John Walker's Electronic House

TB 127

They’re Back 127

Hunt the neophiles down. Shoot them. They are your enemy. They must be stopped.

Shogun: Total War: Warlords Edition
Sold Out
PCG 82

Pacifism does rather lead one to not find too much awe in the art of war. Generating a level of respect for the obliteration of a large mass of life forms leans somewhat in a counter-opinionated direction to that of the average peacenik. Shogun: Total War makes a hypocrite of the best of us.

The chase cut to: it’s awesome. On its day of original release there was nothing else that could begin to compare with the sleek glide from its turn-based strategic land conquering into massive-scale real-time battle scenes. It offers literally thousands of troops on screen at any time, each commanded in squads, each behaving truly to their historical sources. (The past-tense proviso at the beginning of that there sentence exists only because there has of course been Medieval: Total War in the years since).

When it comes to deaths on an enormous scale, no race has achieved this with the style of the ancient Japanese. The technique, the movement, the style – it’s all something that confuses the brain of the anti-war-ite with its sheer beauty. It could possibly be speculated that to actually be on the grassy plains, spears jutting out of your person at various points, blood falling out of you like a slightly disturbing waterfall, it might not hold its aesthetic appeal. But from a top-down gamer’s viewpoint, such personal angst can be safely avoided.

Obviously this sense of respect comes from the inherent understanding of honour and nobility amongst the peoples of these battles, and the remarkable achievement of Creative Assembly is having conveyed this notion in a game.

Battle tactics are the very centre of all victories – sounds fairly obvious, but if we’re honest, so many strategy games don’t ever achieve this. Each type of unit is useful to you in the right circumstances, and a hindrance in the wrong, further influenced by the terrain, numbers, and conditions. Simply put, you’re going to learn an awful lot about how to fight a five hundred year old Japanese conflict. Or you’re going to lose.

This Sold Out budget release is the Warlords Edition – the version with the later add-on pack, Mongol Invasion, thrown in. Don’t underestimate the significance of this inclusion. This pack added many improvements to the original, as well as being a whole new set of missions, both single and multiplayer – a whole new game in itself. Just own this.


Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX + Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
PCG 107 & 92

Cap on backwards, jeans twenty seven sizes too big, Wu-Tang Clan hoodie over Nirvana t-shirt. Yes, that’s right, I’m three years out of date in my patronizing representation of a skating/biking teenager.

But these activities are important – it’s the closest the white boy will ever get to being “street”; each artefact, each attitude, each vocabulary, a poor emulation of African-American Black street culture. Forgive them this – forgive their slightly confused look, their worrying wispy sideburns, their inability to jump from street to curb – they have no other culture, they have no other identity, and it’s thanks to the bland soup of mediocrity generated by their parent’s generation.

Hence the enormous success and popularity of Neversoft’s releases on Activision’s O2 label. While there have been innumerous attempts to copy this style of game (usually with some sort of oval design on the front of the box in a sad attempt to be mistaken for the real thing), it seems that it’s only Neversoft who can get it right. And very right get it they do. Whether skating with Mr Hawk and all his lovely four wheeled friends, or BMXing with Mr Hoffman and company, there is a precise and remarkable balance of simulation, and a complete disregard for simulation. Cunning. Essentially, you get on your impractical vehicle of choice, learn the essential controls, and then defy gravity in a series of increasingly ridiculous, and highly entertaining, platform-filled arenas.

There are of course myriad niggles therein, many of which have been ironed out in later incarnations of both series. But perhaps more pertinent to alert you to are the awkward controls. In all honesty, these are console games that the PC is reproducing. Mice and keyboards fall short of this task, and it will be well worth either getting yourself a PC gamepad, or naughtily getting a converter for a far superior PS2 controller.


Incoming Forces
Sold Out
PCG 106

So strong is our belief that we are on the Right Side in every war, it is almost inconceivable to create a science fiction scenario in which the humans are the bad guys, the alien race innocent and at the end of our trigger-happy lunacy. Quite why such an extraordinarily naïve attitude holds so dominant in our fiction is a mystery – we are endlessly violent as a race, seemingly without limit to our incredulous stupidity, inevitably killing anything that we don’t quite understand on first glance. Aside from the much misunderstood Starship Troopers, large-scale alien warfare has the humans firmly on the side of Good.

It seems a terrible shame that it was Incoming Forces that thought to have the humans be the baddies, and not a game that was, say, good. Not exactly a sequel to Rage’s previous Incoming, Incoming Forces is more of an evolution of the idea. That idea being to shoot at shiny spaceships, floaty boats and the like, in a variety of first person vessels. Occasionally this means flying through the air, or driving along the ground, and sometimes even fixed in one position in some sort of turret affair.

Trouble is, it isn’t that interesting. There are 16 of these levels, asking you to do the usual – escort a ship somewhere, defend a base, make dinner for eight at an hour’s notice – with save points scattered throughout. Sadly, these points are not well placed, getting it so wrong in a way that, say, the PS2’s Ratchet and Clank gets it so right. And even ignoring this, it just isn’t that interesting. It’s a sort of averageness that generates apathy, rather than any form of scorn or similar. The sort of apathy that makes it very hard to be bothered to write about any more.


Hostile Waters
Sold Out
PCG 93

Nothing will make the brown colour in my toilet go away. I’ve tried bleach, various brands of wildfowl inspired chemicals, scrubbing, even flushing. It appears to be permanently stained with what I pray is some sort of rust, and not anything more sinister. It’s not my personal aesthetic tastes in question, it’s my fear of what people will think when they come to my flat, use my toilet, and see my… hostile waters.

It’s been ages since I’ve done that.

Occasionally we get so bogged down (stop it! I’m killing me!) in our determinism for realism that we forget the joy of arcade. The shocking truth is that it really doesn’t matter if the images on our screen don’t cause us to wonder if we’re watching a live television feed of actual events. We’re all capable of suspending our belief in the real if the payback is a whole big pile of fun. Hostile Waters puts you in charge of a big warship, and then has you generate all sorts of other vehicles that do the important blowing up work. You can control these yourself, or issue them orders – yes indeed, this is real-time arcade happiness.

There’s a lot that makes it different – makes it stand out above its peers – and the frenetic arcade action is a big one. Another is the plot. Written by Warren Ellis. Oh yes. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea who he was if Kieron Gillen hadn’t led me by the hand to a comic shop, and placed a copy of Transmetropolitan into my grip. But now I know, so now I can express to you quite how significant it is that this most important of comic writers has had a hand in the dark story of Hostile Waters. Highly recommended in so many different directions.


Pearl Harbour: Strike At Dawn
PCG 99

It was with the very lowest stooping lack of respect to historical accuracy and those involved that films like Titanic and Pearl Harbour invented love interests as some sort of justification for their big-budget screen incarnations. As if the events themselves don’t warrant the attention without some fawning idiot-eyed pretty-boy slobbering all over a sheer-material dressed, perma-fainting girliewirly.

It is with further laziness and tiresome tie-in boat-jumping-on, bandwagon-riding, dollar-signs-in-the-eyes greediness that a slew of extremely poor PC games tend to follow. This is just one of them.

Admittedly there’s no love triangle here, and for that I want each and every one of you to stand on a chair and say thank you. But there’s not much else here either. This is flight simulation at its most shallow, with poor physics, terrible playability, and over sensitive controls. (I called them “a bit rubbish” and they ran off and cried for more than an hour).

So in future, what shall we see? Perchance the extraordinary achievement of a seven year old girl overcoming her weak knee to win the ballet contest during the invasion of Iraq? The meeting of two young lovers over the battle plans for the bombing of Hiroshima? And each with their own spin-off computer game. That’s a point – where’s the H-Bomb dropping simulators, eh?

Blimey, I’m not sure what else to tell you about this. It contains realistically designed aircraft, and lets you climb the ranks as time goes by (letting you play in not just the specific eponymous incident, but events in the Pacific area from 1941 to 1945). That’s it. Um. Why don’t you try thinking of your own historical tragedy, choose an inappropriate and insensitive human tale to crowbar in, and then a game that might come out of it. Then pretend I wrote it and laugh at how witty I am.


And The Rest

For the first time in as long as I can remember (four days) I’ve got enough games to fill this column. So let me start it by talking about something else.

Last month we all got excited about the £5 release of Tomb Raider: Chronicles. However, since going to press, Sold Out have decided to hold it back until next year. Sorry about any confusion. As for the mystery surrounding what happened to Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, as much as Sold Out wanted to release them, Virgin changed their minds, and there budget release has been suspended indefinitely.

However, hopefully they /will/ be releasing Hitman: Codename 47 for a fiver. Although the subject of some controversy regarding its quality, it really isn’t very good. At five pounds it’s somewhat better, but not much. 52%.

Xplosiv, awaking from their hibernation, are also giving us the decrepit Zork: Grand Inquisitor, from 78 issues ago. It’s beyond old, and not worth a fiver. 40%.

And finally, front Xplosiv also, is the double-pack of Combat Flight Simulator and Crimson Skies. Two very competent flight sims, the former significantly older than the latter. At £10, this isn’t a brilliant deal, and will probably only grab the disinterest of the desperate. 71%, but in no way essential.

Don’t forget, this is the last month to enter the They’re Back Grand Holiday prize. Just send in your house to the usual address for a chance to win a weekend in a mystery location.

I love you.