John Walker's Electronic House

TB 137

They’re Back 137

Ignore these fancy new clothes. Beauty is only skin deep. The same old rubbish still remains. Phew.

Icewind Dale II
Avalon White Label
PCG 113, 71%
PII 350, 64Mb RAM

Twin brothers Bioware and Black Isle had a strange upbringing. For a good long while, Black Isle was the powerful half of the pairing, helping Bioware through a confusing, hormonal adolescence. But then, all of a sudden Bioware had a massive growth spurt, and became the monoliths we know today. Black Isle became the strange brother, never proudly presented by the parents when guests came ‘round, instead remaining in a back room busily fiddling with its sibling’s ideas. The results have been mixed, although occasionally enormously brilliant. The Fallout series, and of course the utterly awesome Planescape: Torment, are enormously wonderful. But the Icewind Dale series feels like little other than a Bioware cast-off.

Perhaps if there had never been a Baldur’s Gate to tell us how great RPGs need to be, Icewind Dale II could have been received with a more favourable perspective. But perhaps won’t win a race, or get the washing up done. Built on the same Infinity engine, comparison is not only inevitable, but necessary.

ID2 suffers from poor combat in the same way a hiker would suffer from a nail poking through the bottom of his shoe. No matter how pretty the route, or interesting the company, the constant stabbing pain of clumsy fighting prevents enjoyment. And sadly, the scenery isn’t all that breathtaking in the first place. It’s hard to shake the notion that Black Isle were just squeezing out one more title before the engine was entirely obsolete, making this tough to recommend. Of course, Black Isle died. But fortunately several parts have reformed, T-1000 style, into Obsidian Entertainment, now responsible for Bioware’s KotOR franchise, so there’s much to look forward to.

Meanwhile, you’ll notice the reappearance of the name White Label at the top there. What this means is not clear, and Avalon are tight-lipped about whether this means we might see some long-missing Interplay games back on our shelves. Should we hear a whisper, you’ll be the second to know.


Mutant Storm
PCG 118
PII 350, 64Mb RAM

Enter the conversation that, in a few moments of precious afternoon, managed to encompass and review Mutant Storm on budget. Present at the computer is erstwhile games journalist and Godbotherer, John Walker.

JW: This is absolutely remarkable! Space shooting arcade purity! It’s just crazy – that teams can spend months or even years working on the most intricate and elaborate games, with life realistic AI, photo realistic graphics, aural realistic sound and storylines worthy of Dostoevsky, but something this refined can grip me far more powerfully.

JW: Don’t you think? Don’t you think it’s an amazingly revealing comment on our inherent desire for a simplistic experience? That a beautiful, honest and immediately approachable arcade game can lock into all our gaming mind-muscle?

JW: Hello?

JW: I work on my own, don’t I?

JW: It’s a lonely life, being freelance. But I’m ok… I’m better than ok! I’m… fine! Look at me, surrounded by all these fine budget games, with their fine prices. I want for nothing!

JW: Other than to keep my job, so… Mutant Storm comes from Pompom, previously responsible for Space Tripper (featured two issues back), a company with an instinct for creating deceptively simple and utterly captivating games. Originally released over the magical internet, the cleverclogs at Mastertronic have thought to enbox it for your old-skool shop visiting nostalgia trips. This means it’s also available in British Pounds, rather than confusing American Dollars, for those less credit-enhanced. So trust us, just this once, and give it a go. The worst that could happen is you play it so much that you lose your job, all income, and eventually starve to death.

JW: I’m so alone.


Robin Hood: Legend of Sherwood
Sold Out
PCG 117, 68%
P350, 128Mb RAM

The legend of Robin Hood must be one of the most put upon stories, molested by any who attempt to retell it. Even King Arthur gets a better deal when it comes to film and televisual interpretations of his adventures. (Then worry about the upcoming Antoine Fuqua film – Pessimistic Film Ed). The most obvious would be the astonishingly awful (and yet so very, very brilliant) Kevin Costner Prince of Thieves. A film in which Robin Hood arrives in Britain at Dover, and walks to Sherwood Forest, /via/ Hadrian’s Wall, in one day. Beautiful.

For me, it will always be about Tony Robinson’s seminal children’s TV show, Maid Marion and Her Merry Men, with rude jokes about a life size jelly baby King John, and songs about pancakes. However, today pretend history buffs, we’re stuck with Spellbound’s Legend of Sherwood.

A year and a half ago, Kieron predicted that, “a year down the line, it’ll be a passable budget game.” He was close in his timing, and entirely accurate in his criticism. Not a great deal more than a Robin Hood ‘skin’ for Desperados, it really is RTS gaming at its most alright-I-suppose. Using the same system where each character has a specific task, you need to manage your team of very merry men as they perform rich robbing quests, in order to fund the poor. Which let’s face it, would have been themselves, since they lived in trees and stuff.

Criminally short of the intricate glory of the Commandos games, Robin fails to steal our hearts, even at a price the poor folk can afford.


Conflict: Desert Storm II
PCG 127
P4 1.4Ghz, 256Mb RAM, GeForce 3

It’s not been eight months since the full price release of Conflict: Desert Storm II. And horribly troubling, it’s still as topical now as it was then. Of course, it’s not topical at all – it’s all set in the other Gulf conflict, when the other President Bush launched the other unsupported invasion of Iraq. (The only apparent difference being that we had Bill Hicks then. We don’t now. Sniff).

This sequel rather brings home for me the oddity it is to use real conflicts as templates for gaming colouring in. The stretch of time between now and the world wars, or even Vietnam, give a sense of detachment that apologises for much of the discomfort, but when the battles are within a young man’s memory, the feelings become a little uncomfortable – hypocritical yes, worth reflecting upon, certainly.

Because it’s a tactical shooter, you’re in control of a squad of four elite soldiers, in a painfully realistic behind-the-lines mission based game. Each of your guys, named and specialised, must not die, as you’ll need them throughout. And yet their deaths are only ever one bullet away.

If you played the original, then you’re in a fairly strong position of knowledge about this second. Little has changed in terms of interaction or presentation, although there are four new weapons, an improvement of AI, and a hike in the engine. But little progress is not necessarily a bad thing when the starting point was fine. It’s just a question of how comfortable you are with shooting at Iraqi soldiers, knowing what we know now.


Championship Manager 01/02
PCG 103

Ah, the beautiful game. So refined, so accessible… so pure. It’s immediately watchable, entirely absorbing, and has the ability to ensure that after watching a game the first thing you want to do is have a game yourself.

But sadly the only budget baseball game I can find is on PS2. So once more we’re left with silly old football. What can be written about football management that none have said before? Um. The new features include the ability to dress your players in pink dresses, before firing them into space using giant manguns.

But of course no such imaginative joy is to be found. Just the football management that my housemates at university seemed to enjoy so much. But that was ok – Jay and Nick could share playing Champ Man together, while I scraped mucus and tea from the kitchen cupboards. Jay and I would later watch Bang Bang It’s Reeves and Mortimer together, laughing until we had headaches, while Nick would have to busy himself elsewhere, confused by our tear streaked faces.

Champ Man 01 / 02 has seen budget before, a long while back, and of course has since then received a full update in the form of Champ Man 4. However, because of the lo-fi nature of the game in the first place, it’s very hard to claim the game has dated, but for the players and teams. If this accuracy is not essential, then this is an ideal budget way to access the dumb, pointless waste of time.


Past Master
Wing Commander

There are many who might try to convince you that the videogames didn’t sell themselves with their graphics until the likes of Doom came along. They lie. Wing Commander had people shifting in their seats and holding bags in front of them when they walked.

Appearing a full two years before rival space combat game, X Wing, it’s oft forgotten when reflecting. This could be a large part because of the sad descent the series took , eventually becoming an industry joke, and famously one of the first PC titles to inspire a dire cinema outing. But it isn’t fair to label Wing Commander with this revisionist analysis. Its graphical accomplishments moved the 286 into 3D capability that others hadn’t thought possible. And its variable mission path, depending upon success or failure, is still an idea that still requires plundering fourteen years later.

Wing Commander, you changed the way we play, and we salute you.