John Walker's Electronic House

TB 122

They’re Back 122

Back once again like the Mr Man plaster, price goes down, flowers to the people.

Empire of the Ants
PCG 85

A guide to the nature of They’re Back. #913 PLAGERISM

A very important part of the They’re Back process, that goes on almost entirely behind the scenes, is the ‘checking I’m not about to do the same jokes as someone else, or at least disguising them well enough so it looks as though I’m not’ stage.

I’ll look at the game I’m about to review, think of all the intricately clever angles I could take, and then go back and read the original review to see if someone beat me to it. It goes something like this:

Empire of the Ants. Hmmmm, ants. Well, there’s always the ‘pun’ approach – ant- is the beginning of so much guaranteed hilarity. Darn it, Kieron did “Anticlimax”. Right, well there’s going down the route of pointing out how I was going to do biology at university… No! Surely not! It’s his opening gambit. Hang on, hang on, I can do this…

I’ve got it! This is an RTS about looking after a colony of ants. You’ve got to manage them throughout the year, and a big part of that includes surviving the winter… This is more than an angle – this is a full-blown, Ross-annoying, concept review! I can write a spoof of the legend, The Ant and the Grasshopper!

The utter result of dubious parentage. It’s honestly true. That was my plan. But in one, /throwaway/ line, Mr Gillen made reference to “if you’ve done the fairytale-grasshopper thing…”, thus stamping the entire contents of my comedy cupboard well past their best before date.

So instead I’ll resort to a plain telling of how this insect sim is rather average, and that although it’s a well executed idea, it doesn’t deliver anything of the necessary complexity or depth to match its larger scaled genre buddies. Commands are un-take-back-able, meaning that it’s far too easy to lose in the heat of battle, and it does rather seem that the novelty of the project overtook the developer’s focus, when attention should have been diverted to much greater quality control. It’s fun, and certainly entreatingly alternative, but just not… well, that great.

And as I write, the comic ending to this review was going to be the desperate employing of a mention of a kettle of boiling water, hence saving the day in the last few words. But no, he did that one too! Damn his eyes.


Comanche 4
PCG 105

Helicopters just don’t seem to have the grace, shape, or fear-invoking sleekness that aeroplanes can muster. The truth is, a helicopter looks most at home when it’s at a school fete, offering fifteen minute trips to lollipop encrusted children and their overpaid parents, for the mere sum of £250. All those spinning parts, on top, and on the back… it just all looks so unsafe to me. I want my missile deploying air beasts to have /wings/ dammit.

Of course the great advantage of a helicopter is that it doesn’t require a couple of miles of beautifully tarmaced road to launch itself from the ground, but instead can spring up from wherever it’s been sitting; and unlike the plane equivalent, the Harrier, it doesn’t reduce nearby buildings to rubble in the process of doing so.

So it’s no wonder that the Comanche series has been so successful for so long. This was originally released at the beginning of last year, and its precursor, part 3, was way back when in ish 42, when the world was young. And there have been no decent chopper sims between them to challenge for the almost entirely uncoveted title of Best Helicopter Game.

So if you want a game in which you fly a helicopter and shoot at things, it’s very hard to recommend anything else. However, the question remains: do you want to fly a helicopter and shoot at things? This isn’t an accurate flight simulation, instead laying the emphasis on the action leading to almost FPS controls and style. So it’s not going to meet the needs of the hardcore sim fans out there. But then it’s got all the complications of flying helicopters getting in the way of the action, so shall miss the desires of the action-head. If your wishes lie somewhere in between, then I can’t recommend this enough.


Arcade Collection
Empire Interactive
PCG n/a

It’s time for another of our regular feature: Mocking the Idiot Press Releases. (Waits for the applause to die down).

For some reason, those who work in PR seem to have the inescapable conviction that if they use enough hyperbole, even the most appalling games will impossibly win a rave review. To give you some idea of the quality level before we begin our belittling, here are this bundle’s beauties: Virtua Fighter 2, Sonic 3D, Virtua Cop 2, Virtua Tennis, and Sega Rally Championship. One game worth getting (Tennis) and that’s already out for a tenner, and was reviewed in TB 119.

Right. So here we go.

“Warning: these bumper packs will literally sell quicker than you can say 14.99!”

Ignoring the gross grammatical ugliness of “quicker”, we’re going to focus on “literally”. Literally? Really? (Being generous, I’m going to pretend that they aren’t clearly insinuating that /all/ of the copies would sell in this time, and instead only one).

Here’s the problem: In order for the statement to be true, the transaction between the customer and the shop assistant would have to be completed in the time it took one of them to say “Fourteen ninety nine”. But surely, in any purchasing interaction, an inherent /portion/ of the event would be the salesman’s saying “that’ll be fourteen ninety nine please”, thereby reducing the claim to rubble immediately. You’d have to have exactly £14.99 in change (ten pound note, four pound coins, one fifty pence coin, two twenties, a five and two two pees) in your hand, but even then the printing of the receipt would surely outlast the time limit?

Oh, and apparently each box comes with a limited edition Sega sticker collection, which is “adding even more ‘collectability’ and value to the pack”. That one’s all yours.


Carmageddon TDR 2000
Sold Out
PCG 87

Oooh, look at me everyone, I’m so naughty. “[b]POO POO![/b]” See?! I shouted “poo poo” in an international best selling magazine. See how I don’t care about the rules? I’m a renegade. A lone journalist, writing wherever I please, and whatever I please, and I don’t care who I upset along the way. You know why? Because I’m just so terribly, terribly naughty.

Like in some ghastly film from the Richard Curtis sausage factory, when the awfully posh lead lady ‘just can’t take it any more’, and in a moment of crazed letting loose spits out “crap”, and then puts her hand over her mouth as she giggles with the delightfully rebellious madness of the moment, Carmageddon now looks embarrassingly out of touch. It’s hard to explain why six years ago it was so interesting to have a game that ‘broke’ the rules by allowing the wanton murder of innocent civilians as a point-scoring opportunity, but how now we look upon it with part disgust, and part scorn at the timidity of it all.

When developing this, the third in the series, the developers managed to programme blinkered-eyed from the development in arcade racers, leaving out all that had made Midtown Madness and Driver the popular successes they were, and instead thought that their ‘gag’ was going to keep carrying them through. Get challenged by the censors, slap on the all-important red 18, and then oh-so-mischievously release the gore-improving patch over the internet, and the school boy inside each of us (including the girls) would not be able to resist being in on the joke. But of course that wore thin with part two, and TDR 2000 just looks sad.

Of course, I do hope the Hypocrite Siren has been set off in the minds of all those currently lauding GTA III as the Greatest Moment Of Gaming History. DMA, you’ve only got a couple of years until that bubble bursts.


Rock Manager
PCG 107

I suppose the supreme irony here is that Rock Manager manages to provide nothing of the realism of managing a rock band, while the real life counterpart is now more like playing a management game than any form of art.

People are oft cynical about cynicism. The disgust with which people put down the ‘manufactured’ band is so full of venom and vitriol that it inspires others to suppose they must be bitter, jealous, or just plain mean, and hence there must surely be /some/ art to the business? There’s not. You can trust me.

Albums are written before the band members are hired, choreography is prioritised above vocal training, and tours are a means to sell albums, not a way to meet the cry of the fans. The managers see their projects as merely that, and as soon as a member shows weakness, they are gone, replaced, or the band is dismantled without ceremony. Success is a measure of potential marketing opportunities. Failure is a budgeted loss. It’s possible to imagine the big boss sat at his computer making said decisions with the click of a mouse, and much like the luxury of football management sims – never having to sit through the match – they need never actually listen to any of the pre-packaged, artificially coloured, three minutes of dirge that is currently rotting the charts from the inside out.

However, Rock Manager employs none of this hard-edged disinterest, and instead attempts to form a cartoony carton in which too many disparate ideas rattle around. Over-short, in-cohesive and lazily designed, Rock Manager manages to be more like the bands it should have been trying to mock, rather than a pleasingly cynical pastiche of the slow, painful death of the music industry we’re currently witnessing.


And The Rest

Rival Realms was developed long, long ago, in Romania, by a company called Activ Pub. For me this can only conjure up the image of a hostelry which our budgety friends Xplosiv would frequent, delightedly sloshing their foaming ales as they laugh out loud at the blatant ignoring of essential vowels. Before remembering that Romania is where Dracula lives, and we all know what happens to people who drink frothy beverages from homely taverns there. Run Xplosiv! Run! You’re going to dieeeeeeeeee. Except of course, they’re not, because believe it or not, Rival Realms isn’t even an Xplosiv title, and I’m risking incurring their hot-tempered wrath all over again for no real reason. Instead it’s out from their arch-rivals, Sold Out, so perhaps his free and pointless advertising shall appease them.

Erm, Rival Realms is and RTS that was released the same month as Baldur’s Gate, which is horrible bad luck. And as such its mediocrity won it no true friends then, and probably no new ones now. But only £5, and a comely 66%.

Focus have the mysteriously named IL-2 for a tenner. It was Game of the Month a year ago, and is a flight sim, meaning you can expect my usual in-depth insight and dissective analysis: er, eeeeaaaarrnneeeauuuuuu, bang! bang! wooooooooooooooooo, KABLOOM! Russian plane combat, and I’m led to believe, extremely good. For ten pounds, even better. 89% in fact.

And with that, we wind down the shutters, close the lights, and pack up the windows for another They’re Back. Sleep tight children, sleep tight.