John Walker's Electronic House

TB 140

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Ladies and Gentlemen, please be outstanding, for John Walker’s rubbish reviews.

Freedom Force
Sold Out
PCG 109, 88%
PII 300, 64MB RAM

Megabiff! Superpow! Spiffoblast!

Irrational Games are an eclectic developer. Famed for the extraordinary FPS/RPG System Shock 2, and currently reinventing the multiplayer FPS Tribes franchise, a Baldur’s Gate style superhero RPG wouldn’t immediately seem the obvious choice. But it’s glad news that they made it. Grabbing hold of the 1960’s pop-comic celebration, Freedom Force is a kitsch and classy entry point into the power-boosted world of fighting crime.

Freedom Force is best when in its single-player campaign. Controlling an ever changing collection of Energy-X enhanced superdudes, a series of increasingly challenging missions pits your wits and bits against the endless tyranny of Crime. Bad Crime. As with any RPG, success is rewarded with XP, and with XP comes levelling up. But in FF, levelling up comes with… new super powers! This always equals: fab. However, FF doesn’t rest on the assumption that this will be enough – this is a game made with finesse. The missions are beautifully realised, and managing the balance of powers amongst your team is effortless.

And a five pound budget release couldn’t come at a better time. City of Heroes fever has firmly gripped Gamer’s freelance hacks, skiving off both work and social lives to cram in every last second’s worth of super-powered online mayhem. It’s infesting our everyday lives, our pub conversations, even giving us the courage to venture to Scary Bristol to watch Spider-man 2. (To then compare our own powers to Spidey’s, much to the disgust of girlfriends present). There cannot be enough superstuff in our lives, and so 2002’s greatest effort is welcomed with warm hearts and glowing, electricity filled fingertips. While the multiplayer game has been completely usurped by CoH’s wonderful world, the single player campaign is still unique in superbod gaming.

Where have all the good men gone, and where are all the gods? Where’s the street-wise Hercules, to fight the rising odds? Well, to answer the question, at the moment such vigilante goody-goodies are everywhere. Freedom Force gives you the chance to be that hero, to be that hero ‘til the end of the night. And the next day too, if the need be.


“SMITE THE WICKED”. Because then you can say, “I smote”, and that sounds great.

PCG 122, 79%
PIII 500, 128Mb RAM

Man, this is a boring game. It’s a good game, yeah, and it’s well made and everything works fine. Hey, you might even like it and want to play it. But wow, boring.

Taking control of the Roman army, during the days of Mr Caesar and his… oh blimey, I’m bored again. Composure. Come on, we can do it. Using Total War’s squad-based units, you are required to hack-n-chop your way through 24 missions of Caesar’s march across Europe, taking full advantage of the game’s carefully crafted environments for maximum efficient use of each unit type’s strengths and skills. Oh, come on! You’ve already moved across to the next column, haven’t you! COME BACK! If I have to write it, you have to read it.

What Praetorians does best is realise the awesome (and hideous) achievement of the Roman army. These tiny few taking on an entire continent, and somehow winning. That’s kinda intriguing. This was in part due to the incredible cruelty of Caesar, and his implementation of warcrimes as battle tactics. (The truth behind the Asterix stories is too horrible for words, as the dreadful man allowed the Gaul women and children to starve to death, futily eating /grass/ in an attempt to survive the invasion… Ha! I was interesting!). And it does this by ticking all the correct RTS boxes, in order.

Unfortunately, gaming requires more than correctly filled in forms. It needs fire, flames in its belly, to excite us to a crisp And Praetorians fails at this. And of course, it goes with [sic] saying that Rome: Total War will render this as pointless as an underwater hot air balloon.


Worms World Party
Sold Out
PCG 94, 80%
P200, 32Mb RAM

Worms was a game designed for the internet, before the World Wide Web was a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. (This is a lie. The W3 first emerged around 1989, and the first Worms wasn’t until 1995). Before now, to play against another Real Life Person you had to actually have a friend come around your house. And then you wouldn’t be allowed to have him/her just come in and play the game and throw them out as soon as you were done. You’d probably have to give them tea or something.

Fortunately, all that misery is at an end with Worms World Party. It remains, you’ll be pleased to learn, purest Worms. This isn’t some ridiculous attempt to reinvent the idea, as an isometric FPS or something – this is flinging your stupidly noised weapons of war towards the opposing team’s nematodes in order to hear the squeaky “uh-oh” of impending pink, squishy death. But now: online!

Really, there’s no more to Worms than that Gorilla game on the BBC machines at first school, where you had to lob bananas at the correct trajectory to hit the other ape dude. Man! I’ve just realised – they were tricking us into doing maths! Nngggh, I hate that. Thankfully, Worms is safely free of any such sneaky educational undercurrent.

Although no different to/from Worms Armageddon in content, the important addition for this edition is the ability to play others about the globe, in what one could describe as a “world party”. A rubbish party of course, with only worms for company. Worms intent on killing one another. But at least no one will eat your tea.


Lara Croft Tomb Raider Angel Of Darkness
PCG 126, 55%
PIII 500, 128Mb RAM

What. On. Earth.

It’s like gaming’s bad dream. Cashcow Lara Croft (she must get so sick of being called that. Er, if she’s become real by some mystic means), the guarantor of great riches and jumpy somersault action, suddenly becoming one of the most infamous failures in years.

If you’ve not had a go at Angel of Darkness (or LCTRAOD as I prefer to call it), it’s actually worth nicking a copy of a friend who was unfortunate enough to buy it, just to see quite what an astonishing pile of arse this really is.

Lara has two rules to follow. She must be able to jump, and she must be able to push blocks. In LCTRAOD she can barely do either. For reasons best left undiscovered, Core decided to abandon the grid system of Lara’s previous outings (allowing you to line her up to the edges of things, guaranteeing a successful leap and so on) for a new approach to character control. An approach where you have your avatar wheel around uncontrollably, hellbent on her suicidal intent, lurching off anything with an edge. And responding to player’s concerns that the block pushing wasn’t UNBELIEVEABLY ANNOYING enough, they’ve generously implementing the bizarre and nonsensical requirement to build up muscles before she can push stuff.

Surely pushing things makes you tired, not better able to shoulder-barge a crate towards a wall? But to ask that is to make the crucial mistake of searching for sense in amongst this disaster story.

AOD should stand as an example for the industry, of what can happen if a publisher imposes ludicrous pressure on a developer. So much of what is wrong are the failed attempts to rush new ideas in too quickly. She was better off when underneath a broken pyramid.


Might & Magic IX
PCG 109, 42%
PII 400, 64Mb RAM

I can boast to be the most expensive courier service in the world. For reasons best known to themselves, 3DO invited only the most beautiful games journalists to visit them in Santa Monica for the release of Might & Magic IX and Heroes of Might & Magic III. But when we got there, they wouldn’t let us play it, and instead gave us finished copies of both games to take home. Um. Has living next to the filthy, rotting Baywatch beach eroded the part of their brain that remembers the existence of postal services? Or perhaps they didn’t want to hear our loud, scathing laughter as we caught our first glimpse of this hopeless, dated, rubbish-faced RPG. Just perhaps.

As mentioned a couple of months ago when M&M VIII flopped out on Sold Out’s range, no series should reach this many Roman numerals. If you’ve got Xs in your title, it’s time to have a new idea. And I include Final Fantasy, nerdos. Proving that the Lithtech engine isn’t a magical cure-all for horribly dated ideas, the giant leap forward in rubbish-o-graphics still leaves it ninety-seven million steps behind everything else.

The FPS format was never going to be suitable, and having a screen of things to click on, and no cursor to click on them with is more annoying than being poked in the eye by a Victoria Wood DVD. Even my dad, who for some unknown reason insists on playing this horrible series, wouldn’t play this one. Condemnation indeed.


Past Masters

Ultima Underworld 1 & 2
Looking Glass
Before our time, matey

UU2 especially changed this writer’s world, as it was the very first PC game I ever played. That’s kind of formative. How blessed I was to play one of the most important, genre defining First Person RPGs at the very start of a grown-up computer career.

Both took place in the long-established Ultima universe, but changed perspectives with the sort of innovation that Looking Glass (or Blue Sky Productions, as they were called at first) are retrospectively adulated for. But the games weren’t only crucial for inventing a new, effective way to play RPGs – they also innovated within the format, weaving an elaborate and engaging tale inside Lord British’s world. Compare with Bioware’s KotOR, managing to tell a brilliant story within the tiresomely dull narrative universe of Star Wars.

It’s no coincidence that this is Looking Glass’ second (and third) mention in this box. When it comes to the title of changing the PC’s world, none can offer a better claim.