Black & White review

Written by Julian Schoffel on . Posted in Real Time Strategy

Black & White game image

The brainchild of Peter Molyneux, Black & White was one of the most innovative and challenging PC games of the early 2000s. It didn’t adhere to the typical 2+2=4 gameplay formula, and instead allowed players to explore their own personalities in a vast, virtual world.

Become a God

The premise of Black & White was relatively simple: you were a God, and you needed to convert as many followers as you could until all the peoples of the world worshiped you. But how players went about achieving this was left incredibly open-ended. There lay the irony of the title – there was in fact no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to succeed in the game, no black and white.

Black & White took place in a beautifully rendered 3D world populated with a variety of primitive, God-fearing folk. The player’s task was to get as many people as possible to believe in them. In this way belief became a sort of resource, but how you went about attaining it was another question entirely.

Believe in me

Players had a variety of options to garner belief – they could create miracles to impress villagers, or interact with the world in more subtle ways. The game gave you the tools to achieve your ends, but it didn’t try to tell you the best way to use them. You could be a kind benevolent God, or you could choose to become wicked and tyrannical. Either way, if you were smart enough you could still succeed.

Black & White also featured a unique mouse-driven interface where the player was represented by a moving hand (er, the hand of God I guess). Almost every action in the gameworld could be executed using the mouse. This encompassed movement, viewing angles, world interaction, creature management and miracles. In fact it was really quite astounding that the designers managed to create such a smooth, seamless interface for what was one very large and complex game.

While it defied standard categorization, Black & White did contain elements normally associated with real-time strategy (RTS) games. To this end players did need to engage in some micro-management (i.e. building construction, disciple creation, resource management etc.). However much of the game consisted of working out how best to convert the next village, or the day to day tuition of your creature. Which brings me to another important facet of Black & White: the player’s creature.

Train your creature

Being a God, you were allowed to command a physical servant who would carry out various tasks for you in the gameworld. When you first got a creature, it was very similar to a baby and during this formative period players needed to pay special attention – teaching it how to behave, showing it what to eat, rewarding it when it was good, punishing it when it was bad.

During the course of the game your creature’s physical appearance would change and evolve mirroring your influence. Interestingly enough, you could even choose for your creature to become your God’s diametrical opposite, creating a sort of ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine which could then be exploited during the villager conversion process.

Black & White also included a multiplayer component where you could match your creature against other opponents or play cooperatively via a LAN or the Internet.

Despite the length of this review I’ve barely managed to scratch the surface. Suffice to say that Black & White was a vast, innovative, incredibly entertaining game which presented the player with innumerable possibilities.

Black & White’s deceptive complexity may have also been its Achilles heel, and it took most players a fair while before they felt comfortable with the interface and gameplay mechanics.

Review Summary
Score: 98%
Info: When it first came out in 2001 Black & White was one of the most innovative games to hit the PC platform in years. I remember typing my name (Julian) in at the beginning of the game – only to hear “Julian…” whispered back at me after about 5 hours of playing. It startled the crap out of me at the time! This game is another example of Peter Molyneux’s astounding creativity and, unlike Fable, Black & White delivered on all counts.
The Good: Beautiful graphics. Very funny. Completely unique. Great ‘Hand of God’ interface. Vast in size and scope.
The Bad: Its deceptive depth and complexity required time and effort to come to grips with – this turned many players off.

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Julian Schoffel

From 1994 to 2007 Julian was a contributing editor for Australian PC User Magazine. He has also written for numerous publications which include Australian Personal Computer, PC PowerPlay, Hyper, Ralph, Megazone, The Disc, PlayNow, TechLife, The Sydney Morning Herald and IGN.

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