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Review: Iron Assault

November 22nd, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

Looking at the last few review posts, I’ve obviously given up on trying to find another way to say “I hope you’re doing ok” – so, I hope you’re doing ok.

Today we make a rare visit to the Simulation section of the site for some big robot action, in Iron Assault.

Review: Kathy Rain

November 14th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Hope you’re all doing ok.

Today we welcome back Jo to solo reviewing duties after a break of, ooh, let’s just say, quite a few years.

It’s kind of fitting that the game in question is a point and click adventure set in the the 90s: Kathy Rain.

Inside The Big Cardboard Box: The White Label

November 7th, 2020

Written by: Rik

In a recent(ish) Vault of Regret post, I wrote about the time when I had a bulk clear-out of old games, shifting most of them as a job lot inside a massive cardboard box. Despite spending more time than is healthy on trying to find details of that eBay listing and what exactly was in that box, the full truth will never be uncovered.

However, I think I do still have a relatively good grasp of which old games I used to own but don’t. The games retained following that cull, particularly from the DOS era, are a fairly small sample of my previous collection, so by default anything that I remember owning that isn’t in that pile could have been in the box, and definitely was given away or sold at one point.

So I think The Big Cardboard Box will now have to be a metaphor for all of those games. And even though it’s unlikely to be of great interest to you, our vast readership, I’m going to start tagging all those games for my own interests as we cover them, as well as (possibly?) going back through old reviews to see what else might be included.

In the meantime, in an ongoing series of articles, I’m going to take a look inside that metaphorical big box and at the smaller game boxes within (that were almost certainly discarded in reality for reasons of space). It’s an opportunity to look back at the now almost-defunct world of games packaging: the cardboard boxes, the compilations, and the budget re-releases.

And it’s a budget label that we’ll start with here. The White Label was Virgin Interactive Entertainment’s budget range, and was fairly prominent in the UK in the mid-90s. My recollection is that it was one of the first budget lines to really focus on ‘prestige’ CD titles, many of which were exclusive to PC.

Many of their releases, particularly early on, were games that they had published themselves at full price: I remember Westwood’s Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos and The Legend of Kyrandia: Hand of Fate were among the very first releases, and later the likes of The 7th Guest, which was once considered a cutting-edge product, also secured a re-release at the £10-15 price range.

But for me The White Label was best remembered for re-issuing older LucasArts games, from the Star Wars titles to their range of point and click adventures. I definitely had The White Label release of Rebel Assault – as with The 7th Guest, the fact this once highly-prized (and priced) CD-ROM rarity suddenly became more affordable, in line with the equipment required to play it, earned the release some attention. I had the sequel, too, although not in the double pack that followed (Rebel Assault was also bundled with X-Wing at one point, too).

Those double packs, which came to be presented in red packaging, were later additions to the range. I recall Monkey Island 1/2, Sam and Max/Day of the Tentacle, and Full Throttle/The Dig combinations all being part of the family collection, although I think most of them belonged to my sister. In fact, I think one of us still has the discs, if not the boxes and manuals, although it’s hard to tell whether they were White Label or not, and whether single purchases or double packs, as the contents of The White Label boxes usually gave no indication of the budget branding and in most cases looked to be identical to the originals. (I say ‘usually’ – looking again at the available pictures of this range, it looks as if in general the material for the single game releases carried no branding, but the jewel cases for double-packs, if not the discs themselves, were at least different.)

What’s more, despite a name that implied no-frills presentation, The White Label was one of those unusual budget labels that actually had quite appealing box art which was vaguely classy and didn’t advertise to all and sundry that you had bought it at a reduced price with ‘value’ branding. The initial design featured a perhaps-slightly-naff pair of eyes at the top of the front cover, but that was soon replaced with a cleaner approach: a virtually plain white box and the original cover art appearing inside a postage stamp, with The White Label branding as a postmark. (I must admit that I didn’t quite register the envelope/postage aesthetic at the time, only that it was a lot more visually pleasing than the aforementioned ‘cheapo’ presentation employed by other brands).

That didn’t quite last into the era of DVD boxes: there were some further White Label releases in the early 00s, including Interplay titles such as Baldur’s Gate and Messiah, but by that point Virgin Interactive was itself not long for this world, and it had become just another budget brand.

The White Label name was dragged further into bargain bin territory when it was acquired by GSP (Global Software Publishing), prolific peddlers of cheap nonsense in the 00s. Ok, so there were still some good games (various entries in the Total War and Football Manager series, for example) among the dross but a basic disc-only, electronic manual approach did little to distinguish it from the likes of Xplosiv or $old Out (to which we will likely return later).

Anyway, to return to the matter at hand, I think I’ve actually kept a lot of the discs from my 90s White Label purchases, and in addition to the games mentioned above, the physical jewel cases for Dark Forces and Screamer 2 that are still knocking around somewhere were once housed in The White Label packaging. This probably speaks to a level of quality control for games in this range during the 90s, and the only ones I got rid of seem to have been the two Rebel Assault titles, which I can only put down to the general period of shaming that 90s FMV-based games were subjected to once the gaming world moved on.

Despite The Big Cardboard Box appearing in the Vault of Regret, as I mentioned then, I don’t really have any regrets about getting rid of my big box games: I didn’t really have any other option at the time, and I’ve no desire in general to start filling my house with them at significant personal expense. But I must admit to being drawn in again slightly by these stylish White Label boxes, and the associated 90s memories of being able to afford quality CD games with a couple of weeks’ pocket money.

(NB: All scans sourced from MobyGames).

Review: Alan Wake

October 31st, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Hope you’re doing ok.

Today we establish that the answer to the question, “How far in advance would you have to start playing a vaguely spooky game in order to produce a review of that game to coincide with Halloween?” is “about six months”.

(Alternatively, the timing could be considered more of a happy accident, with a small amount of additional effort once meeting that date seemed possible.)

Anyway, today we have a review of Alan Wake for you.

Review: Jill of the Jungle

October 22nd, 2020

Written by: Stoo

Hello everyone, hope you are well.

Today I have another review for you! I’m sure it will be the highlight of your day. Or maybe just something mildly interesting to read during a tea break. Or maybe you’ll think I’m talking nonsense. Anyway, here’s our review of Jill of the Jungle.

Discussion: Tacoma (spoilers!)

October 7th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hello there. Hope you’re doing ok. Today we’re back with another spoiler-tastic discussion of a modern indie adventure game. At some point we’ll think of a good name for this series and link all the articles together with a tag, but for now we can just point you in the direction of previous chats about Firewatch, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Gone Home and Her Story.

Today’s game is Tacoma, the second release from Gone Home developers The Fullbright Company. Set onboard the space station of the same name, you are Amy Ferrier, a contractor sent to the abandoned station to retrieve its AI module and any remaining data. Through use of an augmented reality (AR) system, you are able to access scenes and conversations featuring the now-departed crew (station administrator E.V. St James, operations manager Clive Siddiqi, botanist Andrew Dagyab, tech specialist Natali Kuroshenko, engineer Roberta Williams, doctor Sareh Hasmadi) and ODIN, the station AI.

Spoiler for the word spoiler ahead: a spoiler is something that reveals plot and story information in a manner that may *spoil* others’ enjoyment of it. And if you were happy to read that spoiler about the word spoiler, you’ll now know that if you haven’t played the game already then the discussion ahead may not be appropriate for you, unless you aren’t bothered about such things, or have no intention of playing the game.

That would be a shame, though, as we’d highly recommend Tacoma. Here’s a short trailer:

If it looks like your cup of tea, then by all means go ahead and give it a go: you’ll be welcome back here when you’re done.

Otherwise, here’s your ***final spoiler warning*** for the discussion ahead!

Discussion: Tacoma (spoilers!) continued »

Soundtracks/When I played…Need for Speed III

September 26th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Soundtracks is where we talk about licensed music in games. When I Played was a series from a few years ago, about significant games, and times, in my life.

Today we have a strange kind of hybrid/crossover piece, a one-off for a special occasion. Hope you don’t mind.

Nostalgia and happy (or, sometimes, less-than-happy) memories fuse things from different spaces and times together. As someone perennially (and increasingly) out of touch with what is current and modern, my associations are always odd, with decisions to belatedly experience an album, film or game associating them with more modern real-life moments.

For example, I will always associate one particular boozy and chilly Christmas, spent at home without the presence of immediate or extended family, with the game Mass Effect (2008), the album Playing The Angel (2005) by Depeche Mode and the first series of Nordic noir TV series The Bridge (2012). In my head, there’s common ground between them: the chilly climate of real-life Buckinghamshire, a series set in Norway and Sweden, and an ice planet in Bioware’s space-RPG. Or the synth music of Mass Effect and certain tracks on that Depeche Mode album. But I’m willing to accept that, to anyone else but me, it’s a stretch: these things are not related, and even though each one makes me think of the others, it’s because they’ve been thrown together by circumstance and bonded to each other in time by my brain.

Soundtracks/When I played…Need for Speed III continued »

Pirates and Robots

September 23rd, 2020

Written by: Stoo

Hi all, hope you are doing okay in these uncertain times.

Today I have a couple more second opinions for you. First up we have the The Curse of Monkey Island, the third entry in the classic adventure series.

Also have a read about Shogo: Mobile Armour Division, a late-90s first person shooter featuring big, heavily armed Mecha.

Hoping to have a few more proper reviews for you in the next month or two. Maybe I’ll finally make time to finish Might and Magic 6! (probably not).

Soundtracks: Pro Evolution Soccer 2010

September 6th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Soundtracks is where we take a look back at the use of licensed music in games. Go here if you want to know more.

Today’s game is Pro Evolution Soccer 2010, which is probably the last football game I bought with a sense of genuine expectation that I would devote hours to the career mode, and the first time that such an expectation was not realised. In some respects, it was the end of football games for me: I’ve dipped my toe into various modern(ish) instalments of PES and FIFA since, but that hardcore, multi-season enjoyment just hasn’t ever returned. It’s probably why I remember the largely-reviled 2008 entry of PES so fondly, as that was the last time I experienced it.

Soundtracks: Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 continued »

Review: NBA Live 95

August 23rd, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Some time ago, The Last Dance on Netflix inspired me to play a couple of old basketball games.

Here’s a write-up of the second: NBA Live 95 from EA.

(I’ve since moved onto Friday Night Lights and Last Chance U, so I imagine I’ll end up writing about Front Page Sports Football while watching some kind of ice hockey documentary).