Black and White Platinum Pack
October 31st, 2006
It Came From the Bargain Bin: Black and White Platinum Pack
I never expected to like this game when it was initially released five years ago. Having been sent a PR copy, I installed it, upgraded from a G4 to a G5 and forgot about it. Then I got curious and really started to tinker with it. From there I was hooked.
Now, two years later and equipped with a shiny new Mac Pro, the urge hit again; and, while marching through the Apple Store to pick up some software for a client, the box wound up in my hand.
One of the most original real time strategy games ever created, Black and White places the player in the role of a god struggling to expand its kingdom in the land of Eden. Equipped with a giant hand that can move about and interact with objects as well as a pet creature that can be trained and conditioned, the player sets out to gather believers and compete against opposing gods within the game.
Not a typical premise, but Lionhead Studios -- the game's developers -- pulled it off well. Here the player was granted the ability to do just about anything, the only limits being one's imagination and conscience. Want to strengthen your faith by helping your village against a plague? Simply cast a healing miracle and watch your status improve. Want to solve an overpopulation problem? Though not entirely ethical, a simple fireball spell or throwing the excess population into the ocean might just resolve the situation.
No one said you had to be a gentle god to win the popular vote.
Real time strategy games both gain and lose players due to their intricacy, and Black and White is no different. Where some players love the fact that there are dozens of ways to play and dozens of hours involved in even the most basic campaigns, other players will run for the hills or pick up a simpler title. And rightfully so.
Aware of this, Lionhead Studios designed both an outstanding tutorial for game basics as well as interesting in-game reminders to make the player aware of what they're capable of. This tutorial system takes the form of an angel and a devil character offering advice, commentary and opinions as to what to do in a given situation. As expected, the angel will offer more sympathetic advice while the devil takes a more "slash and burn" approach to problems, each solution working to different ends.
Your pet, which is both the gimmick of the game and extremely useful, can be your best ally, a good friend or a royal pain depending on treatment and conditioning. After completing some early tasks and choosing a pet from a lineup of a cow, a monkey and a tiger, the pet can become anything you want it to be. Behaviors can be encouraged through positive or negative reinforcement while the pet's appearance can be adapted by adding tattoos to its surface layer via one of the rooms in the temple. Learning can be encouraged by leashing the pet to an object, then demonstrating a behavior you'd like the pet to emulate. The pet will eventually learn and begin to perform these behaviors, such as casting helpful miracles for villages, on its own as they wander about the landscape.
Your pet isn't a subtle thing, nor would any gigantic animal given free will be (there's typically a little chaos associated with it, such as the pet knocking over fences or deciding to juggle villagers for amusement), but it can become an essential ally while your attention is diverted to other matters. While one village might ask for help with housing, food or wood supplies, your pet can be directed to go help another village and then be rewarded for it.
Black and White is essentially a territory game; win over another god's villages while satisfying your own. What makes it interesting is the sheer number of ways this can be performed and the game won. While a neighboring village may be out of your sphere of influence, you can push the limits by reaching into your neighbor's territory for a short period of time and working to gain influence over the village.
Some might decide to charge up a wood, food or heal miracle to cast on the village while others may roll a few boulders towards the town to destroy buildings and win the village over through fear. One favorite tactic is to grab supplies from the town's food and grain stores and either use the supplies for your own villages or promptly return it to gain favor. Grabbing villagers to supplement your own population also works while your own villagers can be turned into disciples and then implanted into your opponent's village to help convert faith over to you.
The scroll wheel can become your best friend when stepping back to look over your villages.
Although the conventional wisdom would encourage the player to take a village in one piece with as little bloodshed as possible, there are times when such tactics can actually help the player. Overpopulation from one village can be resolved by moving them to a newly conquered village with fewer people to look after. This doesn't help your reputation and the hand icon will look more demonic, but it can help move the game along should the need arise.
Act to take terrain away from other gods and they will come hunting for your villages via the same methods; killing or kindness. Physical and spiritual shield miracles can be activated around your villages to help ward off attacks. Keep in mind that these are only temporary, although they will buy some time and room to plan your next move.
Battle other gods' pets for control over a territory.
The Black and White Platinum Pack, which includes the Creature Isle expansion pack (more levels, more missions and more creatures) is available for $29.95 through the Apple Store and can be found for as low as $19.95 through an Amazon.com search. Given the dozens of hours and replay value therein, the game is worth every penny and can be had to a good price.
Black and White requires Mac OS 8.6 or Mac OS X 10.1.3 or later to run and requires a 333 MHz G3 processor or faster with 128 megabytes of RAM, a graphics card with 8 megabytes of VRAM and 500 megabytes of hard disk space. The game, although it's not yet a universal binary, runs well on both PowerPC and Intel-based hardware.
That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,
Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.
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