John Walker's Electronic House

TB 151

They’re Back 151

John Walker: The Ghost of Gaming Past. WoooOOoooo.

Galactic Civilisations
PCG 126, 88%
600MHz CPU, 128MB RAM

Don’t let anyone park in your space, man.

Tony Ellis (for it was he) said to me the other day, “If space is infinite, then everywhere must be at the centre of it.” An /excellent/ point. So, from now onwards I will accept no arguments that suggest I am anything other than the centre of the universe. Get used to it bucko.

Thanks to this infinite nature, also at the centre of the universe is every copy of Galactic Civilisations, the superb space strategy you never got around to playing. Now there is no excuse – a copy can easily be located just by walking nearer to the middle. Or indeed to a shop. Cunningly concealing the name of another strategy epic in its title, this space conquering extravaganza is for once deserving of the comparative nomenclature.

What originally made GalCiv interesting was its combination of an elaborately detailed universe, and a sense of irreverance that most are too fearful to include when making so-called ‘serious’ games. There’s a sense of character to the alien races you compete against (humans are the only playable race), rather than the usual dry messages repeated by the blue ones, green ones, yellow ones, whatever. Indeed, the whole universe feels filled with personality. With a greater emphasis on diplomacy, and a strong replayabilty, it echoed the compelling nature of Meier’s series.

What makes GalCiv interesting now is far more than its budgety price. Since its initial release, developers Stardock have been constantly supporting and tweaking their single player game in the way you might expect of a multiplayer team. Patches have improved the technology tree (a problem initially) as well as adding and improving many features. There’s also extensive additional material on their website to take you deeper, both in terms of research and play. And then of course there’s community, adding a whole other layer of reasons to have a looksee. Despite the game’s being nearly two years old, and a sequel now being in beta, new ship models were uploaded in the last month, as well as additional graphics, and ‘anomolies’ – bonuses that appear in the game to tweak and boost your fleets.

It’s hardcore, and it’s cared for. And might look nice at the centre of your universe.


Solid strategic spacery.

Rollercoaster Tycoon 2
PCG 116, 84%
300MHz CPU, 64Mb RAM

As the old legend goes, no man is a theme park. But Chris Sawyer comes close. And not just because his body is covered in fairground rides and popcorn stalls, to which he charges tiny imp people an entrance fee for an entertaining day out. No, it is also because he single-handedly wrote 500,000 lines of code to create this second build of his already magnificent game. A monolithic achievement, only made more impressive by the difficulty he must have in the bath. All those impy deaths.

Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 understands something that a surprising number of sim games fail to realise: management games can also be fun. Theme Park, and its various reincarnations, did quite remarkable – they reduced amusement parks down to tedious accountancy. Rides were pre-built just to be dumped on the ground, while you were left to make intricate decisions about the price of burgers and the cleaning of the toilets. Call us Captain Crazypants, but that doesn’t really seem to be the right spirit. (NB. /never/ call us Captain Crazypants). With RC2, while you’re still responsible for the more menial tasks of park administration, the thick of the game comes in the happy joy of building your own rides. Sawyer knows where the fun be. (It’s the tiny bouncy castle on his elbow).

What RC2 doesn’t do is move very far forward from the original – something corrected in the recent third version’s complete overhaul. What it does do is create a sleek, simple and engrossing management sim, that’s even more entertaining than a day out on Chris Sawyer.


Industry Giant 2
Sold Out
PCG 112, 80%
350MHz CPU, 64Mb RAM

The premise: you play a three hundred foot brobdingnagian Capitalist, driven by a desire to spread sales across as large an area as possible, while crushing all those who oppose you beneath your vast feet. /That’s/ the game they should have made.

Instead, they settled for this reasonably good production sim. We both know what the problem is – /we’re/ not in charge of everything. Imagine if we were – ace, eh? Ah well.

Industry Giant 2 is about meeting demand. Not our demands for gargantuan creatures, but the demands of those who wish to purchase things from shops. Our demands go unheard. This is a world in which greed is rewarded by product. Your job is to discern the product that most inspires greed. This is Capitalism.

As the title indicates (it’s not all lies, just 50%), the emphasis is on industry. You build the facilities to convert the bought materials into the sold goods. The nature of your production, and the rate at which you produce it, is driven by the variable factors that ensure challenge. This mostly manifests in selling seasons – expect toys to do better at Christmas than in the middle of March. But you must also build the shops to sell your goods, putting them in the right places, to meet the right targets.

Success is in the form of smog, grey- rather than blue-sky thinking. This isn’t a game dealing in subtleties, tip-toeing through people’s sensitivity. This is size 109s stomping their way through the green and lucious lands. So it is that industry itself is that giant, and a fine job of it it does too.


World War II Frontline Command
PCG 123, 70%
500MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

Another month, another World War 2 strategy game. People often stupidly claim that PC Gamer is overly focused on FPS. Right, yeah, sure. There are so many of those flooding the market aren’t there. I mean, there was Half-Life 2, and then… Um… Oh, there was that Pariah. Come on, come on, there must be something else? Of course, Brothers in Arms. There, three. A veritable monsoon of the things.

What we’re swamped by is World War 2 strategy games. Moan about that on your bloody forums, you whingy, rubbish people. Moan, whinge, bitch, moan. And yet here I am, struggling to think of another way to write about yet another average World War 2 strategy game, for what? Your complaints – that’s what. And cash.

Frontline is essentially fine as an RTS, but it never achieves more than this. The two difficulty modes oddly provide two different campaigns, 12 for normal, and 25 for difficult, although there’s an oddly disatisfying feeling to the recycled locations in the tougher game, and neither allows you to play as the baddies at any point.

It was one of the first of its kind to offer a free, non-isometric camera, but line-of-sight restrictions cause this to feel limited. Add in the disappointingly small number of unique units available, and the comparatively limited weaponry, and the respectable competence on display can only look weak when compared to the seventeen thousand other games in the genre. Damned by its more elegant peers, and drowned in their sheer numbers, merely being fine cannot carry it through.


Line of Sight: Vietnam
Sold Out
PCG 127, 37%
550MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM

Oh good. Oh thank goodness. It’s not World War 2. It’s… f(art)ing Vietnam. WHAT IS WRONG WITH DEVELOPERS? Really, what’s their problem? Are the majority of people who make games now so mind-stabbingly moronic that they can happily say, “Ooh, I know, let’s make an FPS set in Vietnam!” The rest of the team must all sit up, suddenly in shock. “Hang on. What did you say?” And he’ll repeat it. And they’ll all put their pens down really slowly and sit back in their chairs, trying to take it all in. “A game. And FPS? Set in Vietnam?… Can it even be done?”

How? How can this come about? This was a real war where real people were slaughtered in pointless, stupid deaths. It was not a leafy forest alternative to the planet Quurkirr or Ice Caves of Monmouth, or whereever else you choose to set your lame-ass FPS. If you wish to recreate the senseless murder of hundreds of thousands, then at least act as if you could care less.

Think this is over-moralised rubbish? Then worry not, because the game’s mechanics will ensure even the most detached will find no entertainment. Being shot results in the inability to return fire for a few seconds, which would perhaps offer a glimpse of realism were the enemy not able to detect and hit you no matter what obstacles lie between you and their invisible selves. The useless AI combined with the tiresomely boring levels ensure this fails at everything an FPS should offer. Without a scrap of innovation or inspiration, this is a cheap and lazy FPS cruelly plastered onto a time of great human tragedy.


Past Masters
The Elder Scrolls: Arena
US Gold
PCG 6, 87%

You might have noticed that our Tom is a bit fond of Morrowind. He’s only young, you see, and he doesn’t remember back far enough. We here in the Past Masters office are all far older, and recall when it was all fields. All /eight million kilometres/ of them.

Elder Scrolls: Arena was originally intended to be a gladitorial game of brainless bashing. But when the dev team used their own D&D realm, Tamriel, as a setting, they found themselves adding in more and more elements and details to bring their world alive. And eventually, they accidentally built one of the largest full-blown RPGs ever seen. As with the rest of the series since, instead of forcing you to follow the main story, Arena left you free to wander at your leisure, experiencing everything it offered at your own pace. It was a labour of love, created by a team who were inventing the genre as they went along.

With the new Oblivion on the way (Tom’s excitement is being used to power a lightbulb), Bethesda, full of love and kindness, have chosen to release Arena as Freeware. It can be downloaded from, where they’ve even thought to add a DOSBox emulator to play it on your modern-fangled machine. We love you, Bethesda.