John Walker's Electronic House

TB 141

They’re Back 141

Tired and trussed, John Walker checks out the tried and trusted.

The Great Escape
Sold Out
PCG 127, 63%

Imagine how terrible it would be if there were games you felt obliged to play every Christmas? Never mind that you’ve played it through four million times already, and never mind that it’s not really that fabulous, you still have to sit through Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Butterfly Net Wars all over again, or the holiday season just won’t seem complete. And you should probably be especially grateful it’s not the case when it comes to the conversion of this seasonal title’s computery conversion.

Certainly the ideas begin well. Rather than a lazy retelling of the film, scene by scene, Pivotal Games have invested time and missions into telling the back story of each major character, having you play through their lives until they find themselves in the famous Nazi prison. And then after the more obvious events of the movie, it’s back to skipping between character stories for their respective breaks for freedom.

The trouble is, Splinter Cell isn’t rubbish. That’s quite a bane for sneaky third person creepers such as The Great Escape. Life would be much easier for all developing if tiptoeing past the guards hadn’t already been done so much more elegantly, with so much easy-access appeal. While Thief is certainly the far, far better game, Splinter Cell is the title that’s captured a planet and catapulted Ubisoft from those guys who made Rayman into a world contender. So if you’re attempting to jump upon this bandwagon, you’re either going to have to push a fleet of boats out, or be especially unique in your approach. You won’t be surprised to learn that The Great Escape is neither.

However, such lurking moments are occasionally broken up by slightly more interesting ideas. There’s turret action from aeroplanes, the odd vehicle to bounce around in, and of course the famous motorbike sequence to recreate. But not a one of these is interesting or distinct enough to keep you hooked.

If you’ve got Steve McQueen posters on your walls and own three copies of the DVD in various different special editions, then there’s probably not much that will convince you to give this a cautious consideration. If, however, you’re not a first year student, then be advised.


Faithful to the film, but not to the fun.

Links 2003
Links 2003 Championship Courses
£10 / £5
PCG 117, 70%

Some golfing quotes:

“It is almost impossible to remember how tragic a place this world is when one is playing golf.” Robert Lynd

“I know I am getting better at golf because I’m hitting fewer spectators.” Gerald Ford

“Golf is a stupid waste of time, destroying swathes of countryside, and is incredibly boring to play.” John Walker

So quite what the fascination is when playing on a computer is quite beyond me. I had a go once – it was horrible. I mean, you have to hit it /so hard/. It surely can’t be safe to knock something so solid, so far. But at least in that situation I had the visceral sensation of brutally attacking the tiny ball.

Links was always the first name in computer golfing, famous for its employing photographs as backgrounds, and thus making you go “wow” as you walked past your boring friend’s machine, before realising it was golf, and then hitting him and making him cry. Now such graphics are intricately rendered, photo-realistic rather than photographs, and hence are painfully slow to render, and something of a backwards step.

Fortuitously, Microsoft’s Links series has taken hints from Tiger Woods, and begun employing slightly more appropriate means of interacting with the game. While still keeping the ‘traditional’ power meter play, there is now also the mouse-sensitive control, requiring motion of pointer, rather than well-timed clicks. However, the uninspired feel, and disappointing customisable options, do little to revive the series.

The add-on pack is a separate release, and a limp one, adding not a great deal to a mediocre golf sim. Stick to Tiger Woods for now.


The Thing
Sold Out
PCG 114, 87%

Unlike The Great Escape, The Thing takes a different approach to the tricksy film-to-pooter conversion. Where the former attempts to flesh out the movie’s plot with back-story and extraneous detail, Computer Artworks’ Thing begins its tale where Carpenter’s ambiguous ending had left the viewer wondering. A clever trick, since any attempts to match the film’s incredible tension and terror would have failed in the comparison. (A quick aside: don’t watch The Thing with my friend Jonathon Harris. He breaks the tension by making stupid comments, because he’s a big scaredycat).

However, this doesn’t mean they haven’t attempted to embrace what made The Thing so amazingly tense: that anyone around you could be the beast in disguise. So as you explore the Antarctic bases, you can team up with up to three other investigators, any of whom could be the titular monster. And as far as they’re concerned, so could you, meaning that each has a trust-o-meter indicating how safe they feel working with you. A lovely idea, but unfortunately one that doesn’t really work to the game’s advantage. You’d have to be a loony to play the game in such a way that would lose their trust, and hence mutiny is not a likely outcome.

Most sadly, The Thing never quite manages to scare you. Where Carpenter’s film cleverly conceals its terror in the sequences /between/ the schlock attacks, the game never manages this atmosphere. It remains a competent third person shooter, and the team AI rarely lets you down, but it’s hard to imagine Jonathan Harris managing to spoil it with his wet wibbling.


Iron Storm
Sold Out
PCG 117, 56%

It doesn’t matter how you spell it, it still seems to be a cursed name when it comes to straight first person shooters (see how I cleverly avoid including Thief 3 and Deus Ex 2?). Despite having nothing to do with the massive development house, Iron Storm still manages to have something of the Daikatana about it.

It’s odd how few FPS titles make it to these pages. They can’t all keep selling so strongly at full price, surely? But when one does appear, it’s not often too delightful a sign. And as is often the case, it’s one of those games that promised so much, and delivered so little.

Alternate universes are safe places to set games – no one can complain about your lack of realism. A thousand golden bunny rabbits attack you from their flying fridges? No problem – it’s an /alternate universe/. Which makes it more interesting that Iron Storm’s alternate universe is so well realised, and so believable. In this world, the First World War has been raging on for over fifty years, and Europe is in something of a mess. It’s an excellent premise, let down by dull design, loopy graphics, and a ridiculous contradiction between weapons and damage.

Where Daikatana had its godforsaken mosquitoes, Iron Storm has stupid guard dogs, near impervious to bullets. You’d be better off muzzling one of them, and strapping it to your chest as armour. Everything here rings with the notion that in an alternate universe, this game came to fruition. Unfortunately, in this one, it remains a very mediocre shooter.


Wolfenstein 3D
PCG not reviewed

Yes, read it again. No, not Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Wolfenstein 3D. From /twelve/ years ago. Really.

Let’s get this out the way: Wolf 3D was the beginning of a whole revolution in gaming. Tony Ellis says I say this too often, but surely this time it’s entirely appropriate? Eh? I’m sure some rubbish pedant somewhere will be able to name another game that did it first, but Wolf was the beginnings of our floaty gun favourites, and deserves its place on a big plush cushion in a very important room in the Museum of Gaming. What it absolutely doesn’t deserve is £5.

It gets sillier. This is the release info on Xplosiv’s site:

“You will move smoothly through a 3D world full of amazing detail and animation. Unlike other 3D games, you’ll run through a sensational and realistic 3-D environment, with intelligent moving guards and opponents.”

Um. Now either this is the bravest piece of bulls(lapping) of all time, or they’ve cut and pasted an original press release from its launch, over a decade ago. Either way, would you care to join me in a collective, “HUH?”. Thank you.

Although it does open the market up a bit. For sale soon: the Naughts & Crosses game I wrote on my graphics calculator during my A levels. “You will place either naughts or crosses into a 9×9 grid full of amazing detail and animation. Unlike other Naughts & Crosses games, you’ll sit still through a sensational and realistic 2-D environment, with the greatest graphics ever in anything ever, on a calculator.” Five pounds please.


Past Masters
Dark Forces
PCG 16, 80%

LucasArts did two very brave things at once: they entered the FPS market without any previous experience, and they didn’t license an engine from id. They also did one thing not brave at all: they made another Star Wars game.

However, in this instance they managed what they wouldn’t again until Knights of the Old Republic (which was Bioware anyway) – they innovated within the license and created something original and enormously entertaining. Don’t forget, Doom was played without either the ability to look up or down, or jump. In adding these two features to Dark Forces, LA gave a new depth of involvement, and best of all, introduced vertigo to gaming.

The incredible drops in some of the levels had you nervously creeping towards edges, daring a peak down, and then quickly moving backwards, all of a tremble. By its innovation and ambition to move beyond the myriad Doom clones, Dark Forces earned its place in the Past Masters lexicon.