John Walker's Electronic House

TB 145

They’re Back 145

Warm the cold evenings with a word-cuddle from John Walker.

Crazy Taxi 3
PCG 132, 70%
1GHz CPU, 256Mb RAM

That’s ‘Psychologically Disturbed Taxi’, thank you – Medical Ed.

I’ve often thought that the world would be greatly improved if giant, florescent floating circles and arrows were to appear above people and objects of particular significance. And especially a bloody great big arrow immediately in front of me on the roads telling me in which direction to drive. As anyone who has ever been in a car with me will know, I have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever. I can get lost in a bathroom. I certainly cannot work out in which direction my car is facing, and where my destination is relative to me. Which can prove a huge hindrance in these popular-with-the-young-people city-based driving games – a condition that goes largely unrecognised by the masses.

When us poor folk play games like Mafia, or GTA, we spend more time staring at that wee map in the corner than at the bulk of the screen. In effect, we reduce the most sophisticated 3D games down to top-down 2D Commodore 64 renderings. Crazy Taxi is a game made for us.

With the ever-present floating green arrow, it’s impossible to not know in which direction your destination lies. The challenge appears in working out the best way to actually go in that direction, and hey, these taxis are just /craaaazy/. The “crazy hop” of CT2 appears again here, allowing your car the rather improbable ability to leap from the surface of the road, giving you access to roof-tops, alleyways, and all sorts of less conventional routes.

The central premise of the game remains true to the arcade original – see how long you can keep playing, how many fares you can take, and how high a score you can run up within the incredibly tight time limits. And at doing this it does well. And it now does it across three cities, including a revamped version of the best of them all, San Francisco. Not so impressive are the 25 mini-games that do little to entertain, and really feel more like filler.

Trouble is, Vice City features most of what Crazy Taxi offers as a mini-game in itself. CT3 needed to do a lot more than what it had done twice already, and it absolutely doesn’t. Someone should float a big pink arrow above Rockstar so Sega notice.


A fare-ground ride! Ha ha ha. Weak.

Commandos 3
PCG 128, 72%
700MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

It’s hard to understand what was going on in the minds of Pyro Studio. Having developed the awesomely lovely WW2 strategy Commandos 2, you’d think there’d not be too much difficulty in generating a third without getting too much wrong. Sure, it might not be quite as good, maybe they would have used up all their best ideas in the second, but still, something similar should have been a shoe-in. So what possessed them to remove so much of what had made the series great is a mystery. Perhaps it was the work of a rival studio, sneaking into their shed the night before release and smashing the game to bits with an axe, and all they could cobble back together in time was this. Or perhaps it was something that didn’t happen in Spaced. It’s possible.

Maybe the simplest thing to do is list what is gone: Three main characters (Natasha, the Driver and Whiskey), some skills of the remaining soldiers, any bonus missions, the number of scenarios (now eleven), the rest of the world other than Europe, noise indicators, the ability to change the resolution (800×600 only), and difficulty settings. Phew. Not a good sign, for neither the mindset of the developers, or the unbridled entertainment of the player.

What remains is still a reasonably strong strategy game, and a beautiful one. (The painted levels are gorgeous with their sepia-toned 1940s authenticity. What? No, it’s true. The 1940s were slightly sepia. Ask anyone). However, what remains is a shell of what once was, and it would be fatuous to ignore that. And They’re Back Fans, gone are the penguins, elephants and rats. Sniff. Gulp… Ok, move on now. I need to be alone for moment.


Sold Out
PCG 118, 82%
600MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

Sold Out are really annoying, releasing the same games as other budget labels, but a year later and at half the price. It deserves recognition, but I’ve already used up all the most obvious jokes. Most obviously of all being the joy felt when discovering that the game was built on the ‘Walker’ engine. 100%

If the Sim Cities and Theme Parks of this world are micro management, then this must surely be macro management. Although, it is of course more properly a real-time strategy, asking you to not only build and manage a giant empire in space, but also wage war against those ever-naughty folk of Mars. This is achieved in a manner that leans more toward the management side, rather than the /right in the cockpit/ approach of others, with a competent AI in charge of the finer details of combat. You’re far too busy balancing the books, and commanding the next assault of Jupiter’s moons for such piffling matters.

It’s also jaw-on-the-desk beautiful. More even than other “oh my goodness, this is so amazing” space combat games like Homeworld, with pleasingly gritty ship designs far more Firefly than Star Trek. This is for certain: if we get to go to outer space, and it isn’t this pretty, a lot of people are going to want their money back.

The trouble is, there’s no tutorial, and this is way too difficult to excuse that. While the controls are far easier to get to grips with than in other space operas, and it’s generally more intuitive throughout, to not offer a helpful way in smacks of elitism (ha).

However, get to grips with it and there’s quite an extraordinary amount to do, on an elaborate scale. It seems that destroying a ship from Mars a day helps you work, rest and play. Hurrah – an obvious joke remained!


TOCA Race Driver
PCG 121, 88%
700 MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

The literalism of this title brings me great joy. All games should be named this way. “Doom: Monster Shooter”. “GTA: Commit Some Crimes”. “The Adventure Company: Big Pile of Shite”. Few people shall stare at the box in a shop pondering what sort of game may lie within? Apart from, maybe, “Is it a multi-ethnic golfing simulation?”

Ok, so get this. You are, despite any lies your mirror, family or gender might tell you, Ryan McKane. Yes indeed. Sounding like a 80s Bruce Wills character, the reason you are involved in the thirteen race competitions set across 38 tracks is to defend your late father’s memory, after he died in a race fifteen years ago. Tee hee. The silly billies. But it matters none, as somehow throwing a bucket of sloppy story over the bonnet doesn’t appear to have had any ill-effect. In fact, it manages to get away with it quite well.

There are of course the usual 19 trillion modes, including single races, the elaborate story-led career mode, and championship races that can be leapt in and out of. And more importantly, it gets the driving physics right, which when it all boils down is really the only important ingredient. However, to experience this at its full, you might want to invest in an analogue wheel. Well, I say “invest”, but it seems a little unlikely that such a purchase will lead on to your becoming rich through Touring Car racing. But if it does, I rightly deserve 10%. TOCA: RD rightly deserves


Val d’Isere Ski Park Manager
Sold Out
PCG 110, 42%
350 MHz CPU, 64Mb RAM

Tuck Shop Manager. Is that unlikely enough to stand as a joke? No, probably not. No matter how low a spoof one tries to generate as an impossibly silly management sim, they still remain entirely plausible in light of the drivel that gets published. Sim Portaloo Hiring Company?

Here’s how it works. You manage a ski park, design some slopes on the hills, open a restaurant, look at a graph, wonder what’s on TV, boil the kettle, realise that the kitchen calendar is two months out of date and get around to changing it, notice that you forgot your cousin’s birthday, wonder if you should still send a card or if it would be better to give her a call, see the list on the fridge and realise you still haven’t bought new shoelaces and your TV license is about to run out, wonder if the Post Office in the local shop sells shoelaces, or if you’ll need to drive to Sainsbury’s as well, decide you’ll chance it and walk around the corner, bump into Anna and chat for a bit and make plans to go for lunch next Saturday, get the TV license and yes, they do sell shoelaces, that’s good, notice that they have a 2-for-1 on malt loaf so get some of that as well, walk home, groan because you’ve still not replaced the missing brick in the front doorstep, but promise yourself that you’ll do that this weekend, drop your keys, pick them up, step inside, see that you have an hour and half before you have to go out to the cinema and pick up that book you started last week.


Past Masters
The Fools Errand
Miles Computing
Manley Associates
Old enough to be our dad.

In your world of Half-Life 3s and 4D graphics cards, it’s quite hard to defend oneself when getting excited about a 16 colour DOS puzzle game. But The Fool’s Errand is one of those games that if you played it, you’ll now be saying, “Oh my goodness! Wow, I remember that. Man, it was… weird.” And it was. Essentially a card-based puzzle game, it hid beneath this façade an intricate story, and what can only now be recognised as a foreshadow of Alternate Reality Gaming and obscurities like In Memoriam.

You, literally, play the fool, solving a series of involving puzzles under the guise of running errands for the various characters met throughout this tarot-influenced oddity, attempting to lift the enchantments of the High Priestess. And it worked – the puzzles were there for a reason, weaving you deeper into the meta-narrative, and ultimately providing you with clues that could solve the final uber-conundrum. It’s a story that sticks with you, like a childhood dream you can’t properly remember, but yet still manages to haunt.

All the work of Cliff Johnson, he has now made it available for free download from his site, at