John Walker's Electronic House

TB 109

They’re Back 109

Come, take my hand, and we shall dance. Dance the dance of love. The dance of budget games.

Tribes 2
Best Seller

If there’s one thing that divides the nation right down the middle, if there is anything that splits people into either category ‘A’ or category ‘B’, it’s whether you scrunch or fold your toilet paper. One half of us all will be tearing off two or three sheets, and folding it in half, maybe in half again, and then going for a nice, neat, perpendicular wipe. It’s clean, it’s tidy, it makes sense. Then there’s the other half of society for whom such correct mannerisms do not apply. There’s the half who “scrunch”. They clumsily grab a clump of paper, and then with no soul in their bodies, crush it into a tangled heap in their callous hands. Half of you reading will do this. I shiver at the very thought, holding this magazine with those very same hands.

Another dividing line is those with a broadband connection, and those without. (Yes, really, that’s the link into the review after the above. Seriously, that’s all you’re getting). And it really is a mean divider – it completely changes the way one experiences a game.

Are you in the former? Do you have a broadband connection? Do you fold your toilet paper? Then if so, Tribes 2 is going to be all sorts of fun. It’s slick, it’s smooth, it’s like hair from the 50s. And yet requires less combing. You can play the sniper, sneaking along the hill tops, sending surprise express presents to those not in your friendship circle. You can zoom around on hover bikes pretending to be Luke Skywalker. You can throw missiles the size of local village halls at those you don’t like. And you’ll do this in the company of your friends, united in the shared joy of upsetting other groups of friends.

Or are you in the latter? Do you hear a terrible banshee like screeching every time you go online, watching websites appear at the speed of evolution? Do you scrunch your loo roll? Then if so, Tribes 2 is a slide show.

The potential problem for anyone who has never played the original Starsiege: Tribes, is that the controls are more awkward than playing Quake 3 on a PS2 with you hands in a sink, and learning them from scratch will probably involve evening classes. If you’re willing to dedicate the time, and you’ve got your computer wired up to a nice phat pipe, and you know how to treat your bog roll, then this is going to be a superb gaming experience.


Slick and fun multiplayer gaming, but really for those with a decent Internet connection.

Myst: Masterpiece Edition

Myst: The screensaver you can click on!
Myst: The Power Point demonstration you can control!
Myst: Your favourite puzzle book, now in 3D!

I really should have been a marketing executive you know. I can generate them just like that. Watch:

Myst: Shiny enough to see your face in!

See? Myst really was a pile of old rot. Playing it on release, one was immediately astonished by the glinting graphics, unseen before outside of The Lawnmower Man, and much like that film, it was as interesting as Cardiff. But somehow, and I knowhow, it became /incredibly/ popular. The how was its being given away for free with every PC sold on earth, and being bundled in every printer deal, peripheral sale, and bundled deal. Pouring your sugar-frosted branflakes in the morning, out would plop Myst into the bowl. Stuck to the front of magazines next to a free lipstick. Presenters of Win Lose or Draw were turning up on doorsteps offering The Myst Challenge.

“Have you tried Myst? It will get your sprites spriter than sprite.”

So, it became popular with millions of people. But then, so is capital punishment, so that’s hardly an endorsement of the common sense in employing it. The trick is to look at with whom it won such success. It was people who don’t play computer games otherwise, beyond minesweeper and freecell. It was people without a frame of reference in which to place their experience who believed it to be so much fun. If you’d never drunk coffee, you might think that supermarket instant was delicious, not having any idea about the Italian espressos the rest of us are drinking.

So now it costs ten pounds, and it’s still as rubbish as it ever was, only now the graphics aren’t very impressive.


Planet of the Apes

Once in a while a game comes along that redefines a genre. Just occasionally something appears from nowhere, entirely unexpectedly, and changes the way we think about our gaming. A game will be released that rewrites the rulebook on gaming quality. Not this one, obviously. But it does happen.

There’s a certain quality of film that merits a gaming cashin. It’s not so likely that there will be a Mulholland Drive Gameboy Advance release. Even mainstream pap like Bridget Jones isn’t going to see the action adventure getting near shelves. But when it comes to action movies, something fires off in the minds of marketing executives, deciding that putting that name on a 3D shell will pour money into the pockets of their company. That thing going off in their mind is their last, drooping, brain cell.

Planet of the Apes was ripe for a cash-in (should that be “tie-in”?), what with having people running about, lots of fights, and people in, much easier to render than humans, monkey costumes. Now, while there isn’t often any correlation between the quality of the film and the quality of the relating game, the quality of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes didn’t bode well. What should have been a great movie, bearing in mind the established story, and the normally superb director, was a pile of poo poo.

Opting for a Tomb Raider approach (oh, what a surprise), this is mostly in the 3rd person, though with a switch to first for the moments when needed. And it’s the usual, careless, tiresome approach, with uninspired level design, that graces so many filmic titles. It’s tempting to say that’s a shame, and that so much more could have been achieved, but to be honest there wasn’t a great deal of hope for a game based on a remake of a film about humans and apes fighting. Let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant surprise.


Zeus: Master of Olympus
Best Seller

He held aloft his mighty sword and cried: “BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL! I! AM! ZEUS!!!”

Well, it was close. Zeus and the Masters of the Universe is the lovechild of Caesar and Cleopatra – now there’s something you never learned in your Classical Civilisations GCSE. More accurately, it’s the next game in the series that has previously included Caesar III and Pharaoh, in which you are allowed to rewrite the history of the great civilisations of old.

In two thousand years time, we (well, more likely our descendants – I guess we have to face it, we’ll probably be dead by then) can fully expect to be playing games based on the civilisations of great modern cities like Manchester or Birmingham. The latter presumably involving a feature where you’re allowed to keep knocking great sections of it over and replacing them with interconnecting space domes. And carpet the place with travellators. But certainly no national football stations near that conveniently central-to-the-whole-country city, for that would be unbridled madness.

However, in the meantime we can only hark back to the days when bonkers old gods threw thunderbolts all over the place whilst turning each other into various animals and marrying their mothers. Zeus: MOO (hee hee) picks up where the excellent predecessors left off, using the same engine that led them to great success, but also adding all sorts of improvements and tweaks to make this a worthy release in its own terms.

While it pays no real attention to the chronology of ancient Greece, it does capture the spirit of the times, combining the history that happened with the mythology they made up, resulting in a superb city-management game with heroes, gods and monsters all playing together.

A little familiar to those who have played others in the series, it still holds its own enough to continue to be worth a good look.


Aliens Vs Predator
Best Seller

The third Best Seller release this month, along with Tribes 2 and Zeus, makes up the trilogy of games they are putting out to celebrate the sale of one million Best Seller units. A million! That’s loads. It would suggest that people are buying budget games. Which would in turn suggest that people are interested in which budget games are available. Which again, in its turn, would suggest that people are looking in magazines to find out about budget games…

That means people are actually reading these pages! Good grief, I had no idea. If I’d known… Oh my goodness, the things I’ve said! I’m doomed. I’d have dressed up. I’d have dressed at all. What a to-do.

Well then, I’d better shape up, and stop wasting the first two paragraphs of reviews with a load of irrelevant nonsense. Oh dear.

I’ve been reminded of AVP this last week, having spent most of it lying in my bed, generating quite startling volumes of gooey phlegm. As my condition worsened, my skin grew scalier, and long, stretching chains of dark green mucus hung from the various orifices situated about my face. At my peak, the resemblance between myself and Ridley Scott’s alien creature became uncanny. I’m hoping to do the Predator by next week.

AVP has really had its day. When it was released it was quite startling due to the incredible level of complexity, and how immensely scary it was capable of being. However, since, the cracks have become more visible, and the brevity more apparent, and then finally, it’s been sequeled. AVP2 delivers the same levels of fear, and the same eventual disappointment of being too short, but in much shinier colours, and with much better execution. At its age, ten pounds seems a bit steep.


And The Rest

Ubisoft have waged war with Sold Out for the right to call themselves the most prolific budget releasers, this month chucking out fifteen games onto their new Exclusive label. Amongst them is Riven (20%), the sequel to Myst, that has been so lovingingly praised on these pages. People make a terrible fuss about critics being rude about Myst, claiming its popularity to prove some sort of point. The fact is, Gamer credits its audience with a sophistication in your gaming appetite, and we know that you’re after more than mass-appeal mediocrity. Riven commits the sin of being exactly the same as Myst, even though it had Myst to improve upon, and therefore scores even less. And ten pounds.

Slightly more impressively, MMORPG Everquest and its add-on, The Ruins of Kunark (75%) are out, a tenner for the pair. I remember writing the review for Kunark in the Gamer offices, with Ross staring over my shoulder the whole time. It was really scary. Brrrrrrrr. The potential for Everquest is huge, being that it’s up to you to make the game better for everyone else playing, and to expect the same from them for you. Kunark added some new characters, and a whole new patch of land to play in, making the whole thing that bit more complete.

Finally there’s Rogue Spear (70%) out on Exclusive for another ten pounds. However, Novalogic are upping the ante, offering the same game along with Delta Force 2, both for only £15. You see, you have to shop around. What would you all do without me?