John Walker's Electronic House

TB 125

They’re Back 125

Try to contain your excitement. They’re only budget games. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before.

Frontline Attack: War Over Europe
Sold Out
PCG 115

I think my favourite type of balloon has to be the big red ones with (Right. That’s it. Seriously, that’s enough. I refuse to read another meaningless rant about something entirely separate from the game being reviewed, and then suffer the laboured link into what will probably be about one paragraph of semi-literate ‘criticism’. I deserve better. I have to sit here all day, reading the drivel that comes in from all over, correcting their hideous grammar, replacing their torrents of adolescent swearing, and the last thing I need is to wade through another of Walker’s brainless, so-called ‘concept’ reviews. I’m taking over.

Frontline Attack: War Over Europe is a real-time strategy game, set in World War II – Ed) “World War II”. Do you think people thought of it like that at the time? “It’s World War II, this one, isn’t it?. I think this one’s much better than the original.” “No way man! Bloody repeats.” (Stop it! Enough. FA: WOE is in the same mould as Command & Conquer, and on original release filled in the gap while people were getting excited about the forthcoming C&C Generals. During the game you get to control units such as infantry, grenade infantry, anti-tank infantry, snipers, flamethrowers, and all manner of tanks. Perhaps the major difference between Frontline and C&C is the means by which you earn your money. Instead of having to mine the 1940’s equivalent of Tiberium, cash is earned through the mines and factories you take possession of. This means instead of resource hunting, your efforts go into defending these income-generators, keeping them safe from enemy hands.

However, Frontline fails to impress, being far too similar to far too many other RTS titles we’re currently underwhelmed with. While there are small deviations from the norm (for instance, ammo is limited, and must be topped up by supply vehicles during battle), there aren’t enough to make this stand out on its own. Right, let’s see what he’s up to -Ed) underneath the chair. So I brushed it off, and ate it anyway.

Perhaps the biggest pair of pants I’ve ever owned was (Oh good grief, it’s horrible. At five pounds, if you’ve finished Generals, and never got around to playing this one, you might want to check it out. It’s not an enormous investment for what is merely an average game. -Ed) and it all spilled over the edge, and flooded the bathroom floor.


Populous: The Beginning
Sold Out
PCG 64

Peter Molyneux isn’t God. While at first glance it can be a little confusing, eventually you’ll notice differences, such as Peter’s complete failure to be omniscient. However, he /did/ invent the god game, so you can see why these mistakes happen.

Back in 1923, the young Bullfrog company appeared cheeky-faced with happy-go-lucky enthusiasm, and gave the world a game called Populous. The idea was, you were a god, and it was your job to manipulate the world in your interests. I seem to remember this involving spending endless hours trying to raise and lower isometric cubes of land up and down, in an attempt to get something like a flat surface against all the laws of perspective, and then some tiny men dancing and building you shrines. (Hang on a second… I’m sure this reminds me of something. COUGHBlackAndWhiteCOUGH). But at the time, it was revolutionary. Not literally – it was isometric. But it changed everything, and opened the doorway on a whole new genre.

Years and years later, the fragmented remains of a dismembered Bullfrog team wheezed out a third game in the series, before dying horribly in the fetid EA grave. This is the game that you read about now.

It wasn’t very good. Everyone thought it was at the time, but they were all too scared to criticise a Bullfrog game. Even the first Bullfrog game not to have had Molyneux at the helm. The theory is the same – be god to your minions, arrange the land so they can build and live, and worship you. But what had changed was the inclusion of the oh-so fashionable episodic level design. This meant as soon as you had settled in with your land, and got to like your crowd, you’d have completed the set task, and the stupid game wouldn’t let you carry on.

Black and White does everything Populous: The Beginning tried to do, only 57 times better.


Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit
Sold Out
PCG 63

It’s time for a confession. I was pulled over by the police. It’s shocking, I know. Can I still be trusted? Are these previously-thought-to-be reliable reviews the work of a brazen criminal? Well, yes, it seems that way.

My crime: one of my headlights was out. But fortunately, my complete loss of self control, my wanton disregard for the laws of our highways and byways, was nipped in the bud by Britain’s remarkable motorised police force. At 2.30 am, on a cold November night, they brought an end to my crime spree. Britain was once again safe from my lazy-eyed car lighting. But next time… next time they won’t be so lucky.

The reason for my mastermind-like confidence? Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit. Not only does the third in EA’s driving series allow me to practise driving a car whilst being chased by the cops, but it also allows me to play as the cops, so I can Get Into Their Minds.

It contains all the usual elements you’d expect to find in a driving game – various race modes, a selection of super-swishy cars to drive, and the ability to unlock routes through impressive play. And then added to the top, like a rather fabulous cherry, is the ‘hot pursuit’ mode. You either adopt the car of a naughty scamp, given the challenge of beating your single opponent in a race across town, receiving no more than two tickets from the police. Or if you want a tougher time of it, you play the rozzers, pulling over all those loveable rogues.

It’s all a bit crusty at the edges, thanks to the cruelties of that old wench Time, though still manages to be reasonably pretty. The weather effects are cool, and the cars are shiny, and it’s remarkably cheap for a decent driving game.


Adventure Pinball: Forgotten Island
Sold Out
PCG 96

As we all well know, the problem with pinball games on the computer, is that they’re stupid. A pinball machine is something you play on for ten minutes while waiting for your bowling lane to become free – not something you wish to invest £20 in (as Adventure Pinball cost on release) and play for the rest of your live-long days. If it suddenly became the height of cool to buy and own your own full-sized pinball table, displayed proudly in your lounge, then yes, I could begin to tolerate their replication on the PC.

But wait a cotton-picking, pinball-flicking minute. What on the billy-o is this here? Adventure Pinball – why, you’re no ordinary pinball simulator! You’re… you’re… different!

It’s enormous. This isn’t the usual lacklustre effort of a couple of vaguely themed tables, with the license-logo embossed in the background. (Yes, look ashamed Kiss Pinball). This is a pinball table designed with the Unreal engine.

In Adventure Pinball: Forgotten Island, you, your flippers, and your small metal ball, are going on an adventure. Tables are more like levels, with large sections that can be opened up through solving puzzles, extra bonus areas reached through skilful play, and elaborately complicated sequences of events that must be followed in order to reach later tables. It’s a whole new angle on the idea, and if only it had been done a bit better, it could have started some waves.

It’s let down by some occasionally shoddy physics, and a difficulty curve that is more like a difficulty right-angle. There’s something about the Unreal engine, that while immensely pretty, doesn’t lend itself to the required bouncing accuracy necessary in a pinball sim.

But now the trend must be reversed. I want to start seeing Real Life pinball tables, with enormous sub-sections, overblown puzzles and animated frogs. And I want it to take up whole rooms.


Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2
Sold Out
PCG 110

We may fear the vampire, and we’d be right to do so – they’re demons possessing the bodies of the dead, intent on murdering and eating anything that comes near them. They’re evil, hateful, and entirely without conscience. But still, you’ve got to feel sorry for them, haven’t you?

Imagine it, that overpowering need to drink their fix, the craving, the hurts and anguish when they can’t feed. The addiction, the necessity, the /lust/ for that elixir. To be so locked in, tied to eternity, required to consume in order to not feel the pain. Oh, sorry, excuse me a moment, I’m just getting another mug of coffee.

There, back. (Do you see what I did there?) And such is the battle fought by our eponymous hero Kain. He’s a vampire, he has the blood-lust, but he has no desire to kill the innocent wickle humans. He’s a good vampire. He’s rubbish.

Being immortal, Kain can’t die in Blood Omen 2. Instead, when his energy is all gone, he slips into another realm, where he can restock on the floaty blue stuff that tends to hang around in other realms. However, the inability to die is possibly the most despair-inducing factor of this dreadful console conversion.

Controls are horribly awkward, involving clunking around, fighting what happens to be directly in front of you, if the useless camera deigns to offer you a perspective that allows you to see what on earth is going on. The puzzles are not puzzling, the fights are not frightening, and the building levels are not building levelling. (You only pay £5 or £6 pounds for this magazine, and you get wordplay like that. You’d better be grateful).

Yet another dodgy console conversion to add to the pile. Please add your own lame vampire pun here.


And The Rest

Well, we say “AND THE REST” but what we mean is, “AND THE OTHER ONE”. Yet another lonely month goes by, when the only people who will come ’round to my house to play are Sold Out. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when Sold Out comes ’round, but they do that every month. We get on and everything, but occasionally I might want to swap collectible cards with Focus, or have a game of Scrabble with Xplosiv. (They’re very good, but sometimes I think they’re making up some of the higher scoring words).

But as you can see, my only company was those prolific boys at SO. And their final offer this month is yet another budget release of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. This time for a very generous fiver, you can play one of the greatest strategy games ever made. And obviously, when I say “one of the greatest”, I really mean it. When originally released, it was in direct competition with the only-very-slightly better Civ: Call To Power, amidst all the fun of an intellectual property court battle. Such jolly times. And of course since then, we’ve seen the official third installment of the series, and we’ve seen it use the previous incarnations as ragged old dishcloths. But still, it’s great, it’s huge, it’s cheap and it’s 91%.

They’re Back was brought to you by the letters T and B, and the number 6.