John Walker's Electronic House

TB 123

They’re Back 123

Out with the new, and in with the old. Get them before they’re “retro”.

Crazy Taxi
PCG 112

“Alright there mate? How you doin’? Where to?… Ffffsssssss, it’s a bit further south than I’d normally go. But awite, just don’t tell the guvnor I went out my way.

‘Ere, I had that They’re Back in the back of my cab once. Lovely column.”

I have a campaign: fill the back of taxis with reading material. While the cliched driver spends the entire journey swivelled in his seat, crooked elbow earning a wedge in the worn leather cover of the back of his seat, informing you of the simple solutions to the problems of the world, the reality is never so communicative. Most cab rides are conducted in a tangible silence, the lack of conversation fizzing in the air, meaning that one finds oneself desperately reading anything and everything on the inside of that cab. But once you’ve read the meagre rules list twice through, and learned the cab driver number off by heart, it leaves little else other than to decry leaving your copy of Private Eye on the kitchen table.

This, I feel, is not such an issue when in the back of a Crazi Taxi ride. Good link, eh? No. But it must be said that the representation of the taximeter cabriolet in computer games is a little unlike the harsh reality of public transport. If our particular fictional media were to be believed, the job of driving a cab would either lead to a life of crime, a life of crime, or indeed, a life of crime.

Mafia has you trundle about a few toll paying public before anything of a story emerges. GTA III famously allows you to steal a yellow car and start earning a few extra dollars on the side. In this environment, the dangerous driving encouraged by this Sega conversion looks positively law abiding.

Picking up fares, it’s your job to get them to their destination within tight time restrictions, without driving so badly that they bail out, or you destroy your car. And it’s not more complicated than that. However, because it’s so focussed on this one task (unlike GTA III’s approach of tagging the idea on as an afterthought), it’s that much more refined. The fictional city is big and complicated, and the game’s feel is appeallingly arcady – big bright chunky colours, and driven by a desire to fire up adrenaline.

Perhaps it’s a little ugly, but decent arcade games are few and far between on the PC, so let’s not be too picky. That’ll be a tenner mate, plus tip.


Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
PCG 109

There are only about ten people in the entire world who can skateboard. It’s true. I can prove it on a graph. Oh sure, there are lots of people who /think/ they can skateboard. Each and every square metre of concrete in any city is smothered in the gravitationally challenged cretins who /think/ they can skateboard. But I have never ever, in my whole life ever, seen anyone in the street do anything other than fall off pathetically when attempting the epic two inch leap from curb to road. Which is why I support the building of all these skate parks around the country. Cage the idiots in.

All ten (or so) of those who /can/ skate can be found in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. Now, you might think with my somewhat unfriendly attitude to the scourge of street skaters, I’d be predisposed to dislike Mr Hawk and his be-boarded fellows. But you’d be wrong. It’s great. However, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 has as much to do with skate boarding as the board game of Mastermind has to do with the television programme.

Essentially, it’s the best platform game ever written. Each of the large, intricate, and complicated levels set you nine tasks to complete, requiring you to reach awkward areas, solve puzzles, work out detailed routes across miriad obstacles and collect all manner of bonuses. The four wheeled plank you manouver around on provides merely a means to an end, rather than attempting any notion of simulation. And thank goodness, otherwise ollying from a rooftop to a telephone wire, in order to clear some sticks away, before smashing through the window of a haunting house to grind the grave stones, wouldn’t really be on the menu.

It’s not worth playing without a gamepad, but it’s well worth buying a gamepad in order to play it.


The House of the Dead 2
PCG 99

I’ve got George A. Romero’s home phone number. I used to work at a radio station, and it was the sort of thing you pick up. Some experienced old hack would let you trawl their contacts list for the number of an obscure D-list celeb you’d been asked to book, and your eye would catch a name that you couldn’t resist resting upon. The man who directed Night of the Living Dead! But I’ve never dared ring it.

Obviously the House of the Dead series owes everything it is, has, and tries to be to Mr Romero and his masterful creation. Even the title is a tribute to the series of utterly, utterly terrible, yet brilliant, zombie flicks.

I even had a good reason to ring it. I didn’t just steal the number at random – I was putting together a feature on violence in media, and whether it has a genuine effect on our lives. Who better to ask than than the crowned king of schlock? But I didn’t dare.

The trouble is, THOTD 2 is an arcade game. The sort that cost £1 a go, kill you in three seconds, but let you carry on for another £1 as often as you like – so for merely £7 million, you could play it to the end. When it was released on the late, not-so-great Dreamcast, it came with an arcade-replicating light gun, meaning it played just as easily in your own home, without the hemorraging of pound coins. And then, remarkably, when released on PC, came with an actual, real life, free PC light gun. But for a fiver on budget? Ho ho, and indeed, no. And it really needs one to be worth your playing.

I mean, what would I say? “Hi, um, I’m not a stalker or anything…” No, best left as a possession, unsullied by the spoilings of a court summons.


Baldur’s Gate II
Sold Out
PCG 89

It’s a game like this that really puts the budget section into perspective. It’s all very well my telling you about Advanced Lawnmower Simulator VII being re-re-released for £13, and pointing out that while still average, at least it’s now average for less money. But when you phone the PR person to be told the release schedule for the next couple of months, and the man nonchalently throws in “Baldur’s Gate II for a fiver”, it drags you out of that melancholic daze with an impressive start.

Baldur’s Gate II for a fiver. Say it out loud. What else will five pounds buy you? Five hundred cola bottles, a Super-Dooper Sized Mega-Meal at your local Deathburger, half a ticket to see Power Toaster III at the local uberplex…

Er, actually, I’m kind of swayed by the cola bottles.

The sheer scale of BGII is breathtaking, and its pedigree is unsurpassed. It’s easy to look back on Baldur’s Gate, and take it for granted. But this is to forget the environment into which it was released. RPGs were all but dead, forgotten in a world of dazzling new first person shooters and jet-fuelled hoverboards, and it took some impressive balls, if you’ll pardon the expression, from Bioware to release something quite so epic into an unforgiving world. But it worked. And if BG reinvented the genre, BG II: Shadows of Amn reinvented that reinvention.

It is RPG perfection, giving you personality-rich player characters to welcome into your party, as you explore the enormous world and intricate story, all the time being swept along by a wonderful score.

While my preferences in gaming naturally lead me to pick out Planescape Torment for its purer story, and toning down of the RPG elements, I can’t deny that BGII is the better game. FOR FIVE POUNDS!!!


Planescape Torment
Sold Out
PCG 79

Planescape Torment for a fiver. Say it out loud. What else will five pounds buy you? Five hundred cola bottles, a Super-Dooper Sized Mega-Meal at your local Deathburger, half a ticket to see Power Toaster III at the local uberplex…

Hang on a second. I’m getting the most extraordinary sense of de ja vu. Where do I recognise this from? Oh yes, I know: I reviewed Planescape back in Ish. 101. It was ten pounds back in those days though, so certainly worth another outing with the price cut in half.

It is of course a matter of taste. Some will prefer Baldur’s Gate II for its vastly more complicated interaction, heavily accented RPG features, and piles and piles of kobolds. But some, like me for instance, will prefer Planescape Torment for its vastly less complicated interaction, faint accent of RPG features, and the distinct lack of kobolds. It’s a subtle distinction, but I think you can detect it.

My passion is story. And if I’m honest, the more complicated the access to that story, the less I find myself swept away by it. If I’m worrying about whether my dwarf is anywhere near reaching Level 34 Orange Peeling, and if my monkey potions will last out the hour, I’m not thinking about the plot. While that’s in no way a criticism of a game, it /is/ a nuance of my brain. The almsot dismissive manner in which Planescape sees characters go up in skill levels, and the plug-n-play approach to combat, means that nothing distracts from what it’s all about – the tale it wishes to tell.

I’ve always wanted to get on better with the fiddliness of RPG, and I cannot imagine how the balance could be better struck than here. Not that you care, but this is my third favourite game of all time. FOR FIVE POUNDS!!!


And The Rest

After the last few month’s desperate filling of this column, thanks to the sparsity of budget releases, this month I’m overwhelmed. It’s mostly thanks to Xplosiv’s sudden Xplosion of releases, and their current invasion of Sold Out’s £5 market. I foresee a bloody war.

From ages past comes Hexen 2 for a fiver. It was with a special kind of stupid that a forumite recently posted that Id are the most overrated games developer of all time. Having invented the first person genre, it would seem generous to credit them with at least that. Hexen 2 was one of the strange ones that while great, didn’t really move things on any. And to be honest, the graphics are so horribly shoddy that I’d be surprised if anyone could persist in playing it today. A generous 70%.

More importantly comes Homeworld Cataclysm at five pounds also. This is fine real time strategy, and only lost out a proper column on the left because I could think of a decent joke. Nor could that former Gamer hack Mark Donald when he originally reviewed it, starting “You should be able to find ‘space’ in your collection for this one. Aha.” Appalling. Thank goodness he’s far gone from the magazine. 86%.

Gabriel Knight 3 gets another budget outing, this time for five pounds. In the same way that at £30 it was a waste of £30, and at £10 it was a waste of £10, it probably wouldn’t be the best £5 you’d ever spent. 44%

Hang on… where’s Matt? Who’s that in his chair? Wha…?