PC MAGS ROUNDUP - October 1998
Rapide £2.95 52pp (4 ads)
To start off, here's a strange little beast. The issue of PC Force on sale in my local Electronics Boutique was 4 months old, and cost £1.95 for a 100-page mag. Move into the present, however (or more specifically, the HMV 100 yards up the street) and you find something that's gained a quid in price, lost nearly half of its pages and all of its ads (the 4 there are are all for other Rapide publications), and would appear to exist purely to be bought by the badly unhinged in a moment of drunkenness. I searched for evidence of a dislodged covermount, but there was none, and I'm therefore utterly at a loss as to what Rapide might be trying to achieve by publishing this absurd, valueless pamphlet. Perhaps someone could enlighten me.
NUMBER OF DEMOS ON COVER CD(S): 0
REVIEW AVERAGE: 80% ("Like it!")
MOST WORRYING ASSUMPTION: That readers will know what "SABOTs" (possibly some kind of anti-tank weapon) are without having it explained to them. (Spearhead)
MOST SHAMELESS SPACE-FILLING: A 2-page Carmageddon box illustration with a single sentence of text on it, used as intro to 18 - that's /18/ - pages of playing tips on the 19-month-old budget title.
VERDICT: Not even substantial enough to swat wasps with. (I tried.)
Rapide £3.95 132pp (26 ads) + CD
Rapide's second bite at the cherry couldn't help but be a substantial improvement, and such it is. Indeed, if you hadn't read any of the competition, you'd be forgiven thinking it was a pretty decent effort - there's nothing fundamentally badly wrong, all the elements you'd expect are present and correct, and the writing, while dumbed-down and presumably aimed at the younger market, is generally competent enough. (Though the writers often can't seem to stop themselves from thinking it's a console mag and spraying around exclamation marks and juvenile humour as if Gordon Brown was about to start taxing them.) A glance at any of UPC's main rivals, though, shows it up for what it really is - a harmless, bland mediocrity, lacking any wit, imagination or effort. Text and pictures are slapped down on the page in a perfunctory manner which doesn't vary from section to section, and there's nothing to tempt the casual reader to dip a toe into the water. Beside, say, PC Zone's embarrassment of ideas, it's a little sorry-looking.
NUMBER OF DEMOS ON COVER CD(S): 16
REVIEW AVERAGE: 77% (No guide.)
NUMBER OF PAGES SPENT APOLOGISING FOR A VIRUS ON PREVIOUS ISSUE'S COVER CD: 3
LEAST ATTENTION-GRABBING CALL-OUT: "The main focus of Sanitarium is the need to talk to various characters." (Sanitarium)
LEAST APPROPRIATE USE OF EXCLAMATION MARKS: "Can't beat that tricky level? Write in and ask for our help!" (Tips section intro). Or possibly the double whammy announcing delays to Microsoft's Age Of Empires 2: "So maybe don't bother putting it on your Christmas list! However, you should be able to get the add-on pack!" They must be breathless.
VERDICT: A magazine defined more by what it lacks than what it includes!
PC GAMING WORLD
Ziff-Davis £4.99 148pp (39 ads) + 2 CDs
Time for another oddity, then, in the shape of the snappily-titled PC Gaming World, the UK games magazine that thinks it's American. There's an overpoweringly transatlantic feel to PCGW, most immediately noticeable in the design, a sober, serious, text-heavy style which is extraordinarily reminiscent of lots of US publications, particularly style mag Details. This impression is reinforced by the physical size (smaller than A4), the shiny paper stock and the internal layout which throws you straight into a dense, uninterrupted 70-page run of previews and sees all the reviews relegated to a relatively small section right at the back. And when writers called "Elvis Bacon" start talking about "your gaming dollar" (Tiger Woods Golf), well, it all just gets a bit confusing. In fact, so strongly do you tend to feel that the PCGW staff aren't talking to you at all, but to a completely different audience, that it's very difficult to pay any attention to what they say. (After all, how much credence would you give to the opinion of, say, France Football on Liverpool's chances in the Premiership this season?) It's a shame, because it's mostly intelligent, well-written stuff (the opinion columns scattered among the reviews are especially commendable), but at the end of the day it's like watching your dad dance at a wedding - even if he's good, you still find yourself looking the other way.
NUMBER OF DEMOS ON COVER CD(S): 14
REVIEW AVERAGE: 63% ("Good.")
ESTIMATED NUMBER OF YEARS OLDER THE AVERAGE PCGW STAFF MEMBER IS THAN THOSE ON OTHER PC GAMES MAGS: 12
MOST OUT-OF-PLACE-SOUNDING WORD USED IN REVIEWS: "Groovy".
MOST MISLEADING OPENING SENTENCE: "Chessmaster 6000 features more of everything that makes the Chessmaster series of games so exciting." (Chessmaster 6000) No visible irony follows.
VERDICT: Have a nice day, y'all.
Future £4.99 196pp (55 ads) + 2 CDs
Recently redesigned (to almost exactly reprise Future's Total Film, incidentally), the louder, livelier look can't disguise the increasingly, well, middle-class air that PCG's been cultivating in recent years. Much of the writing is bogged down in a highbrow, borderline-smug style heavily cribbed from Q and littered with phrases like "a kaleidoscopic array of bellicosity" (Mortal Kombat 4 review, of all places) - if you can make it through an entire page without encountering a single "melange" or tripping over the odd "querulous", you're doing well indeed. The indisputably talented writing currently just about manages to stay on the right side of irritating, but it's a fine line, and you'll be unlikely to get through an issue without at least once wishing that someone would lock them all in a room with nothing to read but the Daily Star for a week. This is an intelligent, very well-executed magazine, but the tone and visual style are so relentless and unchanging that you'll be knackered (and quite possibly a Communist) by the time you get to the end of it
NUMBER OF DEMOS ON COVER CD(S): 12
REVIEW AVERAGE: 75% ("Something important is missing.")
MOST ELUSIVE INCENTIVE: A sticker on the cover promises a £5 game discount voucher at an unspecified retailer. "See inside", it offers helpfully, narrowing the location of this exciting gift down to one of 196 pages. Haven't found mine yet, but I'm sure it's in here somewhere.
LEAST PLEASANT IMAGE: "We blow open the game the world is gagging for!" (Quake 3)
BEST BUYER'S GUIDE: The fantastic 3D-card-upgrade flowchart that makes the 8-page feature surrounding it a complete waste of time and space.
VERDICT: The PC games equivalent of the Daily Mail.
Dennis £3.99 180pp (54 ads) + CD
Now for something a bit special. Pretty much from the cover onwards, PC Zone is an explosion of ideas, presented in a chaotic, energetic visual style that gives the impression that the staff just can't cram everything they want to do into the space available. The tone is irreverent and knockabout, but inclusive and friendly (where most mags swing wildly between obsequious and plain obnoxious in their attempt to communicate with their readers, PCZ actually pulls off the difficult trick of sounding like your mate) and the standard of writing unrivalled. Picking out particularly good bits in this small a space is hard, but special mention has to go to the big preview features, so often used by mags as nothing more than space-filling press-release rewrites but seen here as fantastically entertaining, comprehensive and thoughtful features in their own right. The real joy, though, is that this loving care and attention is lavished on every single section of the magazine - you'll even want to read the hardware reviews. It's very nearly enough to make you care about PC games again, but even if you don't, this is a warm and glorious read.
NUMBER OF DEMOS ON COVER CD(S): 17
REVIEW AVERAGE: 72% ("Above average." Doh!)
BEST SOUNDBITE: "Pornography for anarchists" (Carmageddon 2)
MOST PICTURESQUE LETTERS-PAGE REPLY: "Editing this page is a bit like being trapped in a plummeting elevator with a gang of flailing, vomiting farmhands."
BEST SUDDEN GRASP OF PERSPECTIVE: "It's rock'n'roll, it's Steve McQueen... it's a very good virtual reality computer game" (Grand Prix Legends)
VERDICT: A proper magazine, except it's about PC games. Tremendous.
YET ANOTHER RETURN OF THE DISSEMINATOR