Just before Christmas, I promised you a trophy of some interest when we returned. Given that I'm up against thousands of individual preferences, I've decided to play the odds a bit and offer up as many random odds and sods as possible unto the altar of giveaway. This week's winner, lucky so-and-so that he is, gets to pick from the following, with the remainder rolling over into next week's prize stash. Aren't I good to you?
What's on offer:
- Dead to Rights (PC)
- Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance (PS2 promo)
- Total Club Manager 2004 (PC)
- Virtua Fighter 10th Anniversary Edition (PS2 promo... You can't buy this in the shops, either.)
Thanks to everyone who submitted a review. We'll be sure to publish some more of them in around a week's time.
Reader Reviews should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org, and can be written about anything you like - hardware, games, peripherals - even if we've already written about it. In fact, that's kind of the point! Your word limit is 300 although we'll tolerate a bit of overflow if you can string words together nicely, and please try to keep it clean and legal. Just like we do for you! The best candidate each week will receive a random bit of game-related tat (possibly even an actual game) as a prize. Lucky, lucky you. And of course, your work will be displayed for all to see.
Star Review: Suikoden III (PS2)
Whenever Konami releases a game in Europe these days the usual suspects start moaning "And what about Suikoden III?" like Stadler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show. And while this may just be a Pavlovian reaction to the seeming unwillingness of Japanese producers to satiate our hunger for role-playing games of the saucer-eyed kind, I've battled my way through the US version of the game to give you an impression of what we are actually missing.
So what about Suikoden III then? The first thing you'll notice is that the game is split into chapters this time, with three protagonists to choose from at the beginning. Picking either female knight Chris, freelance mercenary Geddoe or Hugo, son of the Karaya clan leader, will give you a different perspective on the epic story which sets off on the brink of war between the Federation of Zexen and the free tribes of the Grasslands. As different as their motivations may be, it is up to our three unlikely heroes to settle this impending conflict before the land is ravaged by the opposing armies, all the while hunting down the Flame Champion, a mysterious figure who is said to possess the power of the True Runes.
Chances are that if you're still reading this you've played (and probably enjoyed) at least one of the previous games in the series, and you'll be pleased to hear that at its core the third Suikoden is very similar to its predecessors. While the role-playing element of the game once again boils down to the tried and tested formula of 'talk to everyone, then talk to them again', it is the little differences that make the Suikoden series stand out from the crowd. There is the combat for example, which mostly takes place in traditional random encounters with nice details like the flee command which changes to let go when your enemies are too weak, but occasionally you get to fight one-on-one duels or command larger troops in strategic battles. Although none of these tasks is really challenging, it is a welcome diversion from the repetitive (but thankfully infrequent) random skirmishes. And of course you get to manage your own castle again which grows bigger and busier as more and more of the 108 recruitable characters join your entourage.
Now before you run off to your local import games dealer let's have a look at the downsides of the game, and sadly there are lots on offer. The most obvious letdown is the lacklustre presentation, with low polygon characters who limp inelegantly through their featureless surroundings. Add to that a soundtrack which is so exceptionally bad that it makes you want to burn down the in-game music menu and sprinkle the ashes with holy water and you will have to admit that Final Fantasy this definitely is not. Furthermore the game suffers from balancing problems, with long cut-scenes often followed by extremely hard fights, or the queer fact that there seems to be no correlation whatsoever between difficulty and reward of a battle. And while most of the time the story is an epic tale of cold war, political intrigues and treacherous opponents unrivalled by other games of the genre, in the last chapter this plot is completely dropped in favour of a bog-standard 'pretty guys versus the world' affair.
In the end, the great storyline and some of the best dialogue I've seen in a game save Suikoden III from the pit of utter averageness, but it is nowhere as good as its predecessors. Maybe it is for the best that Konami has decided not to release the game over here, and hey - we got the sublime Silent Hill 3 first, right? You can stop moaning now, thankyouverymuch.
6 / 10
Command & Conquer Generals: Zero Hour (PC)
I'm a massive fan of Command and Conquer. I got hooked by Dune on my Mega Drive and I've followed the series ever since. It's with a small hint of pride that I say I own every C&C game and expansion pack there is. After the glory that was Red Alert 2 I was really looking forward to C&C Generals. Well, it ain't all that great, as the EG review here shows. Personally 6 out of 10 was a bit too high for my liking. It's a very nice game to play I feel, but stupidly easy and massively un-balanced. Great fun though, ploughing an enemy base with bombers, A-10s and a particle cannon. It took the biscuit though when I did the last USA mission in 30 minutes (Whilst showing off the different units to my cousin) and not losing one unit.
However C&C Generals: Zero Hour sort of fixes this. For a start, one thing that C&C Generals was missing was, erm, Generals. There were none. However they are in the expansion pack. And aside from the same General abilities each one also has a rather new way of altering the battle. For example, one of the USA generals can build tough planes and stealth Comanche Helicopters, but cannot build the tanks. Another one has increased super weapon production, and a different negative effect. There are nine generals, three for each side, and each one alters the game rather drastically. In a way you almost have nine different sides to choose from. Sadly the GLA is still stupidly underpowered, but they are a bit better to be honest.
The AI seems to have been sorted out somewhat too. In skirmish games the computer actually appears to pay attention and counteracts moves you might make, whilst attempting to exploit your general's weakness and try to blunt the damage from your general's strengths. Multiplayer would be a lot of fun too, as tank rushing is sort of pointless to be honest and a bit on the pricey side. A lot more tactics would be involved than other C&C games, which is a big tick in the "Pro's" list.
But is it worth £20, on top of the £35 for the original? Short answer, no. EA (Bless them) should have released this expansion with the original. Add the two together and that's what you should have had in the first place. If they'd done that then you'd have £35 worth of game (Well, maybe £30). But EA is the king of fleecers in the gaming world, and this is no exception. Despite fixing the original game you still can't help but think that you've paid for two games and got one in return. With the original C&C team now no more I think that this franchise is dead. Not that that will stop EA naturally, but it still feels dead.
8 / 10
EVE Online (PC)
I'm definitely a gamer. I've played a lot of games... I've played(?) EVE Online, and to be honest I'm not sure that it's a game. For those that still don't know, EVE is what's known as a massive multiplayer online game - meaning that it's online-only, has many players, and it's, er, massive. It's been described in these pages as Elite online and sure enough it shares a lot of characteristics with the classic 8-bit space trade/combat/lifestyle title, but what I find more important is the characteristics that it doesn't share, and more of those in a bit. But first let's talk a little about EVE.
The first thing that strikes you is the visuals. It's gorgeous, the ships and star fields are beautiful to behold, in fact the whole thing reeks of class from the start. Then next thing that will strike you is the ease of use. As you are introduced into the game world by the opening tutorial any concerns about the complexity of the game melt away due to the intuitive and well laid out player interface. The next thing that will strike any right minded gamer is that... You can't fly the ships! Yes, you can't fly the bloody ships! You can choose a location from the map and warp to it, or click on a bit of space and watch the ship fly towards it, but you can't actually do any steering as such. This, for me, is a huge let down. Yes there is a potentially compelling Elite-style world of exploration and empire-building, which will appeal to many, but equally as many will be turned off by the simple fact that it all happens at a distance. To compare it to Elite is to compare, say, Tomb Raider to a point and click adventure. Harsh? Well, when combat comes down to selecting a target, switching on weapons, then going to make a cuppa while the game takes care of the rest... No, I don't think I'm being harsh at all.
The "skills treadmill" is another case in point. Yes, you need to earn money to buy new skills, but developing them is not dependent on the player's actions in the game world. To advance a level the player chooses which skill they want to train up, then after a predetermined time limit the skill is leveled up. You don't even need to be online for this to happen, so however much effort you put into playing you can't affect the speed to which you level up. This smacks of a cynical attempt to drag out the time-investment required and maximise the monthly subscriptions for players who are keen to make progress.
So on the one hand we have a beautifully realised universe with plenty of glittering prizes to egg the player on, but on the other hand a minimal amount of actual gameplay. It will certainly keep your eyes busy as you gawp at the beautiful visuals and it'll keep your mouse hand occupied as you pan the camera around said visuals. But for the most part your brain, reflexes and vast swathes of your time will be going to waste. Just thought you should know.
1 / 10
Unlimited SaGa (PS2)
by Stevas mkII
Right. Apparently, I can review anything I like. That's what the man said. Or woman, if you're inclined to believe there's such a person as Mrs Biscuit. Personally, I have my doubts. Trouble is, I'd much rather review something I dislike - just to be different - but I haven't bought any games I'm unhappy with recently. Nope. Not one.
That's a lie, that is. Who said that? Oh, it was me. Damn this conscience. Okay, I did buy Unlimited Saga - I admit it - and I spent very little time with it. There. I took it back. Very quickly. In short, should you wish to gain some sort of recommendation on a gaming purchase out of this nonsense, then you've already had it right there. The fact is, very few of these reader reviews are going to be of a recently purchased duffer, simply due to the mind-numbing obviousness that is this: we'd prefer not to spend time with them if we could help it. We don't get paid to, for a start. And who would possess the sheer stupidity to slate a game off with but less than a couple of hours game time under their belt? That'll be just me, then.
So it's pretty clear that any forum reader sending in a review is probably going to be doing so after extensively playing the game - don't you think? Conversely, I'd be suspicious of anyone who gives a scathing review, purely on the basis that I myself would not have been able to force myself to play anything I don't like for more than the amount of time it takes me to form an opinion. Normally this isn't very long anyhow, but when folding stuff has exchanged hands it becomes almost instantaneous. What would you say is the optimum time for effectively reviewing a game? Ten hours? More? Until completion, even?
When was the last time you played any game you didn't like for that long? It's why we trust the chaps who are paid to do it. That we assume they do actually play the rubbish to the depths we demand a critical analysis requires is testament to this trust. I'm not sure I could. So. Unlimited Saga, then. It's... tripe. Really. No, I have no justification for that one word review. I have no argument. If you feel the need to tell me I didn't spend enough time with it, I'll silently direct you to a seat I've reserved, just for you, as you joined us right in the middle of an exclusive screening of a short movie I like to call "You Got Me There, Keith, And... Pfffft - So What?"
What, you still here? Show's over, already! A what? A 'score'? You want a score? Okay, I give the central premise of allowing forum members to submit reviews a score of three lemonade shandies and a packet of salted peanuts. In short, it's a nice idea, but it's not as good as Halo. Unlimited Saga, on the other hand, I'd rate that mixture of mouldy lager and tab ash you sometimes get in pub ashtrays. If I was feeling generous - and I guess it is Christmas [ulp -Ed] - I'd throw in a two week-old salt and vinegar Space Raider. Happy now?
No score supplied (in the traditional sense).
Clock Tower 3 (PS2)
by David Kamkaze (Kami)
Hands up those who played the SNES original? Okay... I see a distinct lack of hands.
The original was released on the SNES in Japan only, and was the first visually impressive "Survival Horror". You controlled Jennifer around a big mansion, being chased by a single foe (Scissorkid) searching for your friends. It was simple, point and click, but definitely a benchmark for games to come. Ching!
After the blasphemy of Clock Tower 2 (It was worse than bad), the Clock Tower license was acquired by Capcom. Yes, the kings of survival horror bought the rights to the granddad of survival horror. Ching! (Hunh?)
I wasn't sold on the idea of CT3 to begin with, but actually it's a sound game and quite a departure from the Resident Evil series. You control Alyssa, who gets a weird letter from her mum telling her not to come home. Typical teenage girl, she goes home, and things go to hell. In a literal sense. Big Clock Tower appears and you just know Alyssa is in trouble this time... Ching! (What is that noise?)
Many find this game disorientating in the fact that Alyssa's main strength is hiding! Yes people, this is survival horror. Emphasis on survival. And what you get to defend yourself with is handled with typical teenage girl limp-wristedness - debate amongst yourselves if this is intentional or just poor design. You solve puzzles, solve mysteries and generally try not to be killed by the psychotic, demonic yet slightly predictable enemies.
There's also a lot in this game you'll note has been "borrowed". A statue of a woman bleeding from the eyes. A mirror image freezing still. But they don't dominate, and they never seem out of place. Ching! (Must be my mind playing tricks on me.)
Clock Tower 3 is not a game for those who like blasting an endless army of the undead. Above all else, this is more about brainpower and shocks than combat. But there are problems. You can easily muddle the controls and get killed in a blind panic. And yes, the story is so predictable at times, you'll wonder if they even bothered to try something new and innovative.
Sure, Clock Tower 3 isn't the innovator its grandfather was. And it's by no means the best horror game out there. But this formula works and if you like horror games, or just need an alternative to senseless slaughter of the poor undead, this is well worth a go. It's pretty, it's different and it's surprisingly fun to play. Don't expect anything earth-shatteringly different and you may even begin to love this game. Wait a minute... my reflection just stopped moving!
AAAARRGHHH!!! [Reviewer is sliced and diced by scissorman. Review ends.]
8 / 10
Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna (PC)
by Gary Moody
Point. Click. Die. Not exactly the most highbrow concept ever to have graced the videogame scene, but past games like Diablo and, err... Diablo II have shown that it works.
It is fair to say that the above description sums up LOA perfectly. There is the odd respite where you get to shop, and buy that lovely looking leafy armour you were after, but the rest of the time is spent moving forward and killing stuff.
Stuff being the operative word. While some monsters make a reappearance from the original, there are a number of new ones. Mutated goblins, some rather fancy automatons, filthy lizards and baboons all make their debut. Also taking a bow is the new jungle environment, which is satisfyingly humid and leafy.
Which leads onto the original's selling point, the seamless environment. No loading screens means no breaks. When you promise yourself you'll quit at the end of the dungeon, you find five hours have gone by as you explore the swamp you just stepped into. Maybe you want to take your wizard to the next combat magic level, but then you want to do it with all your fighters. It takes hold and does not let go.
What shakes you loose is the plot, which fails to connect on any real level, and takes a back seat to the endless killing. The new spells add little, aside from the novelty of turning yourself into a huge troll. The huge amount of pots and crates to break will send you potty (Arf!). Aside from a few little tweaks here and there nothing of any weight is added to the original game.
Herein lies the rub. The original is included in all its glory. It even includes all the little improvements from LOA. Bigger, tougher and with a greater sense of adventure, this is the real meat of the package. If you have played through the original, then LOA is more of the same. But then, that's what you want, isn't it?
7 / 10
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GBA)
I was really looking forward to this. Seriously. Golden Sun 2 had just been finished and I was revelling in a 16-bit era of RPG games, so to hear that a Final Fantasy game had been made in the Shining Force style had me all gooey and excited, as Shining Force is high on my "favourite games ever made" list. I needn't have bothered.
After finally getting the game I read the manual on the bus back home and was left totally bewildered. It reads like a Japanese VCR manual tome to be honest. Feeling a bit wary I gingerly put the game in. Pleasant graphics await me and it feels polished. Fears aside I get to the main menu and find a rather pointless few options of changing the colour from blue/green to green/blue. Skipping these I'm quickly on my way to what should have been a truly ground breaking title.
Couple of hours later I'm back to the Japanese manual again. Half the stats in the game are not at all obvious (TO for example) and I'm looking for any way to speed it up. The fighting, whilst simple enough, is beyond slow. It takes at least four, if not five commands to do a simple attack. That wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the fact that each menu takes an age to pop up. The moving of the characters is slow, as is the battle animation. It all looks very pretty though. Oh, and it sounds nice as well. Swell. A pretty, nice sounding, yet very slow game. Yawn.
Click first menu. Switch on kettle. Click second menu. Put coffee in cup. Click third menu. Wait for kettle to boil. Click fourth menu. Pour water. Watch fight. Pour in milk and stir. Watch damage and experience details. Sip coffee. Rinse, wash, repeat. Admit self to hospital for caffeine overdose.
So, after this I thought a bit of a wander round town might be in order. Er... nope. There is no town to wander around, not as such. You select shop and you go straight to the shop and you're confronted with another menu. Menu menu menu. That's all this game is. One massive stream of inter-connected menus. Even the weapons are very stat-heavy, and I was so grateful that I'd played FFIX otherwise I'd never have figured out how to learn abilities from my manual. I'm still not much the wiser when it comes to the classes, all 36 or so of them. Imagine Championship Manager with swords, spells, monsters a plot and no nancy pancy footballers and you have the basic concept of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
This could have been a great game. This should have been a staggering game. A game to possibly hold that title of "Classic". But a massively overwhelming beginning and a badly made manual (With mistakes no less) does not a classic make. Graphically and sound wise it's up there with the best of them for the GBA. Playability is rank though I'm afraid, and as such this is now back in its box and up for sale. Poor effort there Squenix!
3 / 10