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Black & White 2, a DVD-ROM in English by Lionhead Studios for Electronic Arts, distributed in Israel by Hed Artzi Multimedia with a 42-page Hebrew-language user's manual, requires Windows XP and a Pentium IV PC, for teenagers through adults, NIS 219. - Rating: **** 1/2
Has your Evil Inclination been acting up lately, trying to overpower your natural inclination to do good?
The existence of the two allows Man to have the free will to choose good. These two powerful forces are represented in this second edition of the famous god-simulation game, which in the new B&W2 takes on the added excitement of a real-time strategy game. The Good Inclination appears in the animated form of a grandfatherly type with a white beard who speaks in a soft but authoritative British accent, while his nasty counterpart is depicted by a rotund and hairy devil who sounds as if he comes from Brooklyn.
The chief designer of the two versions, whose releases were separated by a space of four years, is Peter Molyneux, who helped create other simulation games such as Populous and is considered the father of the god-simulation genre. While the first B&W was considered avant-garde and audacious by forcing gamers to play the role of a god, a lot of water has flowed through the springs of Eden since then. Molyneux clearly wanted to fix the errors, improve the graphics and offer new twists for the second version. In most, but not all these missions, he succeeded.
As a god in a place called Eden, you are invisible except for your divine-but-humanlike hand, which serves as a cursor. You have been awakened by the prayers of people who need assistance with all their problems. The first hour or so of the game is spent learning how to use that hand to move in all directions, pick up little people or rocks and set them down gently or throw them, rule the lives of residents and do good or evil to ensure that they love you or revile you and worship you. This "god training" is unfortunately not a choice, and if you already know how to maneuver from playing the original B&W - or are just naturally omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent - you can't opt out of it. This will annoy experienced players. The action finally begins as you rule your nation, the Greeks, and help them recover from their calamitous losses to the malevolent Aztecs.
An important part of the game is the selection and use of your creature - a lion, cow, ape or wolf - which you must nurture and control with a leash to turn it into a gatherer, builder, soldier or entertainer. Which leash he wears and how long he remains connected to it determines his disposition and appearance; the longer he's kept on the soldier leash, for example, the meaner and feistier he acts and looks. The game's currency is called "tribute" - earned when you accomplish missions and spend to buy your creature more abilities.
You can win the game by constructing such a pleasant and impressive empire that outsiders flock to join you - or by ruthlessly waging war, covering their homes in volcanic lava and conquering them. Or you can do both.
As in a Sims game, the relentless cycle of life begins with the birth of babies, their ripening into adulthood and their death in old age. Your villagers have distinct identities and vocations as farmers, foresters, fishermen, builders, missionaries, craftsmen, traders and breeders. As time passes, you not only direct construction and the economy of Eden but also perform a wide variety of missions in the form of miracles, such as picking up giant boulders with your hand to restart a waterfall or clearing a field for plowing. If you choose to be a malevolent god who starts wars and makes his people miserable, send your creature to eat villagers for breakfast. Your hand will develop scars and yellow nails, and your environment will look sinister - but some players won't be able to resist playing this nasty role.
The game demands every little detail, a feature that many gamers appreciate but could drive the less-patient player up the wall. If you are annoyed by being forced into the nitty-gritty level, you at least are compensated by the masterful graphics, which look majestically realistic from your divine heights and even when you zoom in, to note little bugs meandering over the earth and leaves blowing in the wind.
B&W2 is arduous and addictive. If you are sure you have what it takes to be a god, this is your chance to prove you are worthy.
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