John Walker's Electronic House

TB 147

They’re Back 147

John Walker doesn’t know the meaning of “self indulgent”. That’s John Walker.

Beyond Good & Evil
PCG 131, 82%
700MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

Further proof that it’s never wrong to fancy a cartoon character.

Sometimes it’s possible to be wrong. For instance, it’s possible that Jim Rossignol and Richard Cobbett could pester you for months to play a game, and when you finally get around to it, you might think that they are idiots because the game appears to be nothing other than a photograph-em-up. You’ll play the first level, do nothing but take snaps of various obscure animals, and have a conversation with a fifty year old mechanic pig, Pey’J. And you say to Richard and Jim, “What are you on about? It’s really dull.” And it is at that point that you are wrong.

BG&E is different from everything else, and difference means change. We fear change. But it’s important to face that fear head on and complete the first chapter, because it’s an extremely clever way of introducing you to a world that you need to approach a little differently. The central character, Jade (with her astonishingly sexy sarcastic eyebrows and green lipstick), is a photographer by living, and is employed to collect pictures of the various flora and fauna inhabiting the planet. She lives in an idyllic lighthouse on an idyllic island, surrounded by a menagere of cute and fluffy friends, and her apparent uncle, Pey’J. And she loves them. Really, really loves them. And after about an hour’s play, so do you. And it’s at that moment that you realise how right Jim, Rich, and indeed now me, are.

Things aren’t quite as ideal as they might first appear – there are increasingly more meteor showers occuring in the area, and it becomes quickly apparent that they are no accident. Travelling around what appears to be a futuristic equivalent of Venice in your speedboat, and exploring the various sections of the city on foot, a simple but involving conspiracy story/puzzle game begins to unfurl, which is then made personal when Pey’J is kidnapped. No! Not Pey’J! We love him!

Michel Ancel, creator of Rayman bizarrely, is responsible for producing an action game that is never tedious, requires no tiresome leaping about, doesn’t stupidly hike the difficulty levels in the elegant combat, and is as emotionally evocative as the PS2’s wondrous Ico. (High praise indeed). Cheers Jim and Rich.


Elegant and eloquent, how action games should be made.

PCG 122, 84%
366MHz CPU, 64Mb RAM

Dear Mother,

There’s been a rare break in battle, and I have the opportunity to write to you to let you know how I am, and what is happening. Please show this letter to Father and to Catherine, and tell them I love and miss them. I still do not know how much longer I will spend here, as I’m only halfway through the Allied missions, and I’ve still got the German and Russian arcs to play.

Conditions are rough, and rations are getting low. Jonty sent out for pizza last night, but the leftovers are now finished, and finding more food will involve someone leaving the flat. How I long to return home to your cooked meals.

This is unlike any other battle I’ve fought in, mother. It’s somehow more serious and focussed. It’s not the same as my two week campaign serving in Command & Conquer, or that time I was called up for Commandos – there is no sense of humour about anything. Here war seems more real. Like when grandad played it. The pace is slow, and the battles are carefully planned and explosively executed.

I’m just as attached to the people I’m fighting with as before, perhaps even moreso. When someone dies it’s all I can do not to switch the computer off and have a bath. The more missions we serve in, the more the units improve, especially when we serve in the extra side missions between levels. And I grow more fond of them.

That’s all I have time to say. It seems strange to say that this is enjoyable, but in a brutal way, it is. Oh, and could you send some money? We need bread.

Love John.


Pirates of the Caribbean
PCG 127, 63%
800MHz CPU, 128 Mb RAM

Correct me if I’m wrong, and I’m not, but didn’t the film Pirates of the Caribbean have something in its story about evil zombie pirates trying to steal cursed gold? I ask because Bethesda Software, when developing the game tie-in, didn’t seem to see this bit. It would seem slightly more likely that they forgot to see the film at all, and instead stayed home playing their fifteen year old copy of Pirates! on their Amiga.

It’s a reasonable argument that admits it might be a good thing that the licensed game doesn’t attempt to recreate the tale of the movie scene for scene, but that doesn’t extend to missing out /the point of the movie/. What remains is a very average pirate game, hollow with the lack of crazy zombies.

If you played the recent version of Sid Meier’s Pirates! then the following is going to sound very familiar: You are the pirate captain of a ship with free roam of the game’s waters and cities, alongside a main storyline that can be followed. The English Governer wants you to work as a spy for him, and this involves fighting the French in sea battles, on-land and on-ship sword fights, interacting with city-bound NPCs, affecting national allegiances, and hunting for treasure.

The freedom from the main story is commendable, but unlike Meier’s version the various elements are not slick and seamless. Instead things are slow and clunky, with a cruelly difficult learning curve. A year on, with a definitive release of the Microprose classic, and the absence of a zombie story, pirate mediocrity just isn’t enough.


Chessmaster 9000
PCG 115, 86%
450MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

Certainly the saddest victim of the current numerical embargo on game titles is the Chessmaster series. As the entire industry molests any sense from the system, few survive. If you think this isn’t a matter of consequence, then you’ve forgotten “Driv3r”. (I want to be the first person to accurately predict the name of the next in the series: DrIVer. You just wait and see). Witness before you the last entertainingly titled chess game, with the most recent version being so soulessly christened “Chessmaster: 10th Edition”.

Quite how such numerological hyperbole became affiliated with something so sedate as chess is a mystery. It did, however, give rise to something that caused me to laugh like an idiot in 1993: ‘National Lampoon’s Chess Maniac 5 Billion and 1’. But despite such cruel mockery, they persisted, not only with the silly names, but also with creating the world’s best chess simulators.

Obviously innovations within the gameplay are hard to come by for such a stalwart game, staying exactly the same since it’s invention in 1968 by Mr Chess (Rossignol 2004, p.34-35). And until he finally releases Chess 2, it’s going to stay fairly similar for the foreseeable future. However, version 9000 is significant for two main reasons. 1. It introduce proper, fancy 3D graphics, allowing you to view the board from any angle. 2. It brought in online play, letting you play other humans while still guided by the programme’s excellent on-board support.

The more recent v.10 has a revamped interface and greater online support, but it doesn’t have the nice beardy man on the box. Pros and cons.


PCG 125, 49%
300 MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

I watched an episode of CSI once. I was at my sister’s house, and she insisted. Freak. The investigating team were trying to find the location of a man who had driven from a large carpark in a Winnebago, which had fortuitously developed a leak in its chemical toilet. They were able to follow the drips to the exit of the carpark, and then… down the busy road! Amazing! But it got better (“HOW?!” you cry. I’ll tell you). They then… followed the trail through some woods! It was only thanks to these remarkable police skills that the evildoer was apprehended, and John thought even less of his sister’s rubbish tastes.

It was better than this game though. Up to eight times better. In the programme they were able to impossibly find clues against all odds. In the game all odds are against your finding the impossibly hidden clues. There are five ‘episodes’, each pairing you up with a different member of the show’s cast, and each displaying the very depths of acting inadequacy. The storylines are obviously only included because they weren’t up to the programme’s extraordinary standards, and do nothing to engage.

Worse is the interaction, requiring that you scrape every screen with your mouse in the hope you find the vital pixel for the investigation, and then punishes you if you miss anything despite having arrested the right person for the crime. Combined with laughably poor graphics (perspective makes few appearances), it’s a remarkably accurate rendition of the TV show on your PC.


Past Masters
Beneath A Steel Sky
PCG1, 91%

Having made an impression with Lure of the Temptress, Charles Cecil’s developement house Revolution wowed people further with Beneath A Steel Sky. The cyberpunk point and click adventure was impressive for a number of reasons, not least of all because it managed to stand out as a pinnacle of the genre right in the middle of LucasArts’ heyday.

Comic artist Dave Gibbons (2000AD) was brought in to create the bleak, dystopian future that was responsible for the game’s powerfully evocative oppressive atmosphere, which was given life by a rich and involved story, ultimately searching for a long-lost father. It established what would come to be expected of Revolution: a game built with deep foundations, developed characters, and an emotional honesty that caused the events to feel as though they really mattered. Clearly, for those creating the game, they did.

Cecil’s the nicest man in the industry, and to prove that point, he’s made BASS available as freeware, played via the SCUMMVM engine. Begin here:, and then make your way here: