John Walker's Electronic House

TB 139

They’re Back 139

Stop looking backwards, they tell John Walker. No, he replies, it’s my only regular income.

Homeworld 2
Best Sellers
PCG 127
PIII 750, 256Mb RAM

There’s far too much use of this phrase “Space Opera”, and I don’t think anyone’s stopped to give it any thought. It’s either insinuating that a game will feature a large number of overweight people bellowing nonsense about how their husband slept with their mum, before all killing themselves and each other; or it’s implying that this is to be all about some aliens who live in the same space-cul-de-sac, and the various intricate inter-personal relationships there in. And try as I might, I can find neither in the Homeworld series.

How much better though would it be, if instead of an epic real-time strategy set across the entire universe, raging astonishing war with impossibly beautiful vessels, this was about how Breetlezog had stolen the washing from Klofftan’s garden, blaming it all on Changlefrot who had just broken up with Varrrrrrr, because he’d kissed Qqqiptofig? I’m winning you over to this idea, aren’t I?

Perhaps somewhat making up for the disappointment is the absolutely mind-blowing brilliance of Homeworld 2. The screenshots do half the justice to the gasp-worthy space-vistas, as your intelligently controlled fleets of ships paint colour-explosions across the canvas of a galaxy. The original demonstrated enormous potential, but was woefully let down by an awkward and unfriendly interface. Brilliantly listening to their feedback, Relic crafted a far better approach, carefully teaching you to use the sensibly implemented hotkeys, until controlling your fleets becomes almost casual. Which all means that engaging in the massive battles is no longer a painstaking fiddle, but a breathtaking joy. It’s still not simple, but it’s no longer the painful struggle of before.

There are 15 missions, which manage an entertaining story (which really only furthers my argument for the inclusion of some soap-style thread running throughout). And thankfully, the vital resource gathering has been refined, so it’s no longer a tiresome chore at the end of each chapter. This is exactly what /should/ happen when a team develops a follow-up to a game, and Relic are to be applauded.

Perhaps it’s just a mad dream, but maybe they’ll listen to me now and remember to include something about someone losing their memory, and having to remarry their brother’s dog, or similar.


Stunning space opera, without the fat ladies singing.

Midtown madness 2
PCG 89
PII 266, 32Mb RAM

Driving around London doesn’t sound like much of a game. I tried it once. I won’t ever again. Congestion charging seems an excellent idea really – not so much to lower the amount of traffic on the roads, but to put people off the ridiculous idea in the first place. Carefully designed so that all junctions restrict you from turning in the only direction you’re interested in, making one mistake appears to spiral you outwards, until you eventually find yourself back on the M25, ready to try again.

The advantage of driving games is the ability to ignore such restrictions. “No right turn” in Midtown Madness is an invitation. Red traffic lights are there to be defied. Because this is all about going very, very quickly. The original was set in Chicago, the greatest city in the world, but part two doubles your luck, featuring reasonably accurate renditions of San Francisco and London. As you might expect, the former is better suited to the game than the latter, what with one being a giant series of criss-crossing streets on a whacking-great big hill, and the other is a concrete version of Hobbiton.

What Midtown does best is just let you /be/ in a city, and here it still holds its own. Time has not been kind, however, and with the likes of Vice City still looking gorgeous, Midtown’s clunky cars and world-o-right-angles now look a little poor. Although it’s still crazy fast and crazy fun, Xplosiv might have attached the wrong price tag here, as a tenner feels a bit much for a four year old game.


Celtic Kings: Rage of War
Sold Out
PCG 116
PII 400, 64Mb RAM

I don’t dance. There’s a reason for this – I’m mal-co-ordinated. Despite being able to juggle competently, even fire clubs, as soon as something requires the combination of both arm /and/ leg movement, I become like a drunken ox, stumbling about uselessly and scaring away the ladies. Which, believe it or not, is the perfect opening link into Celtic Kings. It’s like I plan ahead or something. Because perhaps the most obscure feature in all of this first century RTS is the ability to scare people from their buildings by the medium of dance.

Now, I sort of lied. I love a ceilidh. Dance of the White Sergeant, Military Two-Step, ooh, it’s all such fun. Although I can’t see why that uproarious fun would frighten people away – entice them out their buildings to join in, I could understand. It would make a lot more sense if it was my attempt to dance to Jilted John on a Wednesday night at Moles that had people screaming from their homes. Anyhow, there’s more to this than that, so we’d best get on.

Pitching hundreds of men in enormously cluttered on-screen battles is more the focus of CK. Pitching your druidic menfolk against the evil Romans, this is the closest the English/Welsh ever got to the true events that definitely did happen from the Asterix books. The trouble is, this was already horribly dated when it was released, and time ever increasingly piling up has not done anything to help. Out-performed by all around it, CK does nothing to make you dance with joy.


Matt Hayes’ Fishing
Sold Out
PCG 109
PII 266, 32Mb RAM

This one’s too easy. It would be like shooting fi… See? But really, why? What’s the point? You can see, to a certain extent, why those ghastly animal hunting games are made. The recreation of the needless slaughter of innocent woodland animals is remarkably accurate – you can no more eat your prey in the computer version than in real life. But fishing?

Aiming a gun and shooting it is something that computer games have been doing for over a decade. By offering a first person view, you can simulate the targeting, the kick-back, the impact, and so on. But without one of those hilarious force-feedback fishing rods they tried to sell for the defunct Dreamcast, there can never be a hope of making a game feel in any way similar to Britain’s most deadly sport (actually true: more people die while fishing than any other sport in this country. Boredom possibly linked).

You could perhaps argue that golf is similarly bonkers when replicated on the PC. But in a golf sim, you at least have the aiming, speed control, and, well, something of a game. In Matt Hayes’ Fishing, you have nothing more than remembering to use the right sort of bait.

So really, it’s not relevant that they’ve included lots of sorts of fishies, or that they’ve pleasant water effects. Who cares if you can compete against the top fishermen in the country? Because ultimately, YOU’RE PRETENDING TO FISH ON YOUR PC. And nothing’s going to make that go away.


Casino Empire
Sold Out
PCG 119
PII 300, 64Mb RAM

Goodness knows what Vivendi were thinking. The notion that they only created another theme game, purely because they’ve noticed that theme games sell, could not be clearer. Presumably they just looked down a list, saw that theme parks, cities, aquariums, golf courses and hospitals had already been ticked (Casino Inc. came later), and noticed that no one had thought to replicate fruit machine management. It could have been anything – it could have been Local Shop Tycoon (remember to put the Mars Bars by the counter for maximum sales), or maybe Theme Swimming Pool (make sure the soggy plasters are removed from the filters). Oh gawd, these were meant to be silly exaggerations, but looking at Casino Empire they suddenly seem horribly plausible.

You already know the deal – place the pre-created attractions on the floor of your casino, make money, buy more attractions, be more popular than neighbouring dens if inequity. Lacking a single spark of imagination, this is such a wasted opportunity. Casinos are riddled with past rumours of Mafia control, shady management, and elaborate folklore about people employed to spread bad luck to winning customers (see indie flick, The Cooler).

To play this straight is madness. Oh, whoop-de-doo, I can add a new fountain. What an unbridled joy. How shall I ever contain myself when I am able to upgrade my fruit machines? If you’re looking for a cheap management game, then you’d be far better off rearranging your kitchen cupboards for maximum cooking efficiency, or something.


Past Masters
Looking Glass
PCG 78, 91%

It’s too easy to forget the significance of Thief, in a world filled with splintered cells, and solid metal gears. And not just because it was Kieron Gillen’s first review for GAMER. There was a time when the idea of stealth action was, well, not quite realised.

Looking Glass (pause a moment… there) were one of the very few companies brave enough to attempt something totally new, without faffing around worrying that people wouldn’t be able to say “it’s a cross between…”. The creation of the pseudo-medieval world of master thief Garrett was the gaming world being given permission to slow down. Suddenly it was clear that hurtling about at breakneck speed was not a requirement of action gaming, and in fact crouching still for a minute or so did not mean entertainment death.

Clearly it lives on in the beautiful third chapter, but its effects are much more widespread than just that. Looking Glass gave gaming room to breathe, and for this we cannot ever be grateful enough.