John Walker's Electronic House

TB 124

They’re Back 124 – Print Version

Ok, is everybody ready? Camera? Lighting? Right. Quiet on set please… They’re Back, take two. ACTION!

Hooligans – Storm Over Europe
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PCG 110

The battle to be controversial is getting tougher, and no one has it harder to shock than the games developers. Media that have been around for more than a couple of decades have a history of evolving levels of tolerance, meaning that what once was considered unbroadcastably shocking is now a segment on Songs of Praise. But computer games have only been here in any force since the 80’s, when such controversies were already tired. How do you go far enough in a game to gain the BBFC ’18’, get banned in Germany, and featured in a two page spread in the Daily Mail?

There’s two choices: Be phenomenally extreme and off-the-scale shocking (eg. Postal 2), or pick a subject about which people are sensitive and exploit it. Here we have an ungenius [sic] combination of the two.

The perennial controversy of football violence is a sure winner for tabloid media everywhere. How fantastic to spread the crazed violence of a drunken group across your pages, as they smash up bars, vomit in the streets, and throw glass bottles at those in opposing colours. No one’s on their side, no one is going to take a supporting stance, an audience can join together in mutual disgust at their antics. Readership up 20%, keep it up boys, see you in the European cup. It’s hard to think of a more tired and cynical subject to exploit for an attention-grabbing attempt at contention.

And so it is. /Hooligans – Storm Over Europe/ is the dismally vacuous ‘RTS’ where you control a gang of football hooligans (“Ooh, the hooligans are loose, the hooligans are loose! What if they become ruffians?”), managing their illegal actions. It’s your task to keep them interested in their ‘tasks’, ensure that they have enough alcohol and food, and supervise their destruction of the local area and fights with rival supporters. Oh, how terribly, terribly naughty. The scamps.

Such a shallow attempt to shock is embarrassing. Such a poorly made game makes it even more so. But that the game is so awful does rather raise the question: would this review be quite so scathing if they’d made a /great/ game based on the idea? Would it instead become an explanation of why the censors and Disgusted of Braintrees overreact to what is clearly meant to be irony? Is it a cynical attempt to cash-in when it’s rubbish, and a genius work of counter-culture when it’s great? Thank goodness we don’t need to worry about that. It’s awful.


The unplayable fightness of being.

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PCG 94

“Aquarium” sounds like it should be really cool. Words with “qu” always sound really cool. It could be an undersea first person shooter – the epic tale of a merman, let’s call him Hake, in a post-global warming future, uncovering a plot by the non-gilled humans to wipe out these evolutionary successors. “The gilled MUST DIE! Release the NETS!”. But the first thing you notice when starting /Aquarium/ is that it’s a game based around the management of fish tanks.

It was originally released in Japan, designed for that market by former members of the team of games gurus, /Bullfrog/. Having invented the ‘god game’ and the ‘theme game’, it was only natural that they would go on to create a title where you quite literally have some fish in some tanks. But it seems the magic that made Theme Park and Theme Hospital the extraordinary successes that they were is somehow missing on this occasion. Maybe this could have something to do with it being a game about having some fish in some tanks.

The main issue is that the gameplay is so thin on the ground. (Or perhaps thin in the water). Unlike the variety of entertainment and micro-management available in a theme park, or the potential daftness of made up diseases in a theme hospital, there just isn’t enough of an idea to build upon here. And it shows. As usual you can research in order to develop new attractions, new displays, and of course new fish with which to impress the customers. Feedback comes from thought bubbles appearing above the heads of your visitors, letting you know whether they approve of your aquatic offerings. But neither of these offer enough detail, and in the end you cannot help but be horribly aware that you’re just managing some fish in some tanks.

But as for Hake and his adventures… That could be a winner.


Black & White
EA Classics
PCG 94

People say that hindsight is 20:20. But those are dreadful people, who also say things like “it’s too cold to snow” and “so you got here then?”. Hindsight is as distorted as any other perception of our reality, and arguably more blurry than most. One said victim of our flawed view is this here Black & White.

It’s very fashionable to now condemn the game as all hype and no delivery. A two and half year build up, and it turned out to not be perfect in every minute detail. HOW DARE IT?! Banish it to the dungeons. And so on.

It’s hard to imagine what expectations people had for this most godly of the god games. The deal: you are a god, ruling over your village, communicating to them through your giant creature. The creature begins as an infant, naïve, playful, and not yet house trained, and it’s your task to bring him/her up to be the sort of minion you’d most like to bring home to your parents. Punish it when it’s bad, praise it when it’s good, and it will learn to be a good little animal. Or punish it when it’s good, praise it when it’s bad, and be in charge of your own demonic lunatic. And all the while you must manage the day-to-day lives of your people, ensure they have enough food, wood, etc, and protect them from your warring neighbours.

And for the most part, it works. Keeping your creature on the straight and narrow is not easy – often looking after your villagers can lead to neglect of your beast, and striking the balance is immensely difficult. But it seems that people were not going to be satisfied until their creature became sentient, and started writing Shakespearean literature, or something.

It isn’t perfect. But it’s about the only original idea in a good long time, and it deserves another chance.


LucasArts Entertainment Pack

Sam & Max, Full Throttle, The Dig, and Grim Fandango. Look upon them. Ignore The Dig. Now look upon them again. Doesn’t it make the world feel like a better place? Doesn’t it make you realise that no matter how crappy your life may be, at least there was Sam & Max, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango? But what’s that you cry? You remembered them a couple of months ago, didn’t have anything to play, so dug out your copy of Sam & Max, and tried to install, it, only to find that it wouldn’t work with your soundcard? Coincidence. I bring you good news.

As chronicled previously, LucasArts have noticed the problem, and have been re-releasing these classics for modern electric computers over the last year or so. This time they’ve picked four of them, and stuck them in one box, made the price extra-extra-small, and ensured they work in XP.

Sam & Max has lost exactly nothing in the many years past. The humour is still the best ever featured in any game in any genre, the writing so sharp, and the entire experience wondrous. Grim Fandango is huge, dark, and fabulous. The Dig is so…ur, let’s pretend it’s a three game boxset, ok? Good.

But the best surprise is Full Throttle. In the time since, people have only remembered it’s brevity, and the arcade sequences. But neither are a real problem. The writing, met with the voice acting, makes it one of the most remarkably atmospheric and heavily dark games, deep and engrossing. And it has bunnies.

The decision to include The Dig, and not Day of the Tentacle, is entirely unfathomable. With DOTT, this would have been the /perfect/ collection of adventure games – the four best ever adventure games that don’t have “Monkey” in their title. Without it, it’s three of the best adventure games ever, and one missing.


Tomb Raider IV
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PCG 78

Lara looked out the far window. The air was heavy, a darkness shimmering behind the clouds. She felt cloaked in a blanket of fate, never so aware of time, its passing, the ticking away of existence. Treading carefully around the fragments of her former carriage clock that lay strewn about the wooden floor of her study, she stood by the mantle and leant it her weight. The incessant beat, counting away the minutes, striking the seconds from the permanent record – it had to stop.

She’d been here before. How many times had she been here before? It was as if she were stuck in a loop, her life revolving around and around, the same sequence, never ending, never changing. And she knew she was going to go around again. But this time, this time… time. An angry kick scattered the clock’s innards further across the floor.

It was the usual deal: an artefact had been discovered, and she would inevitably have to travel around the world finding whatever it was that was needed to retrieve it, build it, destroy it, whatever. She was so sick of it all. Oh /that/ irony – the irony of so desperately wanting this circle to come to an end, but the fear that pulsed through her at the uncanny awareness that it would.

But she would do it. It was what she did, it was what she was for. The monotony that faced her, the similarity to the previous three expeditions, numbed the fear of the ending. She would enjoy herself! She knew that. Her adventures were always at least entertaining, if not ground-breaking. And she knew the challenges ahead would this time at least be more varied.

Time was so strange. More confused than the remains of her clock. This was to be the end, and yet… And yet there would be more. She gave the comfort of her house one final glance, and then awarded herself


And The Rest

Rally Championship Xtreme, Sold Out, £5, 77%. There, is that not the fastest review you’ve ever seen? And it manages to get to the end without mentioning the spelling in “Xtreme” and all the predictable jokes that would inevitably follow. I’m above that sort of nonsense now. It should probably be added that it’s a reasonably competent rallying game, with a reasonable balance of realism and arcade, and is, well, reasonable. Let’s say, The Most Reasonable Rally Game Money Can Buy. Five pounds of money, that is.

Jagged Alliance 2 – Gold is back from the past thanks to Softkey. The budget market is a fiercely competitive one, hence why it’s met by this magazine with such a dedicated and heavyweight column, and at £10 a game this old is pushing its luck. It’s an isometric collision of TBS and RPG, and is too reminiscent of X-COM to escape constant comparison. And this is a comparison it can’t really live up to. However, if you’ve already played X-COM so many times that it’s permanently burned into your frontal lobes, haunting your dreams, invading your consciousness, make it stop, make it go away, help me, help me, then there’s certainly a reasonable amount here to keep you entertained. 79%.

Also from Softkey, at their regulation £10, comes Corsairs Gold. It’s an RTS set in the sea, but it’s just not deep enough to prevent the hull scraping horribly along the bottom, springing leaks, and just sort of sitting there looking stupid. 55%

Try the veal. Thank you and goodnight.