John Walker's Electronic House

TB 111

They’re Back 111

Attention please. You, at the back, quiet. We need to get through two pages of budget games today. Remember, your lunch hour is a bonus, not a right.

RTS Trilogy

I’m a very objective man. I pride myself on my objectivity. I feel I’m in a very good place to give an entirely objective judgement about this as well, being, as I am, entirely emotionally detached from myself. No matter how I may be feeling, what sort of mood I might be in, it will not effect my opinion, nor change my attitude to what I might say in any way at all. That she hasn’t replied to my email will in no way affect the content of this review, as the painful tearing in my heart cannot possibly leak out through my emotional barrier.

So I am in the perfect frame of mind, as I always am, to give these three fine games only the fairest, most level-headed review you could hope to find. The truth is, I’m not really a fan of RTS, but here is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the above-mentioned impartiality

Inside this rather splendid bundle from your friends at UbiSoft (and they really are your friends, and you’re very welcome to go round to their house for tea) is Battle Realms, Settlers IV, and Shogun: Total War. Those are games that got 87%, 68%, and 95% respectively in the last year or so – a darned fine selection, and no mistake.

In order, Battle Realms – it’s very recent, it’s very fun. While it fails to break any moulds, it does at least manage to crack them at the edges and allow bits to ooze through. If you like your RTS light-hearted, but still extremely good, this is a fine choice. It doesn’t get to heavy, unlike the weight of my heart.

Settlers IV is pushing its luck. The Settlers vibe of extra-cutesy RTS managed to last out three releases, but perhaps at this point it’s all getting a bit done-already. Credit where it’s due, it is competent, and there’s plenty of game to get out of it – it’s just there’s plenty of other games offering that extra edge. The edge of the cruel knife twisting in my belly.
Finally, and mostly, Shogun: Total War. This is truly a classic, and it’s barely even old. It’s gorgeous, full of intricate battles, intuitive gameplay, and just general piles of loveliness. It’s the best battle RTS you could hope for, and alongside Battle Realms, for a mere £30, it’s a great deal. A great deal of pain and anguish. Why? WHY?


Army Men: World War
Sold Out

It was my cousin James from whom I received a large cardboard box full of green and tan army men. Tiny little plastic figures, moulded into specific shapes, and as fragile as a china bouncy ball. And they were rubbish. They didn’t do anything! The Transformers in my bedroom were capable of not only being a heavily armoured robot, but also all manner of vehicles, weapons, bases and horse boxes. (Perhaps you didn’t own Optimus Prime: Pony Club Edition). Grief, even my sister’s My Little Ponies had magical scents, unique patterns, and long, luscious, brushable hair.

So there I am in the garage, with this dog-eared old box of plastic men, and the limitless expanses of my imagination. I lined them up, green on one side, tan on the other, and then sat back and watched as… absolutely nothing at all happened. I tried flicking them. I tried throwing them at the other side. Tennis ball missiles proved a brief entertainment. But in the end I was stuck with a dull, pointless game, with no imagination, or reason for playing.

Good heavens, what an enormous coincidence.

Like an infected wound, Army Men games keep spreading their green disease all around the body of gaming, somehow resisting even the newest strains of antibiotic negative reviews. This latest, some form of sequel to the equally dreadful Sarge’s Heroes. Once more you must drag yourself around in one of the most sluggish and dreary engines, playing a green lump of plastic bent on the destruction of tan-coloured lumps of plastic. It’s uninspired, it’s lazy, it’s the same as every other Army Men game ever, and there’s very little chance that it will be the last.

The days when children were expected to entertain themselves with horrid little vacuum-formed figures are long, long gone. But Steps have broken up now.


Worms Battle Pack

Let me tell you a joke.

A guy goes into a pub, sits at the bar, and orders a drink. He looks down the bar, and notices a man sitting at the end with an orange for a head. He turns to the barman and asks, “how come that guy’s got an orange for a head?”. The barman replies, “Ah, that’s quite a tale. One day that man brought into this very pub a lamp, and when he rubbed it, a magical genie appeared announcing that it would grant him three wishes.

“For his first wish he asked for a million pounds, and immediately, there before him on the bar, was a million pounds in cash. He was amazed. ‘And what is your second wish?’ asked the genie. ‘I should like the love of a beautiful woman,’ he replied, and at that very moment the door opened, and the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen came in, and the two fell instantly in love.

“‘And your third wish?’ enquired the genie. ‘For my third wish,’ he replied, ‘I should like to have an orange for a head.'”

You buy worms. You get worms. It doesn’t matter how often they may release another version – it’s essentially the same idea, the same game, but with improved graphics and a few more gimmicks. That there are so many sequels, released perennially, is testament to the quality of that idea – blowing up your opponents little annelids with all manner of heavy artillery. Very simple, and very effective.

However, the trouble here is that the bundle includes Worms 2, Worms Armageddon, and Worms World Party – three generations of the idea at once. As much as they are all justified individually, it’s hard to envisage wanting all three. Especially in light of World Party having been released recently for a tenner by Focus.


Starship Titanic

Please excuse the rather vulgar name dropping, but I had the genuine pleasure of interviewing Douglas Adams a couple of years before he died. And it was in fact conducted in order to promote the release of this very game – something I was covering for the university newspaper in my laughable capacity as Comedy Editor.

You could not have asked for a nicer man to interview. He was funny, genuine, not bothered by answering questions for the fifty millionth time, and extremely generous with it all. Although he’s been gone a while now, let’s have a few seconds silence for the late Mr Adams…

…Excellent. Now, I know it’s not nice to speak ill of the dead, but what on earth was he thinking with this dodgy adventure game? Like so much of Adams’ later work, it is absolutely bursting with good ideas, but they just can’t get themselves across to you thanks to restrictions of the format. Attempting to use the format that had made Myst so mysteriously successful, Starship Titanic is pre-rendered adventure gaming in almost all ways except for its having a sense of humour. The puzzles are as meaningless, the graphics are as shiny, and the limitations are as frustrating.

Adams had hoped to recreate the glory of his classic Hitch Hiker’s text adventure by allowing you to type in any sentence you could think of in any situation, and the game have a response prepared for you. However, despite having had a huge team of writers attempting to predict your every thought, it was never a realistic ambition, leaving you with the usual mystified responses of “I don’t understand” to almost everything you think of to say.

Adams has left much better legacies behind – put the £10 towards buying the HHGTTG radio series on CD.


Caesar III
Sold Out

My memories of Latin lessons at school are mostly of some guy called Caecilius and his various adventures. Caecilius est in hortus, for instance. The exciting adventure of Caecilius visiting the garden, before, I believe, going back inside again. I seem to remember that Mr Humphries got somewhat flustered when it got to the bit where he and his slave girl disappeared off to the cubiculum, and his wife rumbled them. And frankly, I’ve never known my dinnertime to end in quite the same way as his did. What’s the Latin for “orgy”?

Ludicrum ex machina is about the closest I can get to “computer game”. It’s probably one of the greatest shames of the last 2000 or so years that all evidence of Caesar’s computer gaming has been destroyed. Some historians believe that the last of the late Caesar’s computers went missing in the Battle of Pirranius in 22 BC – a time when many were beginning to worry about what would happen when they ran out of numbers for the date. Common thinking states that the computer was destroyed in fear of the End of Time Bug, predicted to destroy all electronic equipment as the date ticked round from 1 BC to nothing at all.

However, all evidence points towards Caesar III being the leader’s favourite in the series of games named after himself. He was particularly pleased with the enormous amount of entertainment to be gained from building up cities in a controlled and stable manner, and the option to not have to engage in the real time combat if that sort of thing didn’t take his mood, but were it to, to embrace it happily.

There are of course sequels since, including Pharaoh and Zeus, but for a fiver, if you never did before, you might as well. Hail Caesar.

And The Rest

The giant queen of budget games, Sold Out, sits in her elaborately woven nest, squeezing out more and more of her children. Worker Sold Out ants are rushing around carrying copies of new releases, taking them into your local shops. As well as the afore-mentioned, this month also sees the birth of Police Quest: SWAT 2 (£5, 54%). To be entirely honest, I rather lost track of the Police Quest series after PQ III – the one where you had to draw the pentangle linking all the murders together. I really liked that game. While SWAT 3 is a truly Good Game, version two was a sub-Rainbow attempt to jump on the bandwagon. And frankly, the complete lack of paperwork that made the original titles so distinctive is entirely missing. Madness.

Here comes another one aboard another SO ant – Warcraft: Orcs and Humans (£5, 51%). Blink. Blink. Pardon? As in Warcraft: Orcs and Humans from five hundred years ago? Yes. This ant must be lame or something. Originally reviewed in issue 12, before any of us were born, it then gained 85%. It’s probably “classic” now or something.

Novalogic are offering F-22 Lightning 3 (79%) for a fiver. It’s not about playing golf in dangerous weather conditions, unfortunately, but instead about flying in an aeroplane and shooting at other flying things. Birds, hot air balloons, witches, etc. We really are in my area of expertise here.

That’s it. Homework this month is revision, but that doesn’t mean you can get away without doing any work. The They’re Back exams are approaching more quickly than you’d think.