John Walker's Electronic House

TB 132

They’re Back 131

Welcome to these icy realms. Come aboard my sledge of games. Have some Turkish Delight. Don’t mind the wolves.

Medieval Battle Collection
PCG: 113, 123

Christmas has come and gone, like the no-good drifter it truly is. But in the land of Budgetania, the holiday season never goes away. And that’s because we don’t take the decorations down. This spirit of celebration is truly deserved, because the post-Christletide They’re Back is traditionally (because it was two years ago – can you believe it, two years since that poem) all about those super-dooper bumper packs, where technology allows the genetic splicing of games such that they can co-exist in the same box.Certainly the most important of all of these is the Medieval Total War bundle pack, including the original game alongside the Viking expansion pack. So not only a re-release, but also at a near-budget price – enormo-war-tastic.If the word epic was to be carved from 100ft high obelisks, then carried on the backs of ten thousand druidic slaves for nine hundred miles, and erected at the top of a cliff overlooking the Gobi desert, worshipped by seven million onlookers, then it might get close to being a suitable word for describing this little game. Already a sequel to the always excellent Rome: Total War, Medieval lifted the bar so stupidly high for war-simulating RTSs, that all the other competitors looked up, shook their heads, and had a bit of a cry.

Employing a uniquely balanced combination of tactics, improvisation and horses with masks on, M:TW asks that you control an army and take over Europe. No small task. In fact, the sheer scale of these battles, the microscopic attention to detail, and the intelligence of the design that lets you do this, means that there is no other experience like it.

Apart from the expansion pack, Viking Invasion of course. Adding an additional three factions (the Hungarians, Sicilians and Aragonese) to the original’s twelve, as well as the titular Viking campaign. It also made a few tweaks to the inner workings, including the option to save before a battle (for weak people), and some slightly tidied up bits and bobs making the whole experience even more smooth.You know the urgency with which you try to find a tissue in your pocket when you have a sneeze coming, knowing that it will otherwise horribly splatter across all around you? It’s with that sort of urgency that you should be buying yourself a copy of this pack. And we got to the end without mentioning that TV show. Deep joy.


All the war you could ever want, and less than $80bn a month.

Battlefield 1942 Deluxe Edition
PCG 115, 120

The direction being taken by online multiplayer games is an interestingly meandering one. There are the Quakes and the Unreal Tournies, with their frenetic clambering, bouncing, and collecting obscenely large tokens-ing. And then there are the enormous space-opera productions, where you play the third navigator from the right, and sit and stare at a white dot cross a black screen for three and a half weeks, until you get blown up by a cruiser the size of a capital city. And somewhere in-between these extremely good extremes is Battlefield 1942.

Capturing the modern zeitgeist for WWII simulation, and taking it a little more seriously than Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s online incarnation, BF1942 manages to keep a leg in each camp without ever entering into a body-damaging splits position.With up to sixty people able to play in a game at once, and dozens of roles to play, this has the mass scale of a Counter Strike-esque role-play, alongside the realism simulation of a Call of Duty. You can be who you want to be, play where you want to play, whether that be a driver behind the wheel of a tank, or a soldier under the wheels of a tank. You can fly planes, engaging in dog-fights, or the entirely unfair practise of shooting at things on the ground. You can pilot boats, aircraft carriers, anti-aircraft guns. You have remarkable freedom.

The genius trick is the combination with online FPS stalwarts such as capturing flags and the like. Battles can be won or lost by respawning bases taken, as well as the frag count for either side, ensuring that there’s focus on territory as well as body counts. The Deluxe Edition contains the original and the somewhat lacklustre expansion pack with extra vehicles and guns, as well as a map editor for making up battles of your very own.


Cossacks Anthology
PCG 95, 107, 117

Poor, poor, poor old Cossacks. No matter how many times they attempt to improve on this sporadic game, it still ends up being just ‘alright’. And the name sounds like it might be something to do with testicles.The games are set from the 16th to the 18th century, which as far as I’m concerned is important only as being the broad pocket of years that contained the life and writings of Jonathan Swift. I found an 1872 edition of a collection of writings the other day for £3.50. THREE POUND FIFTY for a hundred and thirty-two year old book. Now /that’s/ budget.Alas, the work of the great satirist plays no part in Cossack’s compendium of games – instead preferring to worry us with details about people’s incessant desire to kill each other, all irony left in the coffee shops.Within the one box is the initial Cossacks: European Wars, and the expansions The Art of War and Back To War. Each game reviewed individually could never manage to reach the magical 80% mark, held back by a combination of superior peers and painfully slow action. How could one recommend the first, when Shogun was about, the second when Age of Empires 2 was emerging, or the third when Age of Mythology wedged its boots in the field? And how can one still ignore the painful hours spent building up an army, gathering resources, and making sandwiches, before any skirmish can be entered into?

What stops Cossacks from lying forgotten is the astonishing scale of its battles, when they eventually happen. Being able to have 8,000 units on a map, albeit a 2D isometric map, at once, without the game slowing down any, makes for some awesome clashes.

At the price, it’s excellent value for money. Though buying yourself a nice hardback of Swift’s collected essays might be a far better way of spending those gift tokens.


Casino Inc / The Management
Hot House Creations
PCG 122

I work all night, I work all day, to play the games I have to play
Ain’t it sad
And still there never seems to be a single minute left for me
To play KOTOR
In my dreams I have a plan
If I got me a casino land
I wouldn’t have to work at all, I’d fool around and have a ball…
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man’s world

But it would be no good, of course. If I built myself a casino, I wouldn’t manage it. I’d just play on all the fruit machines, knowing that I had the key to get my money back out afterwards.Which seems to me to be the problem with Casino Inc: the fun of a casinos is playing games. Ok, I admit I’ve never actually been to a casino, but I’ve watched people on fruit machines in pubs. And isn’t that compelling viewing? I truly believe that a cable channel that just showed people playing on fruit machines, occasionally interspersed by films of someone playing that hangman game, would attract record ratings. For goodness sakes, they already show darts.Casino Inc lets you build your own temple of thievery from scratch, or play through the various missions to financial success, controlling every microscopic micromanagment detail, from the emptying of bins to the defrauding local authorities for illegal advantages, and almost literally everything in between. In fact, so heavily is it obsessed with the finest elements of such a job, that in the end it strips away the fun, and leaves you with yet another day job. This bundle includes the never-mentioned /The Management/ expansion pack, with new casinos, missions and locations, to expand upon a rather flat idea. However, at this price, it’s ironically rather less of a financial risk to try.


Ghost Master Collectors Edition
Empire Interactive
PCG 125

What a strange little lot they are at Empire. Ghost Master was one of those game ideas that sort of sounded like it might work if they were lucky, but then surprised no one by being a shoddy collection of half-decent ideas that never really clicked into place. The main schtick being: control the baddies!

So while that concept is rare, it’s usually for a good reason – the baddies tend to be the more one-dimensional characters, the goodies the more interesting and internally conflicted victims of whatever badness is thrown at them. And indeed, this is where Ghost Master falls down. Using an array of apparitions, it is your responsibility to scare residents out of their buildings with their various spooky skills. But this trial of applying a ghost’s speciality to the human’s situation is one built of frustrating trial and error. While 1 + 1 eventually leads to 2, finding which 1 is wanted, and struggling to understand how it’s meant to be added, makes 2 a number often hard to reach.And all this plays into the trap of one-dimensionally baddies. There may be a few of them, but none have the personality of a goodie, and in the end it would probably be far more fun to control one human innovating myriad methods to escape from a variety of ghosts.

But that’s not why Empire are strange. Oh dear me no. That comes in with why this pack is special. Accompanying the game is a second disc containing but one new scenario, and then the sort of lazy nonsense that fills the ‘extras’ space on a DVD. Making ofs, alternate endings, silly bits of merchandise, and so on. And then even more weirdly, the box squeezes in the decidedly poor spoof film Scary Movie on DVD.Quite the weirdest re-release ever to have been posted to Budgetania, it doesn’t impress our peoples.


And The Rest

Adventuresoft managed the not unimpressive feat of being around for absolutely ages, and never making a game of any note. In fact, they were even more impressive for being able to be around for absolutely ages, and never making a game, at all. Their noted output seems to have been exclusively the average to dismal Simon the Sorcerer adventure games, and the utterly mediocre point and click The Feeble Files (a doomed name if ever their was one). Of course, they also attempted to cash in on the minor British success of Simon 1 and 2 with dreadful rubbish like the Simon Puzzle Pack and Simon Pinball. Well folks, with that build up, you’ll be soaking week’s worth of undergarments to learn that ALL these games are in one box for just £15.It’s interesting to note that the execrable Simon the Sorcerer 3 has not made it into this collection, which would at least have offered some sort of reason for putting this out now. Simons 1 and 2 were released nearly a decade ago, the Feeble Files not long after them. But then Simon 3 was never really finished, sent to GAMER once in such a state that we sent it back, and then again months later, still unfinished, but this time proven so in review form. Perhaps they’d rather live on the rather pathetic glory of their previous collection. Anyway, a perfectly average 50% for the lot.In other news, a far more fabulous box is out from Empire, consisting of Air Power, Pacific Combat Pilot, Enemy Engaged, MS Combat Flight Sim and Enemy Engaged: Apache Havoc, all for a quite stunning £15. All pretty old, but all very high quality, giving it a tidy 81%.

Now get out of my hair, I’ve got visitors coming.