John Walker's Electronic House

TB 131

They’re Back 131

Like some sort of Chancellor of the Exchequer for fun, here’s all the latest on the budget (games)… No, it doesn’t work.

Grandia 2
Ubi Soft Exclusive
PCG 109

I have a passion for narrative – the elusive Story – that borders on the obsessional, and has its base camp in the fascinated. I want to be told a tale, to be offered a beginning that will travel via a middle in order to reach an end. I think it must be my Welsh half, all that Druidry in my ancestry. So when this week, for reasons too complex to wax, I was emailed by a reader about the quality of Story in Final Fantasy VIII, I felt that painful ache that I always associate with the series. I’m very aware that for someone like me, the FF games should be an absolute must – but I cannot get past the random fighting.

Grandia 2, we welcome you to our pages with open hearts and other dangerously splayed organs. The conversational RPG market is reasonably neatly divided into two halves: the Western Bioware-esque choose-your-own-adventure approach, or the Eastern Square-esque quests-with-random-fights style. Grandia stalks somewhere between the two, carrying cutesy Japanese characters, the distinctive purple-blue text boxes, and a weedy lead character, but without the inexplicable frame-breaking battles.

I’m perfectly aware it’s my own failing, to not be able to get past this gripe. But you can’t be just walking down the road, past I don’t know, a sword shop, and then suddenly be in the middle of the woods fighting Space Pixies. It doesn’t happen, it can’t happen, and requires a suspension of disbelief so severe that it can only result in an accidental hanging.

So at last, here is offered a reality in which you can see the enemies in the distance, prepare to fight them, and then… fight them! And more than just offering this sense of continuity in gameplay, Grandia 2 uses this element to add another layer of tactics to your day. Non-battle movement is in real-time, while fights are turn-based, and the link between the two will make a difference to your team’s battle advantage. Sneak up and surprise them, and you’ll be on top. But mess this up, and they’ll be lobbing wood and metal your way faster than you can find the load button.

Progression is fairly linear, not offering the volume of sub-quests you might associate with the genre. But the path you follow is one filled with a story that’s deep enough to sink into, add bubble bath, and warmly relax for hours and hours. Mmmmmmm.


Japanese quest-based action, with all the story of your regular brand, but none of the irritating random madness.

Rayman 3: Collector
Ubi Soft
PCG 122

I was thinking only yesterday quite how much better the French are at cinema than the British. Listening to a radio programme discussing Lucas Belvaux’s trilogy of films, I was fascinated by his idea – to make three films at once, with the same supporting cast, each of a different genre. And what British effort was their this Winter? Richard Curtis writing a “romantic comedy” starring Hugh Grant. It’s pitiful.

But when it comes to computer games, there seems to be something of a reversal of talents. With Scottish-based Rockstar currently ruling the gaming castle, there’s renewed interest in non-American-English gaming. And yet the French seem incapable of making anything that isn’t either extremely weird, or extremely poor. It’s almost a relief to say that Rayman 3 falls into the first category.

Standing out as weird in the platform genre is no mean feat. This is an area where for years we’ve nonchalently accepted the appearance of plumbers stamping on sentient toadstools, silken-voiced geckos spoofing popular films, and genetically mutated foxes assisting hedgehogs in trainers. But Rayman really goes for broke. Starring a… thing, with detached fists and feet that appear compelled to remain near to their body, but are by no means constricted by this, it’s not the oddity of the central character that lends the weirdness – it’s the design.

No words of English are going to convey the – je ne sais pas – peculiarity of both the levels or, to use a generous word, ‘novel’ powerups. But sadly despite this, as is endemic in the Rayman series, this isn’t enough to sustain a human interest for long, and it quickly becomes repetitive.

This particular special edition comes with a Rayman collector bag, a Rayman Print Studio, and most bestest of all, a Rayman notebook for all your writing-things-down needs.


Silent Hunter 2
Ubi Soft Exclusive

Games publishers don’t love you. Don’t believe their lies. They only want you for your money. Ok, look, you have to promise to keep this a secret, but it’s a desperate month. While the five games featured are interesting enough, they are literally that – /the/ five games. It’s a sparse month. And it happens every Christmas. Because you see, the publishers know at this time of year that your purses are that little bit more vulnerable, and in the post-season spending frenzy they want you to buy their full price games.

This is all to excuse why this is a review of a game that previously appeared in They’re Back carrying apologies for the desperation causing its appearance then. Well, I suppose it’s developed something of an ironic purpose in this way, which is one of the few things to be said for this lacklustre submarine sim.

Related to Destroyer Command (reviewed last month – you’re probably still laughing at the naval / navel joke), it doesn’t ever manage to lift its periscope above the surface of mediocrity. You see, it’s so average that it can cause sentences to appear in reviews as riddled with cliched rubbish as the previous one. Now that’s sub-standard.

If you’re going to simulate a submarine, you need to have a better reason for doing it, other than you think it might be a nice idea. It really does seem to be that sort of wishy-washy motivation that drove the creation of SH2, with its hopelessly boxy graphics, dodgy AI, and entirely obvious and routine series of missions. There needs to be a spark, a unique idea that drove a team to create the game that could realise it. Not just another underwater sim to add to the pile.

Focus Multimedia already put this out a year ago on their Ubi label, at the exact same price. I can’t understand why it’s happening again. But for the sake of space, I’m actually glad they did.


IL-2 Sturmovik
Ubi Soft Exclusive
PCG 105

Thank everything that’s cute and furry for Tim Stone. Try to imagine a world without him – a world without someone to give all the flight sim reviews to. Of course, this isn’t because there’s anything wrong with flight sims. Nor indeed because there’s anything wrong with Tim Stone. But because flight sims are just so incredibly obscure if they’re not your thing.

Game of the Month upon release, IL-2 stands out amongst the enormous numbers of aerial war games that endlessly pour onto the shelves, and onto Tim Stone’s reviewing desk. While some flight sims concentrate far more on the flight, IL-2 focuses almost peerlessly on the sim. With a passion that daunts, 1C: Maddox Games have absolutely no intention of letting the tiniest detail slip through their grasp.

As well as the eponymous craft, there are ten other winged creatures to fly, all Russian vehicles, all faithfully shrunk down until they’ll fit inside your monitor. Painstaking levels of accuracy have gone into recreating every last detail of every last nut or bolt, as well as non-cliched small parts of planes, meaning that if precision makes you smile, this will break your jaw.

More recently a sequel has emerged, IL-2: Forgotten Battles, with it a ten-fold increase in the number of planes on offer. However, at £10, the original still very much justifies a purchase if you’re on a budget. And since it was released 1C: Maddox haven’t ignored it. A quick trip to will reward you with the latest update, and many treats within, including four brand new planes. These aren’t hasty additional skins either, these are planes crafted with as much love and care as the original set. On top of that, there’s also an improved version of the level editor.

You’ll be hard-pushed to find this level of attention or passion anywhere else, especially at a budget price.


Myst III: Exile
Ubi Soft Exclusive
PCG 102

Like a fungal disease in a personal area, it’s possible to prevent suffering the effects of Myst for a while, but it never really goes away.

This pitiful excuse for a series of games has been well documented within these ancient halls, but there can be no harm in distributing this public health warning once again. Do not buy Myst III: Exile. Under any circumstances.

No, I don’t care that your dad liked Riven. He was wrong, he was horribly wrong. You should consider checking to see if he’s really your dad at all, and think about whether you want to continue publicly mentioning your connections with him. No, it’s not an excuse that the original came free with your new PC, and you “just thought you’d check it out”. You’ve sullied your computer, and now you need to buy a new one.

Like evil on evil, full motion video lies clumsily across smeary pre-rendered backdrops, creating an offensive on your eyes something akin to just stabbing yourself in the face with a pencil. It may have impressed a decade ago, but without a tiptoe of advance since, it now just looks fetid.

Try to imagine if someone took all of the acting ability from the cast of Home & Away, diluted it down to one part per million, and then dropped it on the floor. Now imagine that this was sort of scraped up, and injected into the cast of Myst III. You’re somewhere near to the hideous state of the in-game theatre.

Of course, it’s all hanged on the quality of the puzzles. As the development team should have been. Inevitably involving rotating something until it clicks, this can very quickly seem like a sensible solution to the “your neck not being broken” conundrum.

Don’t spend your ten pounds on this. Use it to give yourself papercuts, for infinitely more fun.


And The Rest

This should be interesting. Right, I actually have a plan. There are a number of games that have been out for quite a while now, and yet have never been released on budget. The interesting reason given by the publishers for this is inevitably “it’s still selling at full price”. However, we all know that this is complete nonsense. The shops can no longer be bothered to wait for the slower companies to catch up, and unofficially reduce the price themselves.

So, let’s join them in their system-smashing anarchic ways, and review games that you can’t find for /more/ than a tenner.

Firstly, the original Max Payne. Put out by Take 2, who have now appear to have entirely abandoned their Take Advantage budget label, it’s not only three years old, but of course now sequeled. Normally about ten pounds in the shops, the original MP may have been short, and it may have had far too many cutscenes, but it also made bullet time a viable tool in action gaming. It’s a matter of personal opinion as to whether you think this a good thing or not, but its certainly excellently implemented here. Since the story of MP2 follows on so tightly from the original, now’s as good a time as any to fill in this gap in your game-playing history. 90%.

And secondly, No One Lives Forever 2. Taking the most remarkable amount of time to appear on budget, the original is now on Xplosiv for five pounds. NOLF 2 is pushing two years old, and there’s still no sign of it. Both games are fantastic, this sequel not quite having the sheer volume of humour of the first, but certainly still a beautifully balanced FPS. I found it for £10 the other day.

Ooh, do you all feel terribly naughty now?