John Walker's Electronic House

TB 114

They’re Back 114

Summer’s here, and with it comes crappy weather, crappy television, and crappy budget releases. Roll on Autumn.

Codename Outbreak
Sold Out

It’s a sad month when the only new release that’s worth mentioning scores in the 70s. In the busy vying for First Review, the scribbled names on my piece of paper ( would usually be boasting of their most-recentness, previous high scores, and notoriety. Good grief, look at last month’s list of names: RTCW, Quake 3, Giants, Fallout Radioactive, and MDK II. The paper fight was terrifying. RTCW won out when all the others starting banging on about Nazis, and Godwin’s Law confused everyone.

But this month we are left with Mr Average’s Shooting At Some Aliens. Wee.

CO is a cavalcade of almost. Rather than attempting to come up with an original story idea, it instead embraces the biggest cliché available in the hope of perhaps being a little ironic – aliens have invaded earth, and your job is to make them change their minds about that. The approach to play is intriguing, having you control not a single character, nor a squad, but the rather odd number of two people. The problem is it’s hard to understand why it’s a good idea. You control one character in games because you are, dear reader, in the main, one person. It’s an empathy thing. Then there’s that whole squad thing because people like to be all things to all people, and realism forced that to need all manner of differently skilled player characters. But I’ve never been sold on the single player squad game. Games like Hidden & Dangerous always leave me feeling like a puppeteer pulling along a bunch of characters by the same set of strings. But two? Why should one person want to be two people?

This all is solved by the fabulous feature allowing you to play in tandem with another real life human being friend via the unimaginable magic of the internet. This is an idea that has so many legs, centipedes get envious. How huge is the potential of a game that requires two people to complete, that you can only get through alongside your buddy? The extra dimensions possible in puzzle solving are mind-boggling.

Sadly, CO does none of those things. It’s just a very normal FPS with the two people twist. It contains all the contemporary features like sniping and stealth, but messes up the balance of enemy use of such techniques. And is overall just very normal. It’s a tough world in budget, and normal ain’t good enough.


At £5, worth getting to fill in the gap until the next game comes out.

Railroad Tycoon II: Platinum Edition
Take Two

Oh, it’s all getting far too confusing. Bear with me, we can figure this all out.

Railroad Tycoon came out, what, five million years ago, and it was a very original idea that people liked lots and lots. Then came Railroad Tycoon II, and people found it to be even better. Rave reviews, happy players, many improvements upon the previous while maintaining the things that made it magic. Then there was Railroad Tycoon II: The Second Century – more than the average mission pack, it elaborated on the formula of the sequel, creating far more complex scenarios and challenges.

Then there was something called Railroad Tycoon II Gold. It gets a bit more confusing here. It contained Railroad Tycoon II, The Second Century, and twelve new scenarios from PopTop software, as well as the strategy guides for the two releases in an html format.

So it’s been released a lot. There were then budget releases of all of the above at various prices, from various companies, almost as frequently as Unreal. So it seemed by this point that there couldn’t be more versions lurking in that murky section at the back of your shop.

So now it’s Platinum. What’s inside, you ask? Well, it would be Railroad Tycoon, Railroad Tycoon II, Railroad Tycoon II: The Second Century, and all the extras that Railroad Tycoon II Gold had added. And then some.

Thrown in now are FIFTY brand new scenarios, created by PopTop themselves, along with, probably most strangely, over two hours of music. Making this probably the most complicated of budget releases you can buy. A sort of Chinese Doll of gaming.

Most importantly, it’s still the Railroad Tycoon you loved, but in this form containing more extras than you could hope to wade through in what remains of your lifetime. Shame it’s about laying train tracks.


Jimmy White’s Cueball World
Sold Out

Poor old Jimmy White. In a sport almost entirely populated by Brits, he was the one who consistently maintained that proper, British, approach to such things – he lost all the time. Others like Hendry, O’Sullivan, and whoever this new, younger flibbertigibbets are, spoiled everything by winning all over the place, in a grotesque display of unpatriotic behaviour. At least there will always be Jimmy White and Tim Henman demonstrating the correct way of going about UK sport: being absolutely useless and yet commanding hordes of cretinous fans.

To be fair, unlike Henman, at least White used to win the very occasional championship. Has there been a Tim Henman’s Tennis yet? It would save an awful lot of programming time, since you’d never have to code anything beyond the second round of any tournament.

Snooker though. I think that’s what this is all about. That most outlandish of sports, famous for its loose cars, fast woman, and exotic locations… Well, perhaps in a couple of player’s private lives, but these certainly aren’t things that immediately spring to mind. It’s usually more smoky clubs, red carpeted walls, and that really fat guy who always seems to be in the audience. And yet it’s the former fancier elements that this latest incarnation of White’s world are made of.

It might be just me, but I’ve never thought that the one thing a beautiful golden beach might be missing is a snooker table. And I’m not convinced that Stone Henge needed one. Nor the middle of the sea. But it is to these bizarre and somewhat pointless environs that JWCW delivers you, as you rise the ranks, beat-em-up style.

All the physics you’d expect from snooker games genius Archer MacLean are here, and they are the best he’s ever tweaked them to be, but for no real reason, they are put into a completely daft snooker, pool and billiards sim.


The Settlers IV Gold

Oh no, not again. It’s far too confusing with all these precious metals being added to games. I’m implementing a new rule: if you add “Gold” to your game’s name, you have to at least write the title in gold leaf, if not include ingots inside the box. Goodness knows what happens to Railroad Platinum – can you get lumps of platinum?

As soon as this rule is fully enforced, I think it’s safe to say we can look forward to titles such as, Doom III: Clay Edition, Hidden & Dangerous 2 Soil, and Half Life 2: Cardboard. It’s also safe to say that there are probably much funnier punchlines to that setup, but I’m far too tired and depressed by the lack of any decent budget titles this month to think of them.

Settlers IV Gold was where we began I believe. It’s kind of hard to know why they keep making more of these. It’s not as if they change much. It’s always the exact same process of farming and mining and building and making armies to beat other computer controlled communities to do the same. A new version will include a couple of extra vocations, and tidier graphics, but beyond that it’s hard to know why they bother.

Where the Railroad pack contains all manner of extras, bonuses, and goodies, Settlers IV Gold boasts the bizarre oddities of ICQ and Winamp skins (presumably aimed at people who are /stalking/ the game, rather than just playing it), and something entitled the “Smack-a-thief” mini game. In fairness, there are also both of the mission discs that have come out, so it is a proper re-release after all. But it’s easy to see why this gets “gold” when Railroad gets “platinum”. And at £30… pushing luck.


Take Two

I have a lot of potential as an evil dictator. First of all, I’m generally right whereas everyone else seem to spend the majority of their time being wrong. Secondly, my being right is far more helpful than other people’s being wrong, and it would certainly be beneficial to the population in general if their wrongness was replaced by my rightness. And after previous attempts to institute this, it seems that violent force is the only way things will move forward at an acceptable pace. In time, fools, in time.

In fact, the main flaw with Tropico is that it doesn’t provide the opportunity to be a truly evil dictator, and still succeed. Admittedly, nor does real life, but since when did realism ever impose any rules upon our gaming world? There should be a game that allows you to be as contrary and unfair as possible. The more ill founded and blind your decisions, the higher you score. The more evil and self-serving you become, the greater the rewards in gameplay. It’s disappointing that Tropico doesn’t let you do this.

Or perhaps you aren’t a despot in waiting like myself. Perhaps you want a management game of a tropical island where despite not being entirely law-abiding, reasonable treatment of your politically aware citizens is required to prevent coups and civil uprising. And then perhaps Tropico is the game for you. Similar in many ways to Settlers (and also to next month’s They’re Back’s Stronghold), it is about civilisation building, but with a far more political edge. If you’re thinking “Cuba”, you’re on the right track.

It’s all from the clever minds at PopTop, who brought you the aforementioned Railroad Tycoon goodies, and in fact is written with an enhanced Railroad Tycoon II engine (now with a patch to smooth out issues), and as a modern strategy game, does everything you’d want, but without being remarkable.


And The Rest

Oh dear. You’ve no idea the struggle to find anything worth writing about this month. I’m really wishing I hadn’t thrown away such great titles as Sacrifice, Ground Control and Gunman Chronicles in /And The Rest/ last month. How like the ignorant grasshopper I was, throwing my big name budget games around as if they would last forever. How I wish I was like the wise ant, who would have thought ahead, and kept such names in a large nest, ready for the long, cold summer months.

The best I’ve got is Magic & Mayhem: The Art of Magic (£5, 55%) from Sold Out. It gets filed under “Action Strategy”, which means it isn’t quite an RPG, nor really an RTS, but instead stuck in the no man’s land between the two. It’s dull and boring adventuring through dull and boring worlds, which in a universe containing Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment, has no need to exist. It really isn’t that bad, but there’s just so much more out there that it’s silly of you to play it.

After that, I’m not sure what to tell you. Sold Out have something called KAO: The Kangaroo. I’ve no idea – honestly. I didn’t get a copy of it, and I’m not sure that I would want to. Hey, it might be brilliant! If you can spare a fiver, find out and let me know.