John Walker's Electronic House

TB 130

They’re Back 130

Stephen King once wrote, “Sometimes they come back”. And somehow we’ve failed to think of a pun for this.

Conflict Desert Storm
PCG 114

If I’m completely honest, I really struggle with tactical shooters. First of all, there is a problem with the suspension of disbelief – when I play an FPS, I allow my imagination to accept the situation, and pretend to be the holder of the bobbing gun at the bottom of the screen. In a squad-based tactical shooter, I’m playing more than one person, and that’s slightly more than my imagination can absorb. If I can change player-character, then I have to accept that I am none of the player characters. Instead, I am some omnipotent hand, steering the fate of these few men.

Secondly, they’re much harder. Watching over Mr Gillen’s shoulder as he mastered the art of blowing up a tank while reviewing Hidden & Dangerous 2, I shook my head in confusion as he armed each man individually, situated them around the tank, each sporting rocket launchers, and then allowed the push to begin. Thinking about him, him, him and him, all at once.

Conflict Desert Storm was made for the likes of me. Stripping down the intricate complexity of so many tactical shooters, it is an attempt to bring in those scruffy outsiders, the console owners, and teach them our ways. Simply put, it’s all been put simply.

As with the best of the genre, your soldiers are not nameless drones, replaced at will. If they die, they die, and you can’t have them back for another mission. And as they will improve through experience, you’re going to miss them if you lose them. This is made even more tense by the use of limited saves, meaning that you’re not going to be able to quicksave them all to glory.

Missions are pleasingly destructive, requiring that you blow things up more often than not, meaning that your weapons are almost OTT in their savageness. Despite the simplicity of delivery, this doesn’t mean that the game itself is a walk in the park. It’s more of a sneak through the desert, and excitingly, not necessarily along a linear route. It’s impressive that in a game that is noticeably designed to be easier to play, the developers have left room for this sense of freedom within the missions.

Sadly, controls are loose, and as is so frustratingly often the case, the AI is not strong enough. It doesn’t seem acceptable that it should be this way, when it is surely the most important focus when developing.

So bless its shoes and socks for being accessible to the likes of me, but poke it in the eyes, both of them, for not being super-brilliant once you’re into it.


So close, and yet reasonably close. A tactical shooter for those of us more instinctively FPS orientated.

Destroyer Command
Ubisoft Exclusive
PCG 109

Here’s the pitch: the game takes place on a large fleshy mound, above the waist and below the chest. The aim is deceptively simple: to navigate the forests of follicles, avoiding microscopic creatures, to eventually reach the place known as the Belly Button. Once there, the final challenge is to pick out the Giant Ball of Fluff.

Wait for it… It’s a navel simulation! Oh boy, that’s one for the scrapbook.

Back in 1939 quite a big war broke out. Being a world war, and the world being two-thirds wet, a lot of that war took place on and in the sea. Destroyer Command dons military issue sowesters, and attempts to take us back to those days on the ocean waves.

Its boat-floating exercises include sinking the Germans, Japanese, and Italians of old, in a variety of missions set in all kinds of weathers and times of day and night. But it does all this with the mentality of 2D wargame, that appears confused by discovering it’s been suddenly clothed in fancy 3D graphics. Somewhat lacklustre in its imagination, and certainly not shipshape in its controls, it would always have been better suited to the two dimensional perspective that it sports as an extra.

The AI can be clunky, with ships attempting to park themselves in the hulls of their companions, and sporadic moments of very confusing behaviour from the computer’s fleets. And not helping, the multiplayer is disappointing. The potential of being able to take on your friends in an epic seafaring battle is exciting, but Destroyer isn’t the game to support this.

Although far better than its sub-aqua sister game Silent Hunter 2, it isn’t the naval simulation you’ve always wanted. And frankly, when compared to my stomach sim, it just doesn’t have the guts.


Capitalism II
Ubisoft Exclusive
PCG 108

Get the bucket, the warm soapy water, and the squeegee, and prepare for the brainwashing. That’s right, it’s time for even more indoctrination into the corrupt and wholly destructive system you’re not allowed to question.

Success is measured in money, right? And achievement is about salary, of course. The more you earn, the better a person you become. The more you’re worth, the more people will have reason to love you. Don’t question any of this – to do so is to be a LEFTIE COMMIE, and you must be put into jail forever.

Backing up this belief, Capitalism II embraces the foul system in its every element, encouraging you to rise from bottom to top of the corporate ladder, using everybody in your path as rungs. With your sights firmly fixed on that most rotund feline position of company CEO, you can employ all manner of those business exploits: importing, exporting, manufacturing, retailing, purchasing, and marketing; or if you prefer, buy someone else’s idea.

Gameplay is either starting your own business from scratch in a freeform fashion, but more immediately approachable are the missions. Once the challenging tutorial has been mastered, you’ll be put into various semi-established workplaces, inevitably charged with the job of reaching a certain financial target by whatever means necessary.

Such is the nature of this evil regime, that the stamping out of rival companies will boost you on your way, and this can get a lot more personal in the multiplayer game. Capitalism II can be played by up to seven individuals, preferably who don’t like each other very much since of course friendly emotions have no place in such a world.

Looking like Sim City 2000, the graphics aren’t stunning, and the interface is clunky and awkward. But the level of detail, the enormous business sense at its core, and the drone-creating, money-loving, hatefulness, makes this capitalism on a disc. Borrow a copy – that’ll show ‘em.


Batman Vengeance
Ubisoft Exclusive
PCG 116

A small insight: I keep my curtains shut during the day time. This is because I believe natural light is for when you are on the outside, and groping around in the dark is for when you are on the inside. My monitor does not understand the light of the sun, confusing it into becoming an extremely expensive mirror, and besides, it saves the paint on the walls from fading. However, this volume of time spent without the power of vision means I spend a dangerous amount of my time tripping over the numerous piles of rubbish I leave scattered about my abode.

And in many ways, my life is like Batman’s. Avoiding the light, he stalks the shadows of night, and in Batman Vengeance, crashing into the walls, doors and anything else that might be hidden by the appalling cameras.

Here we feature not the Batman of the original comics, not the Batman of the eloquent TV series, and not the Batman of the Burton-originated film series. This is the Batman of the recent cartoon – all shiny edges and stylised angles, confused as to whether to be dark or comic. This is obviously ideally suited for a nice Geforce conversion, all neat flowy bits and pleasingly lit, were this not the inevitable cross platform compromise you already guessed it would be.

A mishmash of genres, Vengeance is probably mostly third person action. Which makes the decision to require first person every time you use an item from your utility belt, painfully stupid. But despite the shocking cameras, the dull graphics, and the awkwardness of playing, no real effort has gone into the game itself, being lifeless and simplistic. It’s a shame that such a passionately loved franchise, so oft abused, has once again been lazily wasted.

Wholly uninspiring game, Batman.


Worms Blast
Ubisoft Exclusive
PCG 107

The joy of franchise – you’ve found some success with your idea, inevitably your simple and effective idea, the kind that everyone else can’t believe that didn’t think of, and then you’ve tacked on a couple of sequels, further exploring the idea and improving upon it each time. Fantastic! You’re making everyone happy. But because you’ve had a couple of sequels, this means that you are a franchise, and now you must head in as many directions as is humanly possible with the minimum amount of thought applied at any opportunity.

And so it is. Just like you said it would be. Life goes easy on me, most of the time. And so it is. The shorter story. No love, no glory. No hero in her sky. Worms Blast is a tiresome attempt to take the concept of Worms, ignore it, and make Bust-a-Move again.

It’s really quite astounding how similar it is to the aforementioned puzzler. But of course there’s no room for complaining in this area, lest Alexey Pajitnov begin his forty thousand lawsuits against each and every rip-off of Tetris, the grandfather of all modern block-based puzzles. And of course, to complain of this mutilation of a cutesy classic is a tad ironic, since Bust-a-Move carried on the legacy of the heroes of Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands. However, never mind all that – Worms Blast is rubbish, and should never have been allowed to happen.

Attempting to carry over the Worms theme – blowing things up – you destroy the blocks using the weapons you select, and aim their trajectory. This is all very well in a turn-based strategy, but when there’s a wall slowly descending the screen, threatening to crush you at any moment, it feels fiddly and frustrating. Perhaps slightly better executed in two player mode, where you can take aim at your opponent, it still remains a weak idea trying to ride on the back of an established strong one.


And The Rest

Lots to get through, thanks to Focus going quite insane and releasing what seems like the entire Ubisoft back catalogue, so let’s get into it.

Lots were reviewed on these hallowed pages quite recently, hence their rather large names and egos having to be squeezed into this confined, ugly coloured space. For instance, Ghost Recon. A more established attempt than Conflict Desert Storm to make the tactical shooter approachable for all, it took the joy of Rainbow Six, and removed the misery of Rainbow Six. I.e. kept the terrorist-busting, squad-based mayhem, and removed the hideous pre-planning stages that felt more like homework than playtime. It registers 86 in percent, ten in pounds, and 105 in previous issue numbering.

Then there’s Settlers IV, which has been reviewed in at least two other They’re Backs. It marked the fall of the series, taking the cutesy strategy game past acceptable levels of ordinariness, sitting stagnant and uninspired when all about where taking giant leaps onwards. For a tenner, it’s a good price drop (the last inclusion was when it achieved “Gold” in its name, and was still being hawked at £30), and it’s a reasonable strategy sim, with impressive wood-chopping noises. First reviewed back in ish 111, and it’s now worth a middling 65%.

Finally for now, just in case I desperately need something next month that I can pretend we only just found out about, there’s Warlords Battlecry 2. Battlecry isn’t a word, hyphenated at best, but that’s not the only thing wrong with the game. More critical is the lack of originality, pretty much fantasy real-time strategying by numbers. It doesn’t fall short of being good, but it certainly isn’t unique. Like the rest, £10, from ish 109, and today deserving of 70%.

Strategying isn’t a word either.