John Walker's Electronic House

TB 117

They’re Back 117

If you only read two pages of your PC Gamer, then in all honesty, you aren’t getting your money’s worth.

Commandos 2: Men of Courage

Sometimes a game is just so pretty that I couldn’t care less if it’s any good or not. I couldn’t even care less whether saying this in this magazine is my sure-fire pathway to getting fired, leaving me destitute, penniless, and with nothing but the pretty games to stare at. By the way, also, in the category for game ingredients that blind my critical eye – penguins.

Commandos 2: 100%. We’re done here.

Ok, so it’s not a 100% game, but you’ll find it’s harder and harder to want to decrease that score by much when you learn that this game allows you to cross crocodile infested waters on the back of trained elephants. Penguins, crocodiles, and elephants. And none of them found in cramped zoos. And hot air balloons. And a highly trained rat.

The wonderful thing about Commandos 2, and something that isn’t wonderful about so many games that have tried to copy the original, is the vastness of opportunity within each level. Missions are set in expansive, detailed environments, with numerous tasks to solve throughout each, and there’s no series of unsubtle inevitabilities that drag you through them in a pre-defined order. You really have that wonderful feeling of freedom (ingeniously faked, of course) – letting you run wild through the fields, weaving flowers in your hair, and bullets through the internal organs of those strangely opposing your commando activities.

Another lovely aspect that makes me fill my opening review with words like “lovely”, and “wonderful”, and “game”, is the worldly-wise nature of the levels. It’s an RTS, so you’d expect to find yourself in the desert for the most part, and perhaps wander into a jungle later. You wouldn’t normally think you’d be finding yourself in Paris, South-East Asia, or the snowy wastelands of the Arctic. Said variety means you just cannot find things formulaic, repetitive, or repetitive, and the variety prevents things from becoming formulaic.

Obvious barriers include the hurdle one has to leap in order to accept the RTS into one’s spectrum of tastes, and the level of intricate micro-management of your troop’s every move, but all I can say is, start jumping over barriers. Sometimes a game’s design, passion, and sheer volume of penguins should be enough for you to sit up, take notice, and stare at the pretty pictures. I dare you.


Very pretty penguins do a good game make.

Sold Out

The last time Kingpin got a mention, since its initial release, was in /that/ poem. And to be fair, it didn’t get much of a description in there. It seems only fair that this be corrected now, to celebrate its release at a fiver:

There once was a game some called muck
Its violence caused quite a ruck
NP characters would play
With dangerous weapons all day
And had a propensity for the word… well, /all/ the words you wouldn’t want you grandmother to ice onto the top of your birthday cake, really.

Ah yes, there’s nothing like the base levels of an ultra violent FPS to bring out the limerick writing, naughty word avoiding, journalist in all of us. And when it comes to base, Kingpin has it turned all the way up to 11. (It’s a pun, pedants).

Starting weapon: Rusty old bit of pipe. Starting mission: Break people up into little pieces using a rusty old bit of pipe. Increased sophistication from this point on: No. This really is first person shooting distilled into its purest form, removing any pretence of justification for actions, storyline progression, or intricate puzzle solving. If Deus Ex thinks like Aristotle, then Kingpin would have the mentality of a nightclub bouncer after 14 pints. In fact, no matter what anything else might be, Kingpin has the mentality of a nightclub bouncer after 14 pints. Your options are, talk to someone, or kill them. And in talking, Kingpin reveals its only level of complication – you can be friendly, neutral, or hostile, and people will respond accordingly. Much like our intoxicated bouncing friend then.

Oh, and it’s lots of fun. Exploitative, morally corrupt, sexist, vulgar, and demeaning, but, lest we be so hideously pious as to pretend otherwise, it’s fun. Too short, too base, but for a fiver, a despicable outing into a world you’ll never otherwise see.


Project Eden

It’s very important to bear in mind that this isn’t The Eden Project. Buying this game and expecting to be purchasing an enormous greenhouse, full of visitors, with the potential of developing extraordinarily helpful environmental research models while making a tidy profit, is a lonely path to disillusionment. It’s also quintessential at this stage that we are entirely clear that this isn’t Eden. You’ll be sorely disappointed when the contents of the box fail to reveal a perfect, unfallen world, where God walks amongst you, and everyone walks about in the nude.

Instead, this is another chapter in the disturbingly unfocused book of Action Adventure. Such a loose title is given to games that have too many brains to be a platform game, but too much running and jumping to be God’s Own Gaming: a Proper Adventure. In Project Eden, you run and jump four different characters, all so deliberately keyed into their distinct specialise skills that you wonder it was written by a wannabe Tolkien fantasy writer. Thief, mage, barbarian and hero. Or, in this case, computer hacker, technical whiz, cyborg and, well, hero. You choose which you wish to control in order to complete a particular task, and tasks are very clearly peculiar to the skills of each. And why are you completing tasks? To enter the evil empire buried deep beneath the barren city, to investigate the disappearance of the meat people. Of course.

It’s tempting to describe Project Eden as fairly standard, because that’s how it feels. But in truth, it’s reasonably original. Due to its being developed by Core, it reeks of Croft’s perfume, but thanks to the squad-based play it does escape too many comparisons. This is puzzle solving, platform leaping, normality, dressed up in a new frock, and given some interesting shoes.



Gary Carr knows the kind of game he’s interested in making. The man formally of Bullfrog – the company responsible for Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper, Populous, and all the others I’ve forgotten (I’m deliberately ignoring Syndicate and Magic Carpet, they’d only serve to confuse) – is all about Being In Control.

With his new (well, years old now, but not exactly what you’d describe as prolific) company, Muckyfoot, Carr is continuing on with very much the same sort of thing, only he’s building on the foundation of having helped develop some of the most important games ever made. Quite a nice position then, really.

Probably his darkest secret would be his great love for Theme Hospital – a game that seemed to be developed as a sort of joke, that then got entirely out of hand by becoming ridiculously popular. I am going to argue that /Startopia/ /is/ /Theme Hospital/, realised on a far bigger scale, not set in a hospital, not looking the same, being different to play, and being set on a large space station in outer space. I didn’t say I was going to win this argument.

However, it /is/ essentially the same idea. You’ve got a large operation to manage, and many clients who wish to be looked after to the highest possible level. And you’ve got all manner of very silly ways to do this. /Hospital/ had its swollen head popping and tongue chopping machines. /Startopia/ has living fairground rides, holodromes, and Lavatrons. Oh, and hospitals with fanciful disease curing machines. I win.

This is, as the Telegraph would say, a delightful game. From the intricate details of the numerous alien races you must cater for, to the enormous selections of wacky facilities you can build, this is a rollercoaster ride in space of fun, frollicks, and something suitable for your whole family! Argh, how do I turn this Telegraph thing off now?!


Sea Monkeys
Sold Out

The PR guy at Sold Out didn’t appreciate my bursting out laughing when he proudly finished telling me the list of forthcoming releases with, “and Sea Monkeys, all for a fiver”. “Ha!” replied, “that’ll be the big seller then”, and chuckled at my own Wilde-like wit. “Uh, yeah.” He said, seemingly at once lost at how I could be wending my way down such a pathway of neurons, and also hurt that I could laugh at his new game.

It was harder because he’d listed Kingpin (see left), Severance (see And The Rest), Gunman Chronicles (see And The Rest again), and Colin McRae 2 (don’t see anything, just close your eyes, and /imagine/), and appeared to reach a crescendo (a word that Word identified from my spelling attempt: “crushendo”) with this final title. Perhaps I was meant to say, “Sea Monkeys?! You got Sea Monkeys?!?! Do you have any scars from the scuffle to wrench this title from the hands of Xplosiv or Focus?” and then shaken my head in admiring disbelief.

Sea Monkeys is, at its essence, an interactive screensaver. Inspired by the hideously unpleasant “pet” – real, alive creatures being sold in board game-like boxes – this is an opportunity to watch pink blobs float quite literally from one side of your screen, to quite literally the other. Only /quite/ literally mind. They aren’t really floating – they’re just graphics. You don’t need to fill your monitor with water. Not yet.

Made by Creature Labs, the people responsible for other glorified novelty wristwatch games like Creatures, this really is a plebeian attempt at entertaining. It’s floating pink things. There’s more entertainment to be found constructing all the flat-pack furniture I bought for my new flat yesterday. So I’ll be getting on with that hideous task, rather than reviewing this any further.


And The Rest

A quick look down the new releases leads to something akin to de-ja-vu. While this isn’t a rare thing in the world of Budget (the number of times one company will release a game a month later than the last is the bane of this column), this month it is a little more confusing as the same names are appearing next to the same companies. It seems that slippage has somehow become a part of budget gaming.

A while back, I excitedly told you that Sold Out were releasing the Half Life addition, Gunman Chronicles, and swords and blood happiness, Severance. Well, they were, but it seems they decided to hold onto them for a while. Now, all those of you who read the thrilling copy, rushed out to your store, and immediately set up camp upon discovering their missing status from the shelves, can at last begin to roll up your sleeping bags. They should be out by the time you read this, and they will, of course, be five of your pounds. Gunman Chronicles got 81%, and Severance got 89%. I guess I was being uncharacteristically generous.

While we’re clearing up mislaid titles, I hope I can enlist your help in the search for Serious Sam 2. Take Advantage said it would be October, and there aren’t too many signs of it yet. It would be a terrible tragedy if that Swiftian tribute was for nothing.

Sold Out also regurgitate Carmageddon 2 (53%) and Worms Armageddon (79%), both for five pounds. Back to the flat pack.