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.
The trials are reminiscent of the silver scroll challenges from Black & White--the minigames found throughout the original game's lands. The trials here are generally more complex, and since they're hosted by giant animals like yours, if nothing else, they're more interesting to look at.
Trials may be the brunt of Creature Isle's content, but they're not all of it. Early on, you'll have the opportunity to rescue an egg and help it hatch--and it hatches into a giant chick called Tyke. Tyke is actually quite small compared with your creature, though he stands many times taller than a human. He's just a baby much like your creature was at the beginning of Black & White. But while you trained your Black & White creature through direct interaction, you can't interact directly with Tyke--he's your creature's responsibility. Yet through your indirect guidance, you'll watch as Tyke learns all of your creature's skills--he'll learn many of them faster than your creature did.
Rearing Tyke is a fascinating process, and it'll give you back much of the same sense of wonder you probably felt when you first met your creature in Black & White. You'll see Tyke frequently gazing up at your creature, looking for approval with what really looks like the same inquisitive glance a child might give its father. Caring for your creature could be quite a burden in Black & White, but fortunately, looking after Tyke is a relatively painless process in Creature Isle since your creature will do a lot of the work for you. And soon enough, Tyke will be doing a lot of the work for your creature, helping tend to villagers or at least just tagging along. Of note, both your creature and Tyke will eventually learn how to assist with constructing buildings, which only humans could do (and very slowly) in Black & White.
Giant chickens weren't present in Black & White (a glaring omission!), and they're one of several new types of creatures you'll find in the expansion. You'll also meet a rhino, a gator, everyone from the original game, and more. As you complete each creature's trial, that creature becomes available at a central location on the isle, where you can either challenge it to a duel or switch your creature's body type to that creature's body type. It's a nice, new feature for being able to conveniently change to the creature of your choice or engage in Black & White's funny-looking one-on-one creature bouts. Some of the combat isn't optional in Creature Isle, which means you'll have to train your creature to be a good fighter if you haven't already done so. Making your creature heft the weight of a boulder around for a while should suitably prepare him for any brawling.
Many of the trials can be reattempted once you've finished them. You might not feel compelled to, though. There's no variation to the objective-based trials, and the competitive trials are paced too slowly to be of much fun after more than a couple of tries. That is to say, there isn't much replay value in Creature Isle, and you can finish all the trials in less than 15 hours. The game's skirmish mode does give you the option to play with your creature's apprentice, an option that both helps reduce some of the micromanagement and also generally helps speed up Black & White's competitive matches. Having two creatures assisting you instead of just one noticeably changes the dynamic of Black & White's core gameplay.
Black & White came out nearly a year ago, and aside from the new creature types, Creature Isle looks identical to the original game--which means it still looks great. Despite the low-resolution textures and some polygonal warping in the game, the colorful, attractive environments and lifelike creatures are still a real pleasure to see. Like the graphics, Creature Isle's minimal soundtrack is mostly identical to that of Black & White, though you'll hear a few new tracks during cinematic cutscenes. All the speech in Creature Isle is new, though, including the voices for all the many creatures and other characters you'll meet. Despite the variety, not all the exaggerated accents you'll hear actually sound very good.
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. That is, if you enjoyed Black & White's gigantic creatures and its basic premise but didn't care much for the strategic elements that dominated much of the game, then you'll still more than likely enjoy Creature Isle. The minigames that comprise most of this expansion are like simple parlor games and aren't nearly as lofty as the concepts in the original Black & White. Still, between all the minigames and the inspired addition of a younger creature for your own creature to look after, you'll find that Creature Isle is a great place to visit.