John Walker's Electronic House

TB 89

They’re Back 89

Costs cut! Prices slashed! Amounts severed! Totals dismembered! Fees eviscerated! Charges hanged by the neck, gutted, and cleaved into a thousand tiny pieces! Sale now on!

Heavy Gear 2
Focus Essential

There is a big internal struggle occurring. Does one do the painfully obvious joke of insinuating that the title of this game may suggest something to do with the narcotics world, or does one completely eschew such a tired and tedious routine, but then maybe letting down the ingrained expectations of dedicated readers?

Or perhaps one just resorts to a pseudo-post-modern reference to the gag by questioning it, which accomplishes the reference, while simultaneously defending itself against any of the valid retorts. We will never know.

That aside, let’s have a game of Guess My Genre:

I’m a game involving enormous robots in huge metal suits, armed to the teeth with rocket launchers, machine guns, and ammunitions of all sorts. Guess My Genre.

Correct, I’m a sneak-em-up. Amazingly, Heavy Gear 2 does take this line of play, perhaps influenced by all the more subtle titles launched before its release (Thief, Rainbow 6, etc). So how exactly does it get away with this? Well, for a start, it doesn’t. The sneakiness is visualised in the game by a horizontal bar on-screen that informs you of your visibility to others. Crouch and you become more hidden. Have a great big baddie come lumbering toward you, you’re going to become more obvious to him. So marvellous. Problem is, as soon as you take a bit of a third person perspective upon things, you’re going to be looking at a whopping great hunk of massively armed metal, tiptoeing passed an enemy soldier. We’re registering a “hmmmmm?” factor of 8.4.

Also threatening the readings is the rather problematic AI. Problematic in the running-and-shooting-at-walls sense of the word. But they’re probably very bad walls.

So it seems that disbelief has to be suspended from quite an impressive height. Done that? Good, you’re really going to enjoy yourself. Once you have gotten past the completely nonsensical idea that you could hide a skip amongst some blades of grass, there are some extraordinarily well designed levels to explore, some laughable AI to er, laugh at, and a decent multiplay to share with your friends.

Ridiculously silly in concept, but surprisingly entertaining in play, robot capers have never been so… quiet.

Supreme Snowboarding
Best Of

Wo-ah, dude. That certainly is one ripping ride, and no mistake. I believe I was fortunate enough to cut some serious runs this afternoon. In it.

Ah, such is the life of the British snowboarder. His name is Justin, and he “gives it a go” the next time mummy holidays in Austria, because he saw it in a magazine. Because let’s face it, if there’s one thing that distinguishes Britain from an Alpine village, it’s the entire lack of snow. Oh sure, we get dusted one Tuesday in February, and everyone complains that their train was three and a half seconds late, but it never really /snows/.

So now all you crazy kids out there, desperate to glue both your feet to a plank of wood and stand on the slipperiest substance this side of an oil slick, can finally live out your dreams in the form of some kicking arcade action. Or something.

And blimey if this isn’t rather good. (Thank goodness that it /is/ rather good, because nobody here is really sure how one would ‘blimey’). A sleek engine, and some serious dedication to the finer nuances of the sport, mean that Supreme Snowboarding is exactly that. Supreme because you can do it in your own house, you don’t have to spend the annual wages of a premiership footballer on the latest gear, and when you inevitably tumble arse over tit down the side of the hill, it’s only your cyber-you left having to find the holiday-insurance forms.

Neat graphics, and a very intuitive control system makes this an extremely fun piece of arcade sporting. It may well be consoley, but this is one sports action title that is worthy of your PC’s attention.


Shanghai: Second Dynasty
Focus Essential

It really doesn’t get any sexier than this. All through school I would drift away from the ever-droning monotonous tones of the teachers voice, phasing out the inventor of the Spinning Jenny, ignoring the formula for the volume of a cylinder, and instead conjure fantasies about my writing for a national games journal. There I would be, sat at a desk, being paid for playing computer games and then writing about obscure memories instead of reviewing them. And what was the game that would be handed to me by the editor/editoress? Of course, it was always a computerised version of Mahjong.

Perhaps. But despite this not exactly appearing to be the most riveting of games to explore, let’s take a look at what most people play on their PCs: Solitaire. And Minesweeper. Even you do, admit it. Yes, you may be half way through your second run of Deus Ex. Of course you’ve just finished fragging complete strangers in your latest Quake 3 mod. But what did you have a quick game of after checking the email? Exactly.

And Shanghai: Second Dynasty is just that but more so. Addictive puzzling fun, but also the incredible complexity of Mahjong. And despite the fact that this is never going to sport eye-boggling graphics, it doesn’t use this as an excuse to forget them entirely. All is exquisitely presented, with even little visual flourishes to celebrate successes in the game.

There are enough options and variations in gameplay to make this accessible to all, no matter how seriously you take your tile turning. And network play means you can settle down to a game without the risk of losing a wind down the back of the sofa.


Might & Magic VI
Sold Out

There’s not many things worse than a guest who doesn’t know when to leave. Everyone else left two hours ago, and he’s still there, still sat on your sofa, still eating your crisps. You’ve tried subtle hints. You’ve turned the music off, and started tidying up. You’ve yawned loudly with embellished gesticulations, and commented on how ridiculously early you have to be up tomorrow morning. You’ve set up elaborate neon signs emblazing the words “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER BASTARD”. And he doesn’t blink.

Don’t be getting your hopes up any time soon. There have been two more Might & Magic’s since this one, and they still don’t seem to be getting the hint. Such obstinate ignorance of the attitudes of those around you may be worth some sort of respect, but that is certainly as far as it goes for the M&M series.

There was a day when first person 2D RPG was in demand. Just look at Looking Glass’ Ultima Underworld games. That was Might & Magic’s day. Party building, skill acquiring, world exploring action, with real time and turn based combat to choose from. Quests, subquests, and epic wandering… But wait. We still have all this. We have it in the form of works of wonder such as Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment. Might & Magic, we don’t need you any more.

You just don’t want to waste your time with this. It is aesthetically insulting to your delicate eye, ignoring the ways of the modern and sticking to engines of old. It’s combat is awkward and aggravating. It’s story is tired and dull. It’s as out of date as a seventies ITV sitcom. Not even for a fiver.


Space Invaders
Focus Essential

It is far too obvious at this point to start reminiscing about the olden days of computer gaming. It would be much too predictable to start rattling on about that strange cartridge thing on the Spectrum that loaded games instantly instead of waiting for the tape to load. And bringing up the topic of going down to the arcades and playing this would only show how old we are. So instead, here is a prediction for the future.

In about twenty years time, a game will come out called Space Invaders. It will be a slightly ironic look at the olden days, using retro graphics and sound. People will buy it for the novelty of it’s funny little 3D graphics and limited six-way sound. It will bring back the memories of gameplay viewed outside of the brain, and using your actual fingers for controls. And it will still be damned good fun to play.

While Might & Magic VI may be tired and exhausted from years of rehashing, there is something about Space Invaders that stretches its appeal outside of the rules. Perhaps that something is simplicity. And thankfully, this reworking of the classic doesn’t make the mistake of trying to add unnecessary complexities to validate it for a modern audience. Rows of aliens still descend the screen, still shifting left and right, and you must still shoot them down with your special gun. The only twist is the new colour-coding of said enemies. Shoot four of the same colour in a row, and you get an extra-super shot to use as wisely as you may.

The changes only enhance the fun here, and for ten pounds it’s a retro-contemporary complexity that will put a big smile on your lovely face.


And The Rest

Focus Essential have a couple more to offer in their range of £10 beasties. Firstly there is the very impressive Fighter Squadron (86%). You can fly around in Lancaster bombers, Mosquitoes, Spitfires, Typhoons, B-17 Flying Fortress’s, P-38 and P-51 Mustangs, FW190s, Me-262s and the Junkers 88 bomber, making satisfactory ack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack noises to your heart’s content. It’s smooth, accurate, big, and sports a hefty multiplayer option that should keep you in the air (fnarrr) for a long time.

Then there’s everyone’s least favourite bug-fest, Sin (67%). Although enhanced by its legendary patches, it’s still a dog of a game to run on anything less than the most sleek of PCs. And it really doesn’t stand up so well on its own. Buy Deus Ex. Now.

Sold Out have a couple of newbies in the £5 range. World League Soccer ’98 (60%) is from 1998. None of the excrement Mr Holmes? I kid you not. So it entirely depends upon how important the realism of your footie gaming is to you. If you don’t mind the little men running about in the wrong coloured shirts, then first let me shake you by the hand, and then spend a fiver on a cheap and cheerful sports sim.

Then it’s Fighting Force (54%). Beat-em-ups and PCs have never been the most comfortable of bedfellows – which is hardly surprising, with one trying to beat the other up all the time. This is weak and wishy-washy and not really worth the space I’ve just given it. I’m such a fool.