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Publisher: Feral Interactive    Genre: Simulation
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3 @ 333 MHz    RAM: 128 MB    4x CD-ROM

Black & White
January 21, 2002 | Kit Pierce

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The god-game from Lionhead Studios, Black & White, needs little introduction. Designed by Peter Molineaux, who some call legendary with credits like the groundbreaking Populous under his belt, Black & White is a god-game like no other. It blends complex strategic gameplay with resource management, puzzle solving, and an advanced AI system for a wonderfully immersive gaming experience. PC players have been kicking its tires for some time now, and the game has been racking up the awards. Recently, Feral Interactive finished the Mac port of Black & White that is being distributed domestically by Graphic Simulations in time for this January's Macworld Expo. In my time with it, Black & White proved itself to have an incredible degree of complexity with more than its share of nuance. Though, that's not to say that it's without its faults.

Getting the Plot Moving
In Black & White you play a god called into existence by the prayers of the parents of a drowning boy. After a very cool intro sequence, you are thrust into the game. One of the more immersive aspects of the game is the fact that the first two levels are vast extended tutorials. This can work against the game at times, but more on that later. To help you in your quest to be the only god of the realm, working to best the most powerful deity in the land, the cleverly named Nemesis, you are given charge of a magical creature. You get to select the creature you wish to play at the beginning of the tutorial levels from a choice of three animals, each with their own innate strengths and weaknesses. As you play, you nurture your creature to act in ways appropriate to the way you want to rule over your worshippers. Through the tutorials and with the help of your conscience (a kindly, wizened old man and a red, winged devil with a Brooklyn accent), both you and your creature learn the skills, techniques, and miracles it will take for you to secure a victory. What you do with these skills is completely up to you.

You play under a user profile. Anything you do as a particular user is tracked throughout the life of that user. Levels you play, skills you and your creature learn, stats of the game -- everything is contained within a certain user profile. When you step out of the five-leveled story mode of Black & White, you can play in "Skirmish" mode. Here, you are given the opportunity to go head-to-head with a number of other gods to prove your skills. Any stats your creature gains while in this mode carries back over to your normal game.

In Black & White's "Story" mode, play is governed by several scrolls, either gold or silver, scattered across the landscape. When activated, the gold scrolls will activate a plot point of the game and will advance the story along. The silver scrolls are optional, but represent side quests that will allow you to increase your skill and power. While the gold scrolls move the story along, the reward for the successful completion of a silver scroll can be any number of things, from the option to swap out creatures to the revelation of handy information to know to utilize special "miracle generators" that charge up special one-shot miracles at no resource cost to you. The silver scrolls are more puzzles meant to be solved rather than plot points, and these puzzles don't have any one solution. If not for the silver scroll quests, Black & White would be an essentially linear game since the gold scrolls appear in a specified order while multiple silver scrolls appear at any given time.

Incidentally, Black & White's network play was yanked at the last minute from the final version. Even though the single player adventure is adequate, it's too bad we can't tool on our friends online in the skirmish mode. That ability would have increased the value of the game significantly. However, a multiplayer patch is expected in March.

Opposition of Extremes
As a god, you must decide how you want to deal with your people while maintaining your area of influence. A visible boundary defines the areas of the world you can affect with your godly powers directly. Within your influence your power is limited by your villagers' belief in you as a deity. Outside the circle, you don't mean squat. You increase your influence through expanding your villages and gaining more belief from your villagers and converting other villages to believe in you as a god. Within your area of influence you can cast miracles, meet your villagerís needs, impress them with holy artifacts you create, have your creature do wondrous things for them to be in awe over. How do you do this if the village is outside your influence? Turn your villagers into disciples, send your creature to wow or beat them into submission, toss a few rocks over the village, perhaps set fire to a tree and throw it -- maybe a burning bush. Any number of techniques can bring a non-believing village around to worship of you.

As the name implies, Black & White allows you to adopt moral extremes to increase your influence. You can either rule through generosity and compassion or fear and destruction. Depending on how you teach your creature, it will tend to adopt an evil or good alignment as well. Feed it grain and teach it to dance with the villagers. They dig that. Or teach it to pop a villager as a tasty morsel whenever its stomach starts to growl and sacrifice your people on the worship altar. Small children usually work best. Unfortunately, besides gaining a serene or really wicked appearance and associated behavior patterns, playing as good or evil doesn't affect the game play -- just changes the look of the game. It's easier to play the game with an evil alignment, but doing so results in fewer rewards. That's the main trade-off your alignment forces you to make. Both modes are pretty fun, though.


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