John Walker's Electronic House

TB 152

They’re Back 152

‘Budgies going cheep’, you say? Speak to John Walker.

Thief: Deadly Shadows
PCG 137, 91%
1.5Ghz CPU, 256MB RAM, 64MB 3D card.

When the bough breaks…

Shalebridge Cradle has been well documented in these halls. However, if you have yet to visit The City, and have never walked past its gloomy locked entrance, the gold sign glimmering its name as you creep through the accompanying shadows, then ‘the Cradle’ should remain a name that you only hear whispered by the fearful.

Thief: DS is so much more than its spectacular stand-out level. To focus too heavily on its darkest secret is to unduly ignore the rest of its remarkable surprises. And there are many.

Exposition is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands, shattering illusions and revealing the cogs and levers behind the frame. In the hands of the former Looking Glass team at Ion Storm, it is the exquisite solution to the sequel’s perrenial dilemma: welcoming the new player, while rewarding the veteran. If you’ve never played Thief before, if you’ve never crept in Garrett’s silent shoes, thieving from the rich and thieving from the poor, discovering deep conspiracies beneath the City’s streets, Deadly Shadows will make you feel immediately at home, ensuring you know exactly and only what you need to embrace the culmination of the trilogy. If you’ve already played through the stories of the Hammerites and the mythologies of the Pagans, then Deadly Shadows is the peak of the pyramid that will draw all you knew together, and finally answer some of your questions about the Keepers. Normally no one gets this right – this is one of those remarkable surprises.

As is the sudden blossoming of Thief’s environment. The previous games’ menu screens have been replaced with a huge, living city of narrow streets and warring peoples. Garrett no longer chooses his weapons and arrows from a written list, but leaves his quarters and walks through the shadows to the nearest shop, avoiding guards and picking pockets along the way. Levels exist within the buildings of the City, creating a sense of place, reality, and realism. Allegiance with factions can be won or lost, and the world you live in changes because of your actions. It is simply one of the most complete games that you can play.

It’s a remarkable and beautiful thing. Allow a game to drag you in.


Masterful tip-of-your-toes enchantment.

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow
PCG 134, 85%
800 MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM, 64Mb 3D card

A sneaking theme develops. I much prefer Thief: DS to Splinter Cell, but this might be because a bouncer in one of Bath’s more ecclectic clubs who allowed Kieron and me in for free, simply because of his approval of the scores we had given Thief in our respective reviews. That’s what fame feels like, mortals.

Despite its complete failure to win me free live music or the briefest glimpse of what it might be like to be a freeloading, slimeball celebrity, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow remains a game worthy of some hefty respect. There’s a good reason why the arrival of the following sequel to the office was met by Tom and Craig with what can only be described as quite embarrassing enthusiasm. When dealing out sneaky, tech-filled excitement, it really does a rather fine job.

Being a spill-over from a Tom Clancy idea, the adventures of super-spy Sam Fisher are all wrapped up in the battle against those dastardly terrozrizts. Using all the very latest made up technology, fancy guns, and 1337 haX0ring skills, your task is to get in, do your job, and get out, without ever being seen. Or at least making those who see you be more dead than they were earlier. It’s not without troubles, the most significant being the game’s predisposition to murder you with the unpredictable. Reloading and pre-empting a ‘surprise’ is never fun, and it will happen far too often. But with an innovative multiplayer mode, and a deliciously silent feeling of skill and sneakery, there’s much joy to be had, no matter the grumbles.


Colin McRae Rally 3
Sold Out
PCG 124, 80%
750MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM, 32Mb 3D card

Colin used to have it sewn up. Despite this third version being slightly disappointing upon its release, it still remained the only new rally game worth buying. While there were competitors, none compared to the (decreased) strength of the McRae licence. Trouble is, you and I, we in the right now, right at this moment, and not then, back when things were simpler, when you could leave your children unlocked and let your front door play in the street. If you look at your July 2003 edition of PC Gamer, you’ll find that the pages have yellowed and curled, and mysterious treasure maps will have started appearing in places. It is the way of things so old.

Another has muscled in on Colin’s turf, in the form of Richard Burns, offering a far more honestly realistic rally simulation. It reveals McRae’s arcady nature (although this is far from a bad thing if you’re the sort that likes your racing games to be, well, possible to play). Should you be happy with the more happy-go-plucky atmosphere of this series, then the problem is yet far worse thanks to both Colin McRae 04, and 2005. Struggling to recommend superceded games is no strange situation for They’re Back, but in this case it’s far harder to say, “well, it’s cheaper, why not”. It comes back to that “slightly disappointing upon its release” bit – draw the series on a graph, and 3 forms the lowest spike.

Screw that it’s a fiver – there’s at least two far better versions of this game available, and it seems a bit silly to get the poorest. Unless you are.


PCG 136, 50%
450MHz CPU, 64Mb RAM, 32Mb 3D card

While Colin McRae somewhat spoils the sneaky theme of this month’s TB, what with its complete failure to implement a ‘Drive With The Lights Off Really Slowly Through The Woods Mode’, at least Breed can be forcibly slotted in via the powers of mean comments: Do you remember ever having seen it? Playing it? Reading about it? Nope? See – it vanished before your very eyes, without leaving a single trace. Garrett and Fisher would be proud.

Try to imagine a giant, 50-storey-high killer robot made of steel, tanks and roars. Now see it lifting one gargantuan leg of metallic power, and smashing it down on a rubbish little tricycle, discarded on its side on a pavement. That’s what it looks like when you compare Halo to Breed. It’s similarity, not familiarity, that breeds contempt. Especially when the similarities are so woeful in comparison.

Confusing itself, Breed attempts to do just about everything first person shooters do, but all at once, and without really stopping to think about why. It’s the 27th century, and Earth is all filled up with aliens, and you and your teammates (safely uninhibited by the constraints of AI) must shoot at them. Shoot at them some more. Drive a buggy. Land a dropship. Shoot at them some more. Shoot at them some more. Everything looks and feels shoddy, which is because, as you might have guessed, it’s shoddy.

Were it not for Halo, Breed would remain a crappy shooter not worth worrying about. Since there is Halo, it’s a crappy shooter that withers in a great big shadow.


Legacy of Kain: Defiance
PCG 133, 52%
700MHz CPU, 128Mb RAM, 32Mb 3D card

If you’ve ever been confused by the Blood Omen and Soul Reaver series, then you’re not the only one. Ahem. Swapping over their characters, and even their titles, the series have been a strangely muddling tale of vampires and alternate dimensions. Fortunately, all such confusion is now removed by Legacy of Kain: Defiance. As are most of the reasons to play.

It should be exciting because it has you playing the stars of both series, Kain and Raziel, mortal enemies and vampires of very different backgrounds. Kain is all about the blood, drinking it from anywhere and anyone, cruelly killing anything with his entertaining telekinetic ability to fling opponents around rooms, onto spikes, and into deep, dark holes. Raziel is a big wuss, sneaking (there it is) around with the puzzle-inducing spirit world where soul-sucking replaces his need for the red stuff. You take turns to play them both, in an epic blah de blah blah snore sigh and so on.

It’s a shame that the pre-development discussion began with, “I know – let’s have them both in the same game!”, and then promptly ended, so as to give all involved time to programme a camera so spectacularly poor that it can only have been by deliberate design. Certain to murderise you at every possible moment, it at least serves to distract from the dull story and repetitive play. Sadly, at the same time it ensures that you will develop an anger so strong that you’ll be rolling around on the floor in a desperately futile bid to bite your own neck.


Past Masters
Realms of The Haunting
PCG 39, 71%

It’s extraordinary the way the human mind could forgive graphics. Looking at Realms of the Haunting’s screenshots, it’s impossible to believe it looked so chunky and poor. Impossible, because the power of its story, and the terror it invoked, rendered the graphics photo-realistic in the mind.

Comparable with Doom for its looks, RotH was striking at the time for taking such first person antics outdoors, despite the game’s opening levels taking place in a spooky old mansion. Adam Randall’s priest father had recently died, and a mysterious phonecall had given him cause to investigate some peculiar goings on at his father’s impressive home. The story advanced in the CD ROM’s favourite new toy, FMV, managed to avoid being too cringe-worthy, and didn’t divert attention away from the meat of the action – the exploring of the various dimensions linked from the mansion, the puzzle solving required, and the sparingly used FPS action fightery.

Genuinely scary, RotH put a lot of effort and energy into its satanic yarn, eventually revealing an apocalyptic scale of importance to your investigating. If you played it, you’ll still remember your favourite moment. If you didn’t, /legal/ copies are scarce.