamers who never grow comfortable with the default can remap the keys to a more comfortable WASD setup. Even the inside of the temple uses an entirely different engine where players can check on mission progress, save or load games, get help, or go to their creature cave to read up on the little guy (or put their own custom-made tattoos on him).

And your creature will sport those nifty tats when you take it online. Once you have registered at Black & White's homepage, you can take your creature online and play several different multiplayer games, including cooperative mode and clan play. Or you can play a quick skirmish game against the computer or a buddy over a LAN.

There are so many little features in Black & White that we could go on and on talking about them. For example, the game can be synched with your mail program so that it names your villagers from your contact list, and if you get some mail from someone on that contact list while playing the game, the little villager will let you know. When you register at Black & White's homepage you can tell it to match the weather in the game to the weather in your part of the world. It also supports the Immersion TouchSense technology, so with a compatible force-feedback mouse you can feel the creatures rumble when you pet them, or the trees snap when you grab them out of the ground.

We could ramble on about the millions of tiny details in this game that make it so unique, such as the fact that the eight different ethnic villages (Japanese, Aztec, Norse, etc.) have their own cultural dances and music. Or the fact that your creature can blush or break dance. Or that if you get close to your village in the morning, you'll hear the roosters crow at the sun. Or even the fact that unlike most videogames, Black & White is the sort of thoughtful and intelligent game that recognizes that actions really do have consequences. It is for these and a lot of other reasons that we think Black & White will likely be the best PC game we will play this year. -- DailyRadar Review

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