John Walker's Electronic House

TB 149

They’re Back 149

John Walker can’t shake the feeling that the past comes back to haunt him.

PCG 136, 90%

How much food is needed to make this game? Two pi r.

Games are often lazy scum. They need some good guys, so they make them, well, you. You like you, and probably would prefer you didn’t die, so that’s simple enough. Team based game? Lots of you. Then they need some enemies, so they make them foriegn, either by nationality or in their contrast to humanity. Why are they your enemy? Because they said so. Shoot at those ones over there. Why? They’re different from you. Everything’s in place, it works. But it would still be nice if people put some effort in.

Perimeter’s enemies /are/ you. Were you. Well, both. You all left Earth together, on board giant flying cities known as Frames. You travelled on the advice of the Spirits who told you of a new Eden somewhere in the multidimensional Coil. You left because of faith. In the search for your goal, you stop at each planet. Resources are gathered, the ability to carry on garnered, and the distance from home ever increased. And as this distance increases over the centuries, this Exodus group begins to divide into factions. Faith can carry some only so far. For others it is their only reason to carry on. Turn back to what is known? Carry on toward an ancient promise? Or stay where you are and make what you can? Such choices divide, and with division comes war.

This is further complicated by the Scourge, the indigenous inhabitants of the Coil, who take on the form of your nightmares made manifest – /your/ nightmares. Through the 15 mission campaign mode, you play as each of these factions, fighting against yourself, internally fighting as to which philosophy is yours, and then thwarting this with the next level. And it isn’t even this that makes Perimeter great.

What makes it great is the radically innovative approach to real time strategy. Units can be reformed mid battle through a part-exchange system. Your helicoptors aren’t helpful? Change them into artillery. Or tanks. Think on the fly. Combined with a malleable scenery, this makes battles something completely new, something that require your improvisational skills, rather than dull resource gathering preparations. So why the space given to the story? Because it reflects how much KD-Labs cared about this game. No corners were cut to present this universe – no lazy scum exposition. A coherent whole, and a motive for the wonderful and innovative gaming.


Sparklingly original and smoothly executed loveliness.

Richard Burns Rally
PCG 140. 82%
1.6GHz CPU, 256Mb RAM

Oh wow, I’m so out of my depth. It really is asking a lot, this section, you realise. Month after month I’m asked to demonstrate my keen critical faculties, and an appropriately high standard of humour and panache. And good looks. But there are limits.

When Ross divvies out games for review, the process goes according to a system of, “Who is the most expert in this genre? I shall give it to them. (Oh, unless of course it’s clearly a massive pile of crap, in which case I’ll give it to John Walker, whom I hate out of jealousy for his critical faculties and humour. And good looks).”

For the queue for Richard Burns Rally, I wouldn’t even be invited. This is hardcore. We’re talking Grand Prix Legends here, but you know, in rally cars. And it’s incredibly hard. This is the sort of game that takes ‘simulation’ so seriously that I think you’re meant to wear blue overalls and crash helmet before you’re allowed to install it.

So you’ll forgive me when I bow to the wisdom of Steve Williams and Jon Hicks, driving game connoisseurs, who inform me that this really is one of the finest and most challenging driving simulations you could hope to find. With only seven cars and six countries to drive through, it’s somewhat limited, and certainly doesn’t shine graphically. However, this is immediately made up for by the phenomenal physics and car handling. Driving rally cars is incredibly hard, and so that’s how it is here. To get anywhere, you’re going to have to be incredibly good. The point is, if you are, then this will be the most rewarding experience you could hope for.


PCG 129, 78%
700MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

You know how you can meet someone and think, “Wow, s/he’s gorgeous!”, but after about ten minutes in his/her company they can appear as ugly as anything. Or someone you first think is a bit of a biffa can soon become uncontrollably attractive? Hold that thought.

It’s not hard to tell that XIII knew it was going to have a rotoscoped look and comic book styling long before anyone worried about what the actual FPS game would be like to play.

It’s an appropriate gimmick, as XIII is based on the long running French comic book. But this only emphasises the point: the look came before the play. XIII’s certainly not terrible. It’s perfectly competent. The problem is, it’s just not that deep or engrossing. After ten minutes you’ll stop noticing the pretty looks, and you’ll start to see only the personality beneath.

Your part in the proceedings often feels restricted, with the action taking place in distinctive set-pieces. While this provides a movie-like quality for those moments, it also causes you to constantly feel propelled out of the game and back into your chair. This fracturous attitude feels unwelcoming and uninvolving.

Everyone says how David Duchovny’s voicing of protagonist XIII sounds ‘bored’ and ‘phoned in’. What I think they might be forgetting is that David Duchovny isn’t the greatest actor, and was probably doing his best. Poor guy. So yes, lovely gimmicks, but they /are/ gimmicks. Really you’re far better off getting hold of both No One Lives Forever games.


Soldiers: Heroes of WWII
PCG 138, 87%

Like vampire slayers, when you strike down a great WWII RTS, another will rise to replace it. Unlike vampire slayers, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II doesn’t have sex with the undead. But it does fill the gap left in our hearts by Commandos 3’s disappointing abandonment of all that had made the series great.

Don’t get your hopes up. S:HWWII (sounds like a light-sabre being switched on) doesn’t feature They’re Back’s favourite elephants and penguins. Sometimes you can hope for too much. But it does appear to be doing everything that Commandos got so stupidly wrong. i.e. Being fun to play.

The RTS genre is spreading out many experimental tentacles at the moment, and it will be interesting to see which new ideas become stalwarts of the genre. While Perimeter’s morphic units and terraformable landscapes may not inspire others to be so brave, it seems more likely that Soldiers’ ‘direct control’ idea will catch on. Not only can you steer your units about the gloriously detailed maps by typical mouse-select work, but you can also possess an invididual vehicle and perform more detailed maneuvers, thus enabling a far more personal involvement with the action.

And what action. The level of detail is awesome, letting you rearrange flora for cover, shatter the glass out of buildings, scare an enemy into your path with some distracting gunfire, or demolish a village with a great big tank. Over the four campaigns you’ll experience some of the very finest RTSing money can buy. And now with a lot less money.


Bad Boys II
PCG 135, 32%
600MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

When I was a boy, Saturdays meant a trip into town with my parents, and if I stuck with my dad, a visit to our favourite independent games shop (heh – like there were any chain game stores then). It was amazing, all yellow-walled and with computer games as far as the eye could see. Because eyes can’t see through walls. The best bit was that the manager was a short, fat, moustachoed Italian man called Mario. I lie not. He ran the business with his brother, although devastatingly he wasn’t called Luigi. Nor did he wear dungarees. Nor see the funny side.

Anyway, the point is, the shelves were weighed down by absolutely terrible film tie-in titles from publishers like Ocean and US Gold. All of them, with barely an exception (which somewhat defies ‘all of them’), platformers. And all of them, without exception, dreadful.

Times have changed. Now every film franchise outpouring is a third person action game. Fortunately, honouring tradition, they remain, without exception, dreadful. And Bad Boys II isn’t about to break with that.

Sometimes I wonder if the pleasure Max Payne has brought is worth the pain from the drivel that has attempted to follow. Yes, it’s a brilliant game that was excellent fun to play. But if never having existed meant this continuous stream of pointlessness dried up, it would be a tempting exchange. Bad Boys II is the same poorly designed, poorly programmed, uninspired, and grindingly boring rubbish we’ve come to expect.


Past Masters
Betrayal At Krondor
PCG 12, 56%

Horribly underscored by a young, naive, downright stupid PC Gamer, Betrayal at Krondor sported one of the longest, proudest beards RPG gaming’s ever had the pleasure of stroking. Based on the world created by Raymond E Feist in his long-running (and pretty dire after the first book) fantasy series, this was a game that truly understood the freedom a player deserved.

The central storyline was fairly rich and involved, written by Feist himself, and lasted for about ten thousand hours. But BAK allowed you to wander from this path at will, letting you explore the vast acres of land, discovering subquests along your way, or if you were my dad, storing up millions of potions and arrows you were never going to drink or fire. Best of all were details like the puzzle chests, unlocked through solving cryptic challenges within a certain time limit, or the crazy isometric battlefields that almost turned the game into something like mad chess.

And once again, They’re Back has uncovered a great game from the past that is completely free! Check the discs for this lovely freeware RPG, which if you can cope with the awful paper-thin 2D graphics, is a grossly overlooked classic.