John Walker's Electronic House

TB 121

They’re Back 121

Finish staining those treasure maps with cold tea, find your shovel, we’re going on a hunt for Gold.

Soldier of Fortune II Gold
Previously In: PCG 110

Something’s up in Budget Land. Look back through the last few issues of Gamer, and you’ll notice that They’re Back hasn’t exactly been stuffed full of the most exciting names. And look in your shops, and you’ll notice that the shelves are hardly overflowing with riveting releases. They’ve all but dried up. Important games like Max Payne, released nearly two years ago, are still not receiving an official budget release. Wise shopping online will find you a copy of this example for the budget price of £13, but there’s been no re-release, and hence there’s been no review in here. It’s a sorry mess, and no mistake.

So instead, this month we’re going to take a look at the oft-missed Gold Editions, three of which are out in the next month, and two of which have been around a short while, but haven’t been featured here before. The prices won’t cha-ching the revolving dollar signs in your eyes, but instead the add-ons, patches, and bonuses should give you something to write operas about.

Beginning with Soldier of Fortune 2: Gold. On its original release, Soldier of Fortune 2 had the subtitle, “Double Helix”. It’s very hard to put into words the disappointment felt when it was realised that this title did not mean a departure from the previous outing’s rampant killing of foreigners, allowing room for a tribute to the scientific work of Watson and Crick and their discovery of the structure of DNA fifty years ago. It would have worked: there’s still room for conspiracy, the theft of someone else’s ideas, and a oppression of women. Wasted.

Anythough, such confusion is removed in this edition, and instead is replaced by new mods, multiplayer levels, and far more importantly, the patches that remove many of the annoying errors the game was shipped with.

The question that lies flapping on the floor however, is: Do I, esteemed reader, want to play Soldier of Fortune 2? And the answer lies somewhere inside my question to you: How realistic do you want your killing of other humans to be.

SOF2 revels in the realism. Like it’s unpleasantly racist predecessor, brown-skinned enemies (terrorists, of course, because they’re all evil) are divided up into an extraordinary number of body regions, each reacting differently when shot. Heads, shoulders, knees or toes, you can break their bones howsoever you see fit. Level design is better than most, and it’s certainly well made. But this man writing finds it all just a little too pro-American gung-ho shoot-the-darkies for his tastes.


Serious Sam Gold
Take Two
Previously In: PCG 95, 106

…What? The truth? You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth. I’ve just taken it out of the oven and you’ll burn yourself. Put those gloves on, there, behind the toaster, that’s it. Now you can handle the truth.

Serious Sam games are one of those excellent ideas that just don’t hold their own when released from their paper beginnings. Take for instance my desire to dye my hair blue. That’s a very good idea, you’ll agree. So I buy blue dye, proper stuff, permanent – if it’s a good idea today, it’ll be a good idea for as long as my hair sticks out of my head – and set to work.

The problem was, I didn’t think about the state my hair was in in the first place. It was in a purple state. Temporary purple dye. Adding all the glory of blue dye (containing peroxide) to the already purple stain, had results one could never have predicted, no matter how gosh-darned brilliant the Having Blue Hair Idea may have been in the first place.

I’m ginger.

The gosh-darned brilliant idea behind Serious Sam was to bring back the glory of when FPS’s involved shooting billions of baddies from one end of the level to the other. A brilliant idea, no doubt. However, the problem that Croteam had failed to see was that FPS’s were already purple-stained. People had never forgotten the greatness of Doom and its ilk, merely built upon its scaffolding, meaning that while an FPS may not have been frenetic as before, it was deeper, bigger, and, let’s just say it, better. Serious Sam 1 and 2’s non-stop party schlock just leave you feeling like most of the game is missing.

The Gold pack comes with both games, the usual bundle of multiplayer maps, and crucially for the price-tag, a brand new five level single player episode, “Dark Island”.

I’m trying for blue again tomorrow.


Empire Earth Gold
Previously In: PCG 104

We’ve oft discussed the problems of the way history is taught to today’s teenagers within these hallowed columns. Intriguingly, this isn’t a subject that comes up nearly as often in the rumoured ‘other magazines’ one is allegedly able to purchase on some dark market. But with our priorities neatly placed in alphabetical order (‘History lessons, Jelly tots, Wheelie chairs’), They’re Back is once again going to highlight a major flaw in the way that you, your children, perhaps your grandchildren, are being taught about the goings ons of days gone by.

The order history is taught in goes something like this: Romans, Vikings, Saxons, Middle Ages, Industrial Revolution, The Spinning Jenny, World War Two, The End. It’s not enough.

Empire Earth is a real-time strategy with ambitions wider than the gap between the rich and the poor. Throwing you into all manner of Real Life Historical Times, you begin campaigns by building up your civilisation – farming, mining, building, army-constructing – and then waging epic war with the relevant bad guys of the era. And as you play each period, the story rolls on, accurately dragging you through the years as it throws new campaign missions at you. And it’s brilliant at it. It’s gold plating includes the complete 2.0 patch, adding enormous numbers of multiplayer features, and the option to change the difficulty levels in the single player missions.

But crucially, and you’ll need to write this bit down, Empire Earth /doesn’t stop at the present day/. Later missions see you fighting with bonkers Russians, with time machines, cyborgs, and other things /that will happen/. And this, I hope, will be taken on board in the new curriculum. How are our young people today supposed to be prepared for the future, if they aren’t taught it at school? GCSE Future Studies – on its way.


Aliens Vs Predator 2: Gold
Previously In: PCG 105

The thing that really makes Aliens vs. Predator 2 stand out from the shelves, is the three dimensional nature of the box it comes in. For otherwise, this classic horror FPS series would be nothing other than a drawing on the back wall of the shop, unpickupable, and near unplayable.

The first in the long running series of two was famous for its quite ridiculous difficulty levels. Whereas most FPS’s have ‘Easy’, ‘Normal’, and ‘Difficult’, AVP had ‘Difficult’, ‘Stupid Really’, and ‘I Feel About “This” Big’. And scary? You bet your freshly poo-painted bum it was.

AVP2 had a lot to live up to. It’s parents had both been to university and were professionals, and it was expected that he would do the same; his desires to become a professional ballroom dancer ignored. If it were to receive the same sort of accolades hoisted upon the previous, it had to be hard, scary, and threatening. It had to be Ross.

Did it manage this? Yes. And, like that answer, it was over far too quickly, and lacked elaboration and extraneous details. It is a great irony, that a game made of three games in one, should be shorter than one regular game. Except of course that’s not an irony at all. Just the usual lazy journalistic misuse of the word.

Then came the inevitable mission pack, Primal Hunt, which manages to be three mission packs in one, and yet about as much fun as one mission pack divided up into three in a CD chopping machine. Since mission packs are always shorter than the original game, and since the original game was far too short, Primal hunt is shorter than far too short, which is really quite short.

AVP2 Gold contains both the sequel, and its feeble mission pack, which makes for not the best thing to spend your money on. That’s sweets.


Operation Flashpoint: Game of the Year Edition
Previously In: PCG 98, 112

Yes, I admit it, the words “Game of the Year” don’t even sound like “Gold”. If Richard Cobbett were still alive, he’d probably take this opportunity to make a joke based on “I’d give you Au for that error.”

But this is sort of like a Gold pack, honest it is. “Game of the Year Edition” is one of the most ridiculously bandied about, semi-self-appointed titles to be used as an excuse for reissuing your game at full price. I think it has something to do with an obscure website giving you some sort of prize at a trade show no one’s heard of. And Marketing.

However, let’s not get too cynical shall we now, because lookee here, it’s a bumper crop. Within the one satisfyingly cardboard box, comes not just Operation Flashpoint’s original campaign, Cold War Crisis, but also the two mission packs, Red Hammer (the Soviet campaign) and Resistance (the Physics Teacher’s campaign).

The exciting news is that nearly two years after its release, despite its /shockingly/ still not being released as a budget title, it still holds up as a great game. Visually it’s fast becoming a stinker, but I’m going to ask you to forgive it that. Because it’s got tanks in it.

The idea is to work your way up from a snivelly little army grunt, to some sort of soldier with more scout badges on his arm who’s in charge of other soldiers, doing all this will the help of your AI controlled squad.

Both the mission packs are fine additions, building up the numbers of shooty-bang sticks and drivable vehicles, and giving you new and more varied mission to complete, and all three are as realistic as war sims have ever did be. And unlike SoF2, this is an emotional and moving experience.


And The Rest

You’ll have guessed by now that there’s not really a lot to fill this corner of the world up with, but there are one or two more Gold packs that have slipped through unmentioned, back in the days when companies like SIERRA, LUCASARTS, TAKE TWO, ELECTRONIC ARTS, and GATHERING OF DEVELOPERS used to release THE OCCASIONAL TWO YEAR OLD GAME ON BUDGET. (Am I being too subtle? Next month I print their phone numbers so you can call in and complain with me).

One such is Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind Gold Pack. Morrowind was all about creating a single player fantasy world that had all the goodness of a multiplayer fantasy world, but without any of the irritating, stupid, annoyingness. I.e. No other people. Excellent starting plan, but sadly it didn’t really hold together throughout.

It works by creating a ‘living, breathing’ world, and then having a big, well written, single player storyline like you’d hope from an RPG. But it then tries to go on to have this world be so comfortable that you’ll want to carry on living in it once you’ve exhausted it of plot. Disappointingly, things are all far too mechanical, and the creation of the world has become too laboured for its own good. You can see that the backgrounds wobble, and are never quite convinced. This one comes with the expansion pack Tribunal, and costs a whopping £30. A fair 82% is awarded.

Oh no! I’ve run out of room! And I had sooooo much more to tell y