They can't all be Gods of War and Legends of Zelda, so with that in mind we take a dip into five PC games that you might not have heard of, and emerge with some scores. Let us know if the format appeals.
Wild Earth Africa
Imagine, if you will, that you're a photo-journalist. Which is basically a lazy bastard of a hack who can't be arsed actually thinking or writing, so swans about the globe here and there taking pictures [not bitter - Ed]. Wild Earth Africa casts you in the khakis of one such layabout, tasked with completing photo assignments for a magazine.
Think of it as an educational family-oriented version of Deer Hunter in which the rifle has been replaced by a camera. The player runs around the competently rendered landscape - with driving and a helicopter ride involved in certain missions - and objectives pop up on screen. "Snap elephant gouging tree" for example. "Photograph rhino having a piss." If you're not quick, you'll miss the action, and if you overlook too many photo ops the mission will be deemed a failure.
Along the way, pertinent facts about the environment and animals are imparted to the player, and the kids will likely find these quite interesting. Indeed youngsters can build up full photo albums of their shots and show them off to their parents, which more creative types will doubtless revel in.
The weakest element of Wild Earth Africa is that to snap some pictures, you have to be pretty quick-eyed and fleet-footed. Which is fine for adults, but that really isn't who the game's aimed at, and children may find this frustrating. Especially when coupled with the fact that you can be unsure as to what you're being asked to photograph, which can lead to the player snapping away repeatedly at all the beasts in sight in the hope that they hit the correct target at some point.
Despite these issues, Wild Earth Africa is a reasonable slice of edutainment which will hold the kids' attention for a while.
5 / 10
Tortuga - Two Treasures
Take two treasures into the shower? Not me - I don't shower. I'm a pirate for one-legged Pete's sake. I'm smelly and scary, bearded and blustery, and I say "avast me hearties" more often than is absolutely necessary (once). Tortuga has all the right and proper pirate clichés, complete with inspiration from Pirates of the Caribbean (a love story, voodoo and an undead ghost ship type thing).
The game is divided into two halves - sea-faring and land-lubbing sections. The ship-to-ship combat plays out like a basic arcade game with very simple controls. It's all about manoeuvring your vessel into position to deliver more broadside cannon volleys than your opponent, although there are some added tactical nuances. Different types of cannon shot can be selected (there's one which rips sails, for example, to cut a vessel's speed), and mines can be dropped, or enemies lured onto reefs. After a while these battles become rather repetitive, but at least there are some entertaining moments to be had here.
Any enjoyment swiftly evaporates when you hit land and Tortuga turns into a completely bobbins third-person swash'n'buckle. The movement system is clunky, the animations are poor and combat itself is largely a matter of clicking the left mouse button and slaughtering your way through piles of guards or pirates. It all feels especially artificial as the auto-targeting feature even faces you towards your next opponent after a kill, so you literally only need hammer that mouse button and occasionally pop a health potion. There are special moves to be learnt, but they seem fairly redundant.
The clichéd storyline is accompanied by plenty of hammily acted cut-scenes, and the whole package is ultimately pretty forgettable. There's some nautical mileage in the sea battles, but that's not nearly enough.
4 / 10
Alpine Ski Racing 2007
The real reason people watch a plank speeding down a hill strapped to two further planks is in the hope that he or she crashes. Of course this rarely happens, unless you're a virtual skier with no care for his pixellated life and a wish to thoroughly road-test a game's collision detection. In this case, it happens a lot. And the collision detection, incidentally, is a little ropey (ski vaguely close to something and you'll almost certainly hit it).
Alpine Ski Racing presents you with a league-based career mode as the main course of its skiing buffet (alongside one-off cups, an arcade mode, and a basic multiplayer). There are management aspects to tinker with here - you can hire a coach to train and improve your skier's statistics, and a waxer to wax your moustache. Well, either that or your skis - the correct wax mixture can be crucial to a fast time.
You can spend your money on expensive coaches and waxers, or splash it out on better gear instead; fancier skis, poles, or a more streamlined helmet. The equipment provides a more noticeable upgrade than your stats, but in all honesty there isn't a huge amount of depth on the management front.
The racing itself is also kept simple - you accelerate, steer, and there's a key to carve into the snow for sharper turns. Getting the correct line and mastering the latter skill is the key to fast times, and pelting downhill is initially quite enjoyable, the graphics conveying a good sense of speed. After a while, however, the races rather blur into one, as only the slalom is significantly different from the others (with its unrelenting tight turns).
Nevertheless, there's some longevity here with three career difficulty levels to tackle, and Alpine Ski Racing is a decent enough winter sports fix.
5 / 10
Genesis Rising: The Universal Crusade
Fortunately, this is a space-based RTS and not a pop management game about Phil Collins making a comeback with his old band. Genesis Rising is actually about the search for something called the "universal heart", some sort of powerful artefact which will save humanity blah blah. The plot and cut-scenes are best escape-keyed through at warp factor nine, but the single-player campaign isn't without its charms.
It's branching and persistent, with some varied, not to mention challenging missions. However, part of Genesis Rising's problem is it's tricky for all the wrong reasons. There are no difficulty levels to adjust, no in-mission saves and no pausing the game, which makes the already tough battles it throws at you arduous tests of clicking dexterity and micromanagement.
And there's a lot of micromanagement... Every vessel has special powers which need to be activated by clicking icons above them, and other considerations are thrown in, such as manually moving ships to dodge incoming enemy missiles. The end result can be something of a headache - especially as the interface is quite clunky all round.
Despite all this, the game design boasts some interesting elements. The resource collection system and unit upgrade paths are novel, as the organic HR Giger inspired spacecraft can actually have genes implanted in them to customise their abilities, and you can steal this DNA from the husks of dead enemies (or indeed trade for it using the simple diplomacy system). Aesthetically, these ships are rendered in some fine detail, too.
Genesis Rising is a step back to more hardcore gaming days, with its no-save no-pause underpants-over-the-head-charging-at-the-enemy-screaming attitude. Some gamers might relish this challenge, but the lack of any in-mission saving combined with unforgiving objectives and an imperfect interface will prove overly frustrating for many.
5 / 10
Dawn of Magic
In most RPG games, elven mages and halfling thieves abound. Dawn of Magic steps away from these stereotypes, which sounds great, until you realise you can only choose from a small selection of rather odd characters, such as: "The Baker's Wife. A friendly plump lady who loves to spoil people with her pastries. Has a high health score." I don't know if you've ever seen a goblin being beaten to death with a cream horn, but it's a novel concept.
You can't roll your own character up, which seems a bit odd in a game that prides itself on customisation in terms of a huge range of magic schools you can invest your experience points in. There are twelve different types of magic in total, from elemental through conjuring to blessing and healing (there are no baking incantations, thankfully). What's more, spells can be combined to produce a range of different effects, which gives the whole package an added dimension.
However, aside from the inventive magic system - and some interesting item-customisation options - this Diablo-style click'n'slash is as bog standard as they come. Bash the monsters, break the barrels, pick up the loot. The quests are largely bland, consisting mostly of kill tasks and other basic fare which fails to spark the player's imagination.
Then there's the combat. It's messy. You'll fling ranged spells at enemies and they'll mysteriously miss, presumably due to line-of-sight issues, but it's difficult to tell. Even melee combat seems buggy at times, with monsters you can't hit even though they're stood right next to you. The camera angles can be awkward, which doesn't help either.
It seems the developer thought that twelve schools of tweak-able magic would make a great game in itself. It doesn't. One of Dawn of Magic's blood spells is called Masochism. I'd cast it on yourself if you're intending a purchase.
3 / 10