John Walker's Electronic House

TB 87

They’re Back 87

Ringworms, tapeworms, and woodworms. No one wants any of those. But maybe, just maybe, you wouldn’t mind a bookworm…

Discworld Noir
Best Of

Quite a strange month for the ol’ budget gamers. It seem that a literary leaning has found its way to us, with Feist’s Return to Krondor, Jordan’s Wheel of Time, and firstly Pratchett’s Discworld. Why such a fixed medium as a book should be so commonly translated to the versatile PC is a little mystifying. Short of tearing out the back page and penning your own finale, your average book falls short of the campaign for non-linearity, which would surely be one of the most demanded features in our games. But anyhoo, booky-games there are, and booky-games we shall review.

The Discworld is the most popular book-franchise in the UK, and therefore has a large army of followers. But do I look like the kind of guy scared to fight alone against an army? Yes, I do. Which is why I am cowardly doing it through the pages of this magazine.

The Discworld series is mostly rubbish. There. Get cross. It started off as a pleasantly comic series taking on some of the more stuffy fantasy conventions and lampooning them in an inoffensively gentle way, but quickly became a one-trick pony of weak ideas stretched into entire novels. Yes, droves of devotees will swarm to every release, but I’m going to put that down to subliminal hypnosis.

However, the Discworld is an ideal territory for a location based adventure game, and Noir represents the third attempt. The first fell into the trap of being so ridiculously obscure that even Pratchett himself admits they made mistakes. The second tried to compensate for this by simplifying things, but forgot that it also needed to be clever. But the third seems to have found the mark. It’s hard but not obscure, and it’s clever but not arsy. This is probably mostly due to their giving up on trying to make things funny throughout. There are jokes, but they are more subtle and dispersed. Then some fantastic voice acting, and very accurate spoofery of Film Noir, make this constantly pleasurable, and a little surprising.

It isn’t up to the standards set by LucasArts bods, but it isn’t a half bad attempt to get close.


Pratchett’s world visited for the third time, this time with the lights off.

Return To Krondor
Sierra Originals

Raymond E Feist provides us with the second literary number this month in the form of his Krondor focused series. Based upon the world he created back in the 70’s with the seminal Magician, this is the sequel to 1994’s Betrayal At Krondor, which was in turn a sequel to the vast series of books that spawned from the original. Confused? Well, it’s confusing.

The original was met with critical scorn by all but the Feistian fanclubs, but got it’s own back by the tests of time. It was still being played long after the whines had died down, and has recently had a resurgence through the somewhat publicity-stunty release as a free download from the internet. If it has nothing to worry about from the critics, Return To Krondor has a lot to live up to for the armies of fans. They were let down.

Again you are playing one of the regulars from the book franchise, set on a series of quests in the well-established fantasy world. But where the original had huge strengths in the non-linearity, the sequel has all but eliminated this freedom. Before, if you wanted a break from the main plot, you were more than welcome to wander from village to town collecting quests from the inhabitants, or head off into the dungeons for a good bit of bashing. Return takes this away, providing much less opportunity for improvisation.

And instead of the former’s first person perspective, RtK is viewed from a third-person series of fixed cameras. While this adds continuity between the travels and battles (that was missing in the original), it only makes everything a lot more awkward, and sometimes downright annoying. For a literary book the plot is dull and tedious, and there are far too many bugs and glitches for even the most die-hard fan to get engrossed.


Wheel of Time
Best Of

The third book-based title this month comes from the seemingly endless inkwell of Robert Jordan. The Wheels of Time is legendary for being quite so legendary. Eight books in, it has never shown any signs of coming anywhere near a conclusion, and with Jordan not exactly underwhelmed by passing years it probably never will. Some have put forth the idea that the books are slightly thicker at the top than they are at the bottom, so as when they are put together the completed collection will form a giant wheel. If this is the case, then we are about 30 degrees through so far. So surely a game based on the franchise would have to be infinitely long? How could you possibly write one with an ending.

Of course the challenge is being bothered to find out. Choosing a platform through which to portray a fictional book series shouldn’t be that long a board-meeting.

“Adventure game?”
“Anyone got a coin?”

But no, somehow this script was ignored and some scallywag sneaked in the suggestion that the Unreal engine was somehow an appropriate base upon which to build the game. Yes indeedy, it’s a first-person shooter based on fantasy-fiction novels.

It’s quite plot-led, but that doesn’t excuse the awkward combat routines, involving repeatedly stabbing at number keys until the spell (or ter’angreal) you require becomes selected. Oo, am I dead already? Why, yes, it seems I am. Obviously the Unreal engine means that it isn’t visually unpleasant, but the limitations (such as the inability to duck) quickly become apparent, and rather irritating.

It’s not awful, but then it’s not exactly good. It’s in-between.


TA Kingdoms
Best Of

Total Annihilation changed things. It reset the rules for what was standard in the RTS genre, waking up rivals from their uninspired slumber, forcing others to install more and more originality to compete. This is the kind of game that earns its place in the Great Glass Cabinet On The Wall – alongside others such as Half-life, Elite, and Day of the Tentacle. Each gave their respective category a much need kick up the arse. But somehow, sequels can never cut it.

Based on a tweaked version of the original’s engine, Kingdoms ignores all the tank-based antics and steps back in time to that delightfully vague land of Medieval. In Medieval we seem to be allowed to say that anything happened, and that there was, without room for doubt, magic. It becomes Fantasy.

But if you were to pitch a ground battle between 20th century tanks and missiles against Medieval crossbows and magic wands, not too many wise bookies would be taking many bets. Kingdoms just can’t provide the explosive action and frantic excitement that helped make TA the work of genius it truly was in its time.

This isn’t enhanced by the rather strange feature of playing all of the four sides in the war seemingly at random. After one level being the peace-aspriring Good Guys, you may then be asked to disappear off into the opposing lands and do unspeakable things to those with whom you were just so closely attached. Caring about your new army’s survival becomes quite a challenge when you have just spent half and hour kicking the shit out of them.

Kingdoms isn’t a bad game at all – it’s just that it’s bettered by its own prequel, which is just plain silly.



Wetrix. Wet…Tricks. Tetris…

Oh, I get it. How a pun can so endear you to a game. But it isn’t really ours to start complaining about puns considering we strive to come up with as many awful ones as possible to write in big grey type within every review. If this were a bad game, it would have gotten perhaps “wet”, or maybe “drippy”. If it were average, someone would surely have thought of “damp”, or “dammed”. But as it was, is, and forever shall be, Wetrix earned itself a mighty “gushing”.

If you took Tetris, lay it flat on its back, and poured water all over it, you’d have a broken Gameboy. But if you were able to be slightly less literary you may come up with something like this puzzler. Blocks descend from the sky requiring you to slot them into place on your 3D isometric base. Along with blocks comes water, and it is this water that you want to keep. Otherwise the game would be called Drytrix, and the puns would be a darn-sight harder to come up with. Using the blocks as walls, you want to make pools and dams that will hold the water, and then defend against the bombs and other such monstrosities that come groundwards.

As with all the best puzzling games, the gameplay doesn’t get any more complicated than this, and frankly, /this/ can get complicated enough as it is. While the multiplay isn’t even worth looking at, the single player game is as addictive as the best of them, getting you all frustrated in that way that is somehow acceptable. And for a mere five pounds it almost seems silly not to have a go.


And The Rest

If you were picking a name for your budget label, it would perhaps not seem immediately sensible to choose the words “Originals”. In fact, it would /never/ seem sensible, but for a company that saw fit to make seven Leisure Suit Larry games, perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much from Sierra. Anyway, the other release on the Originals label this month is PGA Championship Golf 1999 (68%). If you look at a calendar you will see that it is currently the year 2000, with 1999 rapidly making it’s way to the land called History. As is this game. It is ten pounds expensive.

Sold Out can’t ever let us down, and this month they kneel prostrated before us holding a yellow-boxed copy of Redguard (62%). The fourth in the stupidly average Elder Scrolls series hardly sparks any fires. You certainly couldn’t barbecue on it. It too makes your pockets empty themselves of ten of their pounds.

Infogrames Replay label concludes the rest of this greened box, and indeed the rest of this section. See how the word “indeed” can add a perceived significance to something completely and utterly unimportant. V Rally (46%) is first and last simultaneously. Cack when released. Cack now. Total Air War (89%) follows the same rules. Great when released. Great now.

And finally, for it’s 78th appearance in They’re Back, it’s our old favourite, Unreal! (70%). But this time, and as with the previous two, it’s only five pounds. Yes, five pounds. Which isn’t half bad really.