John Walker's Electronic House

TB 102

They’re Back 102

Deus Ex

I can’t believe it. I’m not ready. It’s too soon. I can’t be trusted with this. How am I supposed to be qualified to write the only other review of Deus Ex this magazine has printed, since Kieron’s definitive version a year or so ago? I’m the one who writes reviews of insane French adventure games. I’m the one who gets away with filling two pages of the magazine a month with references to swivel chairs and jelly tots. (Not to mention deliberately stealing numerous Chris Morris lines). I just don’t think I’m up to it.

I’ll try. If you lived in a world in which there was no Half-Life, Deus Ex would be the best game ever. If you lived in a world in which there /was/ Half-Life, Deus Ex would still give it a run for its money. If you were a PC Gamer employee, you would have to agree that Half-Life is better than Deus Ex, even though it actually isn’t. But whatever alternate reality within which you reside, Deus Ex is one of the most fulfilling, engrossing, and extraordinary ways you could spend a fortnight in front of a monitor.

It’s so hard to know what not to say about the game. You cannot really begin to attempt to describe it without involuntarily dividing topics into chapters in your head, working out title, and deciding upon the dust jacket image for the book.

Never has so much depth, so much thought, and so much ambition been so astutely realised on board a single CD. Take some parts RPG, and some parts Adventure. Mix suitably, and pour into an FPS mould. Tip out, and serve fresh. It’s that absolutely perfect blend of gaming styles that allows there to be that microscopically accurate amount of variety inducing the belief, for only a moment, that it might just be real.

Playing a member of a slightly sinister government agent, you are tasked with preventing an antidote to deadly virus spreading the earth from finding its way into the hands of a terrorist group. Throughout the game you will build very real relationships with three dimensional NPCs, who will treat you differently depending upon your actions and attitude to the game. And your influence can extend to whether major characters live or die.

You’ll also learn about major political methodology, cultural influence, and quite a bit about yourself.

There’s the introduction. I need the rest of the pages to write about the styles of play, the graphics, the weapons, the… oh, it’s all just bloody brilliant.


Simply stunning. Astonishing. Outstanding. Phenomenal. Thesaurus busting.

Best Sellers

What a month. Reviewing the two greatest games of all time alongside one-another, and getting paid to reawaken my love for both games. Sometimes all that spiel about how being a games journalist isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, just starts to sound untrue. (It isn’t, and you don’t have to review the insane French adventure games, do don’t come crying to me about how unfair it all is). Like Deus Ex, Half-Life is one of those gaming experiences that you will remember all your life, like a great book, or an especially involving film. It’s more than a few hours sat shooting stuff at your computer. Hyperbole? If you haven’t played it, why don’t you find out?

How can anyone possibly write anything new about Half-Life? Too frequently has the seminal level design been praised. So many times before have the brilliant weapon designs been extolled from the pages of magazines. How often have you read about the excellent alien creatures, and especially the face-huggers? And surely you are bored with reading about the fantastic triangle of baddies – your character Gordon vs the aliens, Gordon vs the government agents, and the government agents vs the aliens – and how you can use this to your advantage on so many occasions?

So instead I shall try to capture something of the Magic Half-Life possesses, without breaking it. Every now and then, a game has a certain something, and indefinable quality… or at least that’s what most will tell you. In truth, Half-Life has Magic. That is the something, the so-called indefinable. It weaves a spell around the player that draws you further in than any other, giving you that almost diagnosable feeling that you really are Gordon Freeman.

It is almost a shame that an FPS has not toppled this royal from its throne. But until the day happens, hail to the King!


Tomb Raider: Chronicles

Tomb Raider IV had one of the worst endings of all time. In case you didn’t get there, Lara dies when a pyramid falls on her. Now you may wish to chant “hooray” over and over until sleep or laryngitis stops you, but think about it more carefully.

You watch that stupid woman die, over and over and over. All she does is die. Your mission is to prevent her death. You become focused on one task: Keep Lara alive. And then the game concludes by killing her in a cut-scene.

Here is the sequel, and oh poo if it isn’t a good idea. Things begin with Lara’s funeral, followed by a rather small group of mourners (but then, perhaps this isn’t very surprising. How many people want to be friends with a woman who makes a living out of stealing other people’s stuff and killing the cute and cuddlies) returning to our late heroine’s mansion to reminisce on some of her previously unmentioned quests. Then the Wayne’s World “diddlydoo”s take us back in time to play as Lara through these wake memories.

As is always the case with Tomb Raider sequels, the graphics have improved, the puzzles are more satisfying, and Lara has gained a couple of extra moves. The latter of these makes no sense, bearing in mind that these things take place in the past, and hence she should be more limited, rather than less. Perhaps a nice Space Quest style time travel joke would have been fun, with the earliest memories being in nasty pixellated graphics. (Or perhaps not).

So yes indeed, this is the best Tomb Raider game of them all. And it is bound to get a bit of extra attention thanks to the antics of the silly cinema outing. Is she really dead? Perhaps this question should be directed at Eidos’ marketing boys…


Gunman Chronicles
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The story of ReWolf is an extraordinary one, and should be a fable of optimism for the many aspiring coders out there, wanting to reach fame and fortune through the medium of letting people shoot at stuff. As a few separate gamers around the world, they met via only wib wob web communication, and together created their own mod for Half-Life.

Valve got wind of this little organisation, checked out what these people were doing with their engine, and found it to be something they believed worthy of a stand-alone release. After convincing Sierra, or Havas, or whatever they are called today, the game did indeed land on the shelves in a suitably-similar-to-Half-Life-style box to grab everyone’s attention.

The reason that Gunman stands out above the numerous mods being built about the globe was the sense of originality. It’s not just another attempt to build levels a bit like Half-Life’s. It’s an attempt to take Half-Life, and make something new out of it.

The two main areas of focus are the weapons, and the opponents. Weapons have received multiple personalities. Each has at least two different functions that differ suitably to make it worth making the choice in the heat of the battle. And the choice in the heat of the battle isn’t as complicated as it first appears it might be.

But it is perhaps the opponents that really cause Gunman to poke its head out above the crowds. They’re big. No, bigger than that. Almost. Nope, still a bit bigger.

The only real gripe is that it doesn’t have that sustaining power that means you actually can’t stop until it’s finished, which its father was coated in. (The Magic described to your left). Well worth a play though, especially if you were ever bullied by a really big kid at school.


Three Kingdoms: Fate of the Dragon

The world is often divided into two categories: Those who like yeast-based toast spreads, and those who realise them to be the poisoned bile they truly are. There are more important issues: Those who scrunch their toilet paper when wiping their bottom, and those who fold. (Mention this to your friends. The reaction is incredible). And there are sociological dividers: Those who like to plan, and those who don’t.

I don’t. I rush headlong into a situation entirely unprepared, with very little chance of survival. Why? Perhaps things are more interesting that way. And this of course (thank goodness) translates neatly into computer gaming. There are the games designed for you to rush into a room, a gun in each hand, and rely on hopes and reflexes. Great stuff.

And there are games that require intricate planning, careful division of arms, stocks, food, rawlplugs, dainty hats, and kitchenettes, and a good darned hard study of the map. Home work.

Three Kingdoms, like some kind of blue hat wearing missionary of peace, comes along and creates a perfect balance of the two. It’s an RTS, but one which isn’t all about sending your well armed army out to knock the stuffing out of a less armed army ( a ‘y’ perhaps). Three Kingdoms wants you to have a bit of a think first.

Set in the delightfully violent world of olde China, things are about to get all 184-220AD on your behinds. And with this, it tries to be that bit different to others in the RTS stable, mostly through its use of RPG elements – allowing your generals to gain experience, and learn from their encounters. And it even has spells.

Shogun: Total War takes the RTS genre by the hand, and walks it into the future. Three Kingdoms: Fate of the Dragon more modestly shows it some really cool stuff that’s already there.


And The Rest

What an incredible month. It’s far too much for one poor little hack – having the emotional drain of reviewing his two favourite games ever, and then some others that have made his day that little brighter. It’s about all he can do to curl up into a little ball, and soundly sleep.

But still some titles refuse to let him have his rest. One such culprit is Swat 3: Close Quarters Battle (£10, 81%). Taking on the idea behind the first two Swats (letting you go through a career as a police swat team member) but not taking on the reality of the first two (being complete and utter rubbish), this is a very pleasant way to bust the crimes of those who just could stick with a nice friendly snooker ball in a sock, and just had to use guns. Following a career through can be immensely satisfying, and thank goodness Sierra for once managed to hit the mark. But I’m still waiting for Police Quest IV, where I get to point and click my way to paper work. I miss those days.

The second slumber disturbance is not nearly so eagerly welcomed. Chicken Run (£13, 43%) is a platform game, and a platform game that was originally designed for console machines. You require no more information to form an opinion. Since there has been approximately one decent platform game ever on the PC, and that was so long ago I can’t remember what it was called, the chances weren’t high, and this is nothing other than a cynical cash-in on an over-rated average cartoon.

Now go away and let me sleep.