John Walker's Electronic House

TB 148

They’re Back 148

If there’s a full price game in sight, John Walker will budge-it out of the way. Ha ha!

Worms 3D
PCG 128, 90%
800MHz CPU, 256Mb RAM

I tried an experiment. I collected together worms from either side of a garden, placed them at two ends of a children’s sandpit, and armed them with a series of miniature explosives and weapons. I wanted to discover the inspiration for Team 17’s long running series of games, to learn the nature of the violence in the culture of worming life. So with those worms arranged, the crates of fresh ammunition scattered liberally around, and some amusing obstacles arranged between the two teams, what happened? Nothing.

For about ten minutes. And then the two sides of worms picked up their weapons, crawled toward one another, and united against me, launching an assault on my house. I am writing this from a neighbour’s shed where I am currently seeking refuge, while the invading forces take complete control of my property.

My only hope is to find a way to turn the worms against one another. Worms 3D is my inspiration. Worms is a stalwart of the medium, evolving over the last decade but sticking with the same essential hook (not a word worms like to hear) of pitting two sides of crawlers in explosive battle, using an array of ridiculous and inventive weapons. Despite being realised in a 3D environment, this incarnation makes very few changes from this format, which is probably why it succeeds so well. Team 17 haven’t merely added in the z-axis out of a feeling of modern obligation, but instead considered how this new vantage point could score them advantage points. Fnarr.

Weapons like the bazooka, shotgun or grenades were previously all about trajectory, but never direction. Now with the optional (and necessary) first-person perspective, your aim is a lot more under your control. Old favourites like the sheep or farting old ladies are also reinvented to be entertainingly appropriate for the format. In short, it’s one of the few games to see its transition to 3D be a step forward. It’s just a shame that the camera angles used for showing weapon attacks is often very poor. However, the excellent new Campaign mode, and the obligatory multiplayer, ensure that this is every bit as Worms as you could wish for in our modern age.


Midnight Nowhere
PCG 134, 51%
400MHz CPU, 64Mb RAM

As I write this, I have my phone tucked between ear and shoulder, waiting in a seemingly endless queue on my bank’s credit card phone line, listening to some of the most ghastly pop music imaginable. It’s torture. So why is my head bopping around to “I love you, always forever, near and far, closer together…”? Because I’m conditioned. Nevermind the astonishingly poor non-piano underneath her saccharine voice, a damaged society has trained me, Pavlovian style, to bounce up and down in this way. I’m helpless to fight it. It’s the same reason that Midnight Nowhere’s old-fashioned point and click interface and puzzles have me clicking away in the opening morgue, despite immediately being faced with meaningless puzzles, comments like “I’m not sure it’s heroin. Otherwise I’d shoot it up. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so f(licking) bad,” and my protagonist’s complaining that a dead woman’s breasts are too small.

I’ve had to be put through to another department, as I need to do a telephone security clearance before progressing. This time the hold music is a ghastly, generic corporate synthesised mess, thirty seconds clumsily looped. Leaving the opening location of Midnight, the same becomes apparent. Dead bodies, serial killer plot, random porn on the walls, puzzles involving vibrators – they all do little to disguise the tired cliches of adventure stalwarts, setting you off on a loop of solving puzzle A to open door B to access puzzle C.

The security people have transfered me back to the main switchboard, but something’s gone wrong. This time the corporate jingle is buried beneath a mess of static and crackling noises. I hang up.


Cricket 2002
Sold Out
PCG 113, 74%
300MHz CPU, 64Mb RAM

As much as I hate sports management games, and believe those who enjoy them to be sub-human genetic errors, I can at least see the logic behind playing them – you’re not attempting to recreate the intricacies of the sport, you’re just replicating a nightmare of spreadsheeted pointlessness. And I suppose I’ll give some room for digitised football projects – a game so painfully simplistic and dull is easily converted: run forward, back, left, right, kick. Finished. But cricket? It’s not even vaguely appropriate.

The 2002 edition of EA’s series fixes a lot of the problems encountered in 2000’s flawed incarnation. It does this by keeping the variety as limited as possible. Bowlers and batters are restricted to a set number of approaches, varied by various power meters and boost bars, reinventing the tactics and dynamics of cricket as arcade timing. Of course, this is a trick that has worked for golf games for years, so in the same way it’s not so much a simulation of the activity, but a completely different type of game wearing thematic sporting clothes.

If the sport’s rules and aesthetics are adhered to appropriately, the disguise works and the game succeeds. Cricket 2002 gets halfway there, making a decent stab of the willow vs leather action, but sadly falls down completely with the ambiance. The character animation is poor, making things often look silly, and the background details (crowds, weather, etc) are awful. And then this is worsened by extremely poor commentary, badly cut and inappropriately timed. Yet it remains the best cricket game released to date.


World Championship Snooker 2003
Sold Out
PCG 131, 62%
700MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

Games with dates in their title do not fair well in their budget reinvention. The previously mentioned Cricket 2002 only gets away with it because the 2004 version was so much worse. But WC Snooker 2003 managed the unenviable achievement of originally releasing itself at the beginning of 2004. It’s troubling that still futuristic-sounding dates like 2003 now also sound old and historical. Temporal flux. Abort.

It’s hard to understand where the effort went when making WCS 2003, as snooker games got the physics right years ago. Once the balls bounce around the table how they should, and the cue interface is as realistic as moving a mouse back and forth will allow, the only thing left to work on is the atmospherics. And since Blade Interactive had the World Snooker licence, there was nothing holding them back from creating the most snookery snooker game ever seen.

So why do all the players have the exact same body with a different face glued on? Why is the commentary farcical? Why are the player animations so desperately poor? Why does it all look flat and poorly lit? It appears that all the effort went into making sure the balls have shiny lightbulb reflections. Controversial though it may be, I’m suggesting that there’s more to snooker than that.

The ludicrous Jimmy White sponsored Cueball series does a far better job of making a mediocre meal of the sport, and you’re far better off with that.


Darkened Skye
PCG 128, 27%

For those who follow these things, despite my constant plugging of products such as Jelly Tots and swivel chairs, I’ve yet to receive even an attempt at some sort of corporate bribery or under-the-counter deal. Evil capitalist sponsorship is not as easy as the ads department make it look. Or indeed Darkened Skye, with its quite preposterous product placement of Skittles.

I seem to recall from my murky memory some sort of 7-Up sponsored platform game using the “Cool Spot” character. I also seem to remember that it wasn’t actually awful. Ah yes, over a decade ago, in PCG 8, Cool Spot – 72%. So while not unique, it’s still hard to graciously accept that Skye’s adventure requires that she run around collecting the sponsoring sweet in what is apparently a world based on the “Taste The Rainbow” campaign.

The presumptuousness of this is galling – the only thing about the adverts I remember is the scary girl’s voice whispering the slogan in a very unsettling manner. Hardly a conceit on which a game should be built.

Although, perhaps better this than that M&Ms campaign where desperate-looking Hollywood actresses flirt with grotesquely giant CGI chocolate discs. Where is that relationship going? And will she melt in /their/ hands? Er, move on.

Of course, it’s not the IN YOUR FACE ever-present nature of the product that really drags things down. It’s the dreadful game, requiring frustratingly precise jumping, and entirely skill-free combat, in an uninspired and cynically produced shell.


Past Masters

PCG 54, 86%

When following the success stories of the RPG, the name Interplay comes up again and again. If you track the careers of those who have worked there, you find CVs listing the key classics: Baldur’s Gate, Planescape and KotOR. But go back to 1997 and you’ll find most of those names appearing on Fallout.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the non-linear pathways through the game featured what would become familiar traits in Baldur’s Gate, where elaborate and involved sub-quests could be embarked upon at any time, parallel to the main story. Perhaps most striking was the game’s sense of allowing you to develop a purpose in the world, with its S.P.E.C.I.A.L. character development system diverse enough for your character’s abilities to focus on the tech no-future elements that most interested you, and thus interpret the game’s world in a manner unique to you.

Sadly the death of Interplay killed off hopes of new Fallout games, along with Baldur’s Gate 3, so this most exquisite example of their storytelling prowess becomes that little bit more valuable.