John Walker's Electronic House

TB 146

They’re Back 146

Wise man John Walker say: Out with the new and in with the old.

Prisoner of War
PCG 115, 80%
500 MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

The great escape.

Perhaps it’s just my namby-pamby leftie pinko liberal ways, but I find the peculiar contradiction of the rules of the prisoner of war camp, and the rules battlefield, a little hard to get my head around. When you meet outdoors you’re allowed to shoot each other to death, but when you’re indoors you have to feed and clothe people and give them rudimentary tunnel-making tools? Bless the Geneva Convention for existing, and thank goodness it does, but why can’t the inherent philosophy be employed outside of the camps? Oh, listen to me, wittering on. Of course, these less lethal locations are often ignored in the mountains of WW2 shooters, which makes this Codies release all the more intriguing.

Prison is all about routine. Up at 7, breakfast at 8, learning how to steal cars from your cellmate at 9.30, having the crap kicked out of you in the shower at 4. Clockwork. War prison was apparently no different, and it is the regular daily patterns that form the structure for POW’s play. It’s all about attempting to escape, but how you do this, with what, and when, is very much related to the chances you take and the times of day you take them. Essentially a sneak-em-up, night time is your obvious ally for moving unseen. However night time is when you should be all tucked up in your bed, listening to the bedtime story from your guard – you’ll be missed. Contrastingly, daylight is nature’s spotlight on your nefarious schemes, but your daily tasks and activities are going to get you a lot closer to the equipment you might want to borrow. Since the speed with which you make your getaway affects your score, how you use these elements to your improvisational advantage is key.

The clunky graphics aren’t enough to stop this nice idea from working, and while some smarter AI would have been nice, it’s still clever enough to spot that you shouldn’t be in a German uniform if you hang around the wrong place for too long. While not world beating, POW is a solid enough idea well executed. As will you be if you get caught.


Fun sneaking action making WW2 vaguely interesting again.

Sudden Strike II
PCG 114, 67%
333 MHz CPU, 64Mb RAM

Guess what. I’ve got a big surprise for you. There’s a fifty pound note hidden in every copy of PC Gamer this month. It’s hidden in the hardware section where no one would ever think to look. Go look for it, quick, you’re rich!

No? Not there? Oh. Well, you can’t have everything you want. I wanted to write about Sudden Strike II this afternoon, but the crippling toothache that exploded inside my skull meant I had to make the four hour round trip to see my dad and have him remove the tooth. (I stress that he is a dentist). So here I am, writing in the early hours of the morning, about a mediocre-at-best World War II real-time strategy game. World War II, for goodness sake. Disappointing.

It’s not awful, but if it were it would at least be interesting. There are five big campaigns made up of a good number of missions each, and there are detailed units in keeping with the period. But it’s not enough. Because when your game’s AI is so average as to allow enemy to ignore cover, friendly units to wilfully stand in the line of fire, and the player’s units to not even have the good sense to move forward to learn what is destroying them, then it leaves an empty feeling. There’s nothing new here, nothing unique. Even the game’s name is boring enough to make the grotesque scrunching sounds of my splintering wisdom tooth more of an entertaining alternative.

Averageness is sometimes worse than dreadfulness. Dreadfulness can be fun to show your friends. Sudden Strike II is so middling it’s literally less entertaining than having teeth pulled.


Warlords IV: Heroes of Etheria
129, 76%
450 MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

Talking of average. There’s a reason why turn-based strategy has been replaced by real-time strategy. It’s because real time is an awful lot better. Turn based only existed because people hadn’t figured out how to create games that allowed the depth of interaction on the fly to orchestrate complicated battles. As soon as the technology and imagination came along, the turn based was relegated to history as well it should be.

That Warlords 4 should still be fighting for this museum-piece gameplay is a little sad. It’s a bit like those idiots who insist on using a typewriter instead of a computer, and then spend hours and hours trying to untangle the ribbon from their eyebrows, while painting everything they own with white-out. There’s a better tool for the job, and to not use it is to be a great big prat.

At least it isn’t set in the Second World War I suppose. Instead it’s in the Fantasy Age. This latest wheeling out of the franchise allows you to play as any of ten different races, including dragons and orcs and the like, through a campaign story offering plenty of activities and side-quests. But sadly, the story stays the same no matter which you choose, even so far as the orcs being told they are at war with the orcs.

The fourth edition is enlivened by a decent injection of magic, but unfortunately not a decent injection of the 21st century. If you do still want to play turn based, then it’s one of the few left. However, it’s not one of the best.


Sold Out
PCG 90, 83%
166MHz CPU, 32Mb RAM

Theocritus wrote in 265 BCE, “sometimes Zeus is clear, sometimes he rains”. Because Zeus was often thought of as both literally and figuratively the weather. Which, if you think about it, makes it a bit odd that he was also the supreme ruler of all the gods and people. I suppose it’s some relief to learn that such deification of the climate, placing it as the thing of most import in all the world, isn’t uniquely a British trait.

Following on from Caesar III and Pharaoh, Impressions Games used the same engine to build their next Civ-style management game for their next chosen chunk of history. The problem is, the period of time in which this game was written is now becoming far back enough for it to perhaps be considered the setting for their next. I’m saying it’s old. Do you see?

There’s a certain advantage to this genre, where the isometric graphics, despite being confused by new-fangled resolutions, age reasonably well. Certainly more modern equivalents look enormously more pretty, but when your task is running a tile-based city through design and resource management, it’s not ultimately that significant. It’s fairly standard city management fare, with the obvious necessity to ensure that your people are housed, fed, entertained and educated, whilst also protected from enemy cities and indeed conquering them for themselves. What makes it more fun is the strong theme, especially the inclusion of the Greek gods, heroes and mythical beasts. (But try telling /them/ that they’re mythical).

At over four years old, there’s clearly deeper, more involved management games out there, but if the theme attracts you then there’s little reason not to have a look.


C&C Renegade
Sold Out
PCG 107, 47%
400 MHz CPU, 96Mb RAM

Half Life didn’t spawn a Sims style management game in which you ran the day to day movements of the workers at Black Mesa Research Facility. Shogun: Total War wasn’t reworked as a third person ninja platform game. And GTA: Vice City isn’t currently receiving a redesign as a text adventure (> STAB PROSTITUTE_). So why on earth was Command & Conquer made into a first person shooter?

The Command & Conquer series, unless I’ve been horribly misinformed, were some sort of strategy games that the young people enjoyed playing so much. Terribly popular it was. Quite good as well, I understand. There were very few sitting back from their computers crying out, “But why is there no gun floating ethereally at the bottom of my screen?” Since there have been quite a few more saying, “Bandwagon”.

To understand quite how much Westwood bit off more than they can chew, try to imagine a little baby shrew optimistically locking its jaws around a hot air balloon. Not only did they have enormous faith that their franchise would work as an FPS, but they also believed they could build their own engine to realise this. They were wrong on both counts. The result is a buggy mess of horrid clipping problems, dreadful AI, and a world so ugly it could melt an rock.

There’s no tension, no challenge, and no fun to be had. Weapons are crap, the story’s crap, it’s all just crap. Crap crap crap. Crap.


Past Masters
Command & Conquer: Tiberium Dawn
PCG 20, 93%

Westwood had already made a name for themselves with the beginnings of the RTS genre via Dune and Dune II. But it was Command & Conquer: Tiberium Dawn that captured the world’s attention, and spawned one of the most heralded series in the PC’s history. Using the same starting principles as Dune II, your task was to harvest resources in order to construct buildings and purchase units – standard RTS structure even a decade ago. What made C&C different, apart from a step forward in graphics and sound, was something remarkably simple and yet enormously important: you could select units in groups, rather than having to issue orders to each individually. It opened up new possibilities for warfare action.

Of course, it also began the tales of battles between the Brotherhood of the NOD and the Global Defense Initiative, telling this developing story via the two CDs of lengthy animations between each mission.

Now available on various abandonware sites, nostalgia might just be a good enough reason to have a look at how it began a decade ago.