Games: Black and White; Virtual Kasparov

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The Independent Online

'Over-enthusiasm shouldn't detract from the fact that this god sim is a stunning example of its kind'

Black and White

PC

*****

If you haven't already heard about this, where have you been? Black and White has been the most talked about, hyped and eagerly awaited game of the past few years. The extent of the hyperbole at launch may well have something to do with the games industry currently being stuck in the doldrums, but the over-enthusiasm shouldn't detract from the fact that this god sim is a stunning example of its kind.

To play is divine. Literally. You are the hand of god and, as such, rule your lands and peoples as you see fit. Your power and influence within the Black and White world depends on how dedicated your people are to you. You can rule them with a rod of iron and impress them with a storm of fireballs, drought or plague. You can even slap them around a bit if you're in a really bad mood.

Alternatively, you can be a benevolent god and feed the world: they will love you but they won't fear you. There's no right or wrong way to play the game, but in this modern morality tale your actions have consequences you must deal with.

The game looks fabulous (provided you don't approach your villagers too closely) the navigation is a joy to use (you will be bowled over the first time you plug in) and the soundtrack is suitably powerful. Then there's the cognitive science bit: you actually appear in this game in the form of a "creature". The creature watches how you preside over your world and learns from you. If you're killing villagers, your creature will, too. If you're feeding them, your creature will miraculously create some food. The idea is that after some long-term playing, you'll be able to see something of yourself in the creature.

There are niggles. Sometimes the control responses aren't as quick as you'd like; it is tiresome that your people are so reluctant to learn for themselves; and the creature concept, albeit quite brilliant, doesn't seem well enough integrated into the sim. In fact, you can play the game without using your creature at all. But, interestingly, Black and White's creator, Peter Molyneux, has said that his Lionhead Studios are adjusting the design for the PS2 version so that it focuses more on the creature. A mastermind's work is never done.

(EA, £34.99)

Virtual Kasparov

PlayStation

***

Faced with the brilliance of the Black and White experience, what else could Virgin do but counter with this, "the first significant chess game" for the PlayStation. For added prestige, they licensed the name of Garry Kasparov. Once his was a household name and an indomitable opponent; but his veneer of infallibility cracked last month when he was beaten by an unknown. Still, Vladimir Kramnik or Zsuzsa Polgar don't have quite the same ring to them.

It's a rather soulless experience playing chess against a computer. All that's on offer are are pixelated replications of the real thing: hardly a white-knuckle ride regarding levels of excitement.

None the less, for the Grandmaster fan, the game boasts a range of Kasparov-themed features. You can start your game using one of his legendary opening moves, you can relive some of his seminal games and he even takes you through a rather good chess tutorial.

If you want a good grasp of the basics, or to play a game against a Garry sim, this is perfect. But once you've mastered The Fork attack strategy, you might decide it's time to get out more.

(Virgin Interactive, £19.95)

s.chatterton@independent.co.uk

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