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Black & White 2

Molyneux's god-driven, award winning deity-a-thon is back

Daisy the 50 foot cow has just proudly defecated on the scattered remains of a massive Japanese infantry unit, and she thoroughly deserves the pleasure - she's just played a crucial role in my masterful ploy to decimate my rival's military. In what might seem like a childish game, I commanded my bovine beast to run right up to the enemy wall, give it a kick and sprint back home as fast as she could.

Of course, my oriental foes couldn't resist sending every available army unit after her, and their will to protect the honour of their precious wall carried them right into my territory. Thundering across the green plains with raised swords, the Japanese never saw it coming - blazing fireballs erupted from the blue skies above, shattering their ranks and pulverising the ground. Hundreds of soldiers went skywards, arcing through the air with morbid grace. When the last man had fallen to the ground with a sickening thud, I let my creature off the leash and laughed. My meteor spell had worked and my plan had come together. That's when she shat on them.

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Since the original Black & White touched down back in 2001, opinions have been divided over the epic god-sim. Many people slated it using words like 'repetitive' and 'confusing' - others sang its praise, hailing it as revolutionary and technically astounding.

It's safe to say that with Black & White 2 Lionhead has, with all the precision of a highly paid surgeon, dissected the original, ripping out problems and tossing them into a stinking sack full of old, rotting organs, before replacing them with enhanced features, refined quality and a new RTS aspect (a bit like the six-million-dollar man).

Well, just take a look at the visuals for a start - Black & White 2 is a work of art.
Landscapes stretch off into hazy distances, icy mountain ranges span horizons and lush forests sway in the breeze. Zoom in to ground level and you can see your villagers going about their daily business, be it chopping down trees, walking their dogs or impregnating the town's female population - everyone has something to be getting on with. Get even closer and you can make out bugs scuttling around blades of grass.

Detail isn't just visual - children will follow their parents, a well-walked route will
become a muddy track and idle troops sit around campfires and spar with one another to pass the time - it all contributes to creating a beautiful and believable game world.

BRIGHT LIGHTS
If you've played the original game, you'll instantly be in familiar territory: you're a god and you must lead your people to domination and victory by taking over an island. There are two ways of doing this: either create such a majestic and impressive city that people from all over the island will want migrate to it (just like London, except majestic and impressive); or send armies marching across the land to capture enemy towns with oppressive power. Or you can do both - if your sprawling city with its impressive taverns, nurseries and temples doesn't convince some backward hicks in the mountains to come running, just take them through unadulterated force.

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Building your city has been vastly improved too - gone are the awkward and bewildering scaffolds, replaced with a simple menu enabling you to select the building you want and letting you drop the foundation anywhere you please. It's a fantastic system and makes crafting your towns a joy rather than a necessity. It also means that playing as a benevolent deity is much more rewarding this time around, with well-built cities potentially being just as damaging to your opponents as any number of soldiers.

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