Yesterday saw the long awaited UK release of Peter Molyneux's latest god game, Black & White. Most shops seemed to have a plentiful supply in stock, apart from my local independent computer store which had only ordered one copy - a major miscalculation, one of the salesmen admitted. When I arrived there at 10am one of the staff had already snaffled the lone copy of the game, and was threatening physical violence against anybody who tried to take it from him.
Elsewhere a somewhat calmer atmosphere was in evidence, with none of the fights, round-the-block queues and vanishing-off-the-shelves-faster-than-we-could-restock-it action we had been half expecting. Electronic Arts were however cashing in on the title's inevitable success with a premium price point - every high street store that we checked was charging £34.99 for it, which is a fiver more than most other PC games. Still, HMV were nice enough to give us a pair of free metal balls in a little cloth-covered box when we finally picked up a copy of the game there. Thanks .. I think.
First impressions of the game were mixed. The game is certainly visually impressive and the actions of the creature and your villagers are at times hilarious. The controls take some getting used to though, as Lionhead have chosen to use camera controls which are completely different to any other 3D strategy game ever I've played. There were also a number of annoying bugs, some of which made it impossible to complete the game. On arriving in the second world I was left with a one-shot miracle in my hand that I couldn't cast but couldn't drop either for some reason. Seeing as I couldn't do anything else while holding this spell, I had to restart the level. Not a promising start then.
After reloading from the last auto-save I soon discovered that I had lost all direct control over my creature, which was failing to respond to his leash. Without the aid of my creature it was going to be hard if not impossible to complete the level, and as the problem seemed to have begun after he got into a fight at the end of the first world (shortly before my first save game) there was no guarantee that things would get any better. To add insult to injury, the great ape was wandering around doing little jigs and turning all of my villagers into "breeders" for some reason. We suspect he was having difficulties coming to terms with his own sexuality, but sadly Dr Freud wasn't available for comment. After an hour of this I gave up in disgust and went to watch a movie...
Coming back a couple of hours later I began the game again from the start and thankfully encountered less bugs, although I was annoyed to find that there is no way to skip the first world's tutorial sections, or any of the other in-game cutscenes for that matter, which makes playing the game a second or third time incredibly tedious. Still, things finally started to gel, although my creature had developed a strange appetite for eating villagers. In the first game I had tried to discourage this by slapping him every time he did it, but after punishing him I would get a message from my conscience saying that "your creature will eat more of this in future". Maybe my creature was a masochist? The second time I decided to encourage him instead, feeding him a trio of sea shanty singing bumpkins who had the nerve to ask me for wood to help them escape from my land. "You've eaten my crewmate - that's outrageous". Yeah, suck it down. Who's your god?
All in all Black & White is looking promising after a few hours play, but for now I would recommend waiting to see if a patch is released before buying it. My copy of the game is rather buggy, and it is enough to spoil my experience of what was undoubtedly the most eagerly anticipated PC release of the year.
Look for a full review here on EuroGamer within the next couple of weeks, although no doubt by then you will all have gone out and bought a copy regardless...