Black & White: Creature Isle Review
Creature Isle will certainly appeal to anyone who enjoyed Black & White in the first place. Surprisingly, though, it's also suitable for some of those who didn't.
If nothing else, Black & White is one of the most intriguing, most talked about games of last year. Designer Peter Molyneux's first project with his team at Lionhead Studios was very highly anticipated and met with extremely positive reactions from the press, although Black & White's reception by gaming audiences wasn't nearly so unanimous. In fact, seemingly just as many players were put off by Black & White's bizarre combination of elements and awkwardly paced strategic game as those who were truly impressed by the game's distinctive theme and artificial intelligence. At any rate, the game sold well, and it certainly seemed open-ended--so Lionhead's decision to follow suit with an official expansion pack was no great surprise.
Don't expect a cut-and-dried level pack from Creature Isle. Black & White was a creative, unusual game, and Creature Isle is no exception. The expansion focuses on what are probably the best aspects of the original Black & White--its gigantic, artificially intelligent anthropomorphic creatures and its realistic, open-ended gameworld. And while Creature Isle shares some of the frustrating elements of its forebear, it does manage to extend Black & White in interesting, new directions--directions that, in hindsight, perhaps Black & White should have taken to begin with.
Black & White often centered on a strategic game in which you, as a god, had to battle against other rival gods by vying for the belief of the world's mortal inhabitants. This strategic game had some problems--a great deal of micromanagement was necessary to maintain human villages, and when a village was in contention between two or more gods, the situation could often devolve into a seemingly fruitless tug-of-war for the villagers' belief. Beyond all that, the core of the strategic game was fairly typical of what you'd find in other real-time strategy games and thus not nearly as interesting as some of Black & White's more original elements. The good news is that Creature Isle practically omits the strategy elements from the formula. It at least omits the possibility of being defeated by rival gods, as the archipelago where the expansion pack takes place is a land devoid of gods other than the one represented by you, the player. So for better or worse, there's no sense of urgency to Creature Isle. You can explore the land at your leisure.
Your giant creature from Black & White of course accompanies you to Creature Isle. Once you arrive in the new land, you learn that it is home to other gigantic creatures like yours, which have formed what they call the Brotherhood. Part of the promise of becoming a member of the Brotherhood lies in the opportunity for your creature to meet a creature named Eve--apparently the one and only female creature around. If your creature can win Eve's affections, then the two of them can mate. Basically, as Black & White was a coming-of-age story about your creature, Creature Isle is the story of your creature's adulthood and parenthood.
Well, maybe that's giving it too much credit. Creature Isle is basically an excuse to show off some impressive, new AI tricks and to let you engage in a diverse series of minigames. All of these minigames are presented in the context of the story and in the context of the rest of the game with Black & White's powerful 3D engine and realistic physics. The idea is--before your creature can join the Brotherhood--that it must complete a series of trials throughout the land, presented by each of the Brotherhood's members. All told, there are about 20 different trials, and while you usually have access to several of these at once, eventually you'll need to complete them all.
Some of the trials take the form of competitive games, such as a bowling match against a smart-alecky cow, a game of marbles vs. a kindly monkey, and soccer with a mandrill and his brothers. You'll also play hide-and-seek with a wolf, race against a crafty tortoise, sneak to the rescue of a bear being held by a wily monk, herd a giant sheep's normal-sized sheep, and much more. One of these events, involving a giant zebra, a mule-headed man, and a giant ballista, is especially funny. There's a lot of variety, to say the least, and you'll be eager to complete each trial just to see what's next.
Admittedly, you'll also be eager to complete each trial just to get some of them over with. While all the trials are different and thus demonstrative of just how flexible and powerful Black & White's engine is, not all the trials are entirely fun. For example, gardening might be a rewarding activity for some in real life, but watering plants once daily isn't all that fun in a game. Besides that, many of the trials must be completed directly by your creature, which you must maneuver around by leashing it and clicking where you want it to go. But getting your creature to do your bidding isn't always simple and can be frustrating during timed events, of which there are several. Black & White's interface remains almost completely invisible--you must manipulate the camera and perform most actions using only the mouse--and so guiding your creature through some of these trials can be a trial in itself. Also, while you can attempt a trial as many times as you wish, you'll quickly wish that you could at least skip the cutscenes at the beginning and end of each trial.