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PC MAGS ROUNDUP - September 2000

ULTIMATE PC (Yellowman, 3.99 with CD)

56pp (2 ads plus 3 house ads)

Let’s start at the bottom, shall we? Hugh Gollner’s Yellowman has a clearly laid-out formula for this sort of thing. Buy an ailing magazine from another publisher (in this case Rapide), then sucker existing readers into buying it before they notice that you’ve turned it into a shabby, wafer-thin leaflet with no page numbers (so you can’t immediately see just how anorexic it is), no date on the cover (so you can leave it onsale indefinitely – this one had a preview feature on The Sims), no address, contact details or credits of any kind inside (so you don’t know who to complain to – isn’t that illegal?) and the toilet-clogging production and editorial values you’d expect from a magazine that’s seemingly been knocked out in an afternoon by a single 15-year-old work-experience kid for a tenner and a stale cheese sandwich. That Yellowman haven’t been run out of the industry in disgrace long before now will baffle me until my dying day. There aren’t really words adequate for how hatefully bad this is, but I’ll have a go. The worst, most despicable sort of rip-off imaginable. Nope, nowhere near.

REAL EDITORIAL PAGES: 43

PAGES OF FEATURE CONTENT: 0

NUMBER OF DEMOS ON COVER CD: 8

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE: A stunning 90.13% (8 games), which is odd since there are no advertisers to suck up to.

GOOD FOR: Nothing

BAD FOR: Existing

VERDICT: Viciously contemptible legalised piracy.

 

 

PC GAMEPLAY (Computec, 4.99 with 2 CDs)

164pp (13 ads plus 2 house ads)

...mind you, even Ultimate PC isn’t stupid enough to tempt the Advertising Standards Authority by untruthfully claiming that their cover CDs are "free". Rather cheaply, the discs concerned also come unboxed and loose, but in their favour they’re packed with the second-highest number of demos in our survey. Inside, the mag opens with an editorial which promises to spare the reader the wacky, fun approach of the mag’s main rivals, and it’s true to its word – this is a dry and mostly lifeless read, perfectly competently written but so lacking in spark or thought it’s a real chore to read more than two or three pages at a time. (Example – an interview with Warren Spector, designer of Deus Ex and a man with some very interesting opinions on game design. PC Gameplay ask him exactly three questions, the last of which is "Tell us a bit more about the cybernetics and weaponry in the game." Jesus.) I can’t think of anything else to say about PC Gameplay.

REAL EDITORIAL PAGES: 109

PAGES OF FEATURE CONTENT: 14, though four of those are filled mostly with pictures of Pamela Anderson.

NUMBER OF DEMOS ON COVER CDs: 13

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE: 73% (10 games)

GOOD FOR: Tips – 32 pages of ‘em.

BAD FOR: Reviews – few in number and high-marking.

VERDICT: Delivers exactly what it promises to – a magazine with no personality. Inoffensive but coma-inducing.

 

 

PC GAMER (Future, 4.99 with 2 CDs)

180pp (34 ads plus 7 house ads)

Since the last review, your mild-mannered correspondent has been subjected to multiple copyright theft, printed libel and slurred death threats in dark nightclubs by various members of the PC Gamer team, but hey, I’m not one to bear a grudge, viewers. PCG (described as "an intelligent, very well-executed magazine" last time – ouch, that’s gotta hurt) has noticeably improved over the last 18 months, ditching the worst excesses of the sometimes turgid writing and returning towards the entertaining-features-led approach that made it so good in the mid-90s. The downside is that this improvement has made the magazine painfully pleased with itself, exhibiting a constant smug self-satisfaction that gets pretty repellent in large doses. The accusation levelled publicly by some rivals that it’s often more about the writers than about PC games certainly has a grain of truth to it, but when PCG keeps a grip on its ego it reaches heights that only PC Zone can compete with. Despite being a whopping 43% more expensive than PCZ, it’s certainly aimed at the youngest audience of any mag here (having mostly given up the Daily Mail readers to PC Gameplay), and that youthful approach gives it an energy and momentum that’s otherwise in short supply in this particular market. Like any energetic youth, you don’t half want to slap the annoying little git round the face sometimes, but hopefully they’ll grow out of it one day.

REAL EDITORIAL PAGES: 128

PAGES OF FEATURE CONTENT: 22, though much of that is reader-generated.

NUMBER OF DEMOS ON COVER CDs: 7

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE: 58.3% (20 games)

GOOD FOR: Features.

BAD FOR: Smugness.

VERDICT: Nowhere near as good as it thinks it is, but still pretty good, and moving in the right direction.

 

 

PC ZONE (Dennis, 3.49 with CD)

164pp (39 ads plus 1 house ad)

PC Zone, on the other hand, isn’t quite the colossally tremendous magazine it was last time round. It’s very hard to survive losing writers of the calibre of Duncan MacDonald and David McCandless without suffering a bit, and Zone is no exception – the exuberant fun that previously characterised the mag is noticeably lessened in this incarnation. Still, when you’re as far ahead of the competition as PCZ was, you can afford to slack off a little, and make no mistake, this is still top-of-the-range magazine publishing. The writing eschews PCG’s loud and obvious knockabout style for a quieter, subtler approach but is no less entertaining or funny for it, and the overall standard is far more consistently high. As before, there’s a real unforced warmth about PC Zone, an informed but relaxed feel that positively invites you to read every page. It’s primarily this that keeps PCZ at the top this year – the actual content of the mag is eerily identical to PC Gamer’s in every possible respect – and long may it continue.

REAL EDITORIAL PAGES: 111

PAGES OF FEATURE CONTENT: 11

NUMBER OF DEMOS ON COVER CD: 8 (once again, incidentally, getting more demos on one CD than PCG manages with two)

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE: 59.6% (15 games)

GOOD FOR: Value, friendliness.

BAD FOR: Can’t think of anything.

VERDICT: The difference between "Parkinson" and "TFI Friday".

 

 

PC GAMING WORLD (Ziff Davis, 4.99 with 2 CDs)

132pp (23 ads plus 1 house ad)

And lastly to the oddity that is PC Gaming World. It still looks American, it still sounds like your dad (PCGW is clearly aimed primarily at a 40-something audience and beyond), and it’s still low on frills and thrills. Huge blocks of uninterrupted previews and reviews make up the vast bulk of the mag, and the nearest thing to a feature is a bizarre and near-incomprehensible two-page "comedy" piece about crates in games that’s been taken from an Internet site, but for all that PCGW is actually quite a likeable read. The writing is sober and understated without actually being dull, and giving each writer their own opinion column adds some personality to the text without it becoming the main focus. The CDs offer more demos than anyone in our survey, and PCGW’s DVD edition also offers a significant increase in demo content – an additional 28 demos, in fact, compared to none at all on PC Gamer’s DVD edition.

REAL EDITORIAL PAGES: 104

PAGES OF FEATURE CONTENT: 6

NUMBER OF DEMOS ON COVER CDs: 15

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE: 56% (25 reviews), though it should be pointed out that for the purposes of this feature, PCGW defines "average" as 40%.

GOOD FOR: Demos.

BAD FOR: Excitement.

VERDICT: Very grown-up and utterly lacking in flair, but strangely pleasant all the same.

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READ-ME-FIRST NOTES:

"Real editorial pages" means just that – pages which contain new original content. Not included, then, are ads (obviously), directory sections (vastly the same every month), or tips (lazy-arsed space-filling as often as not nicked off the Internet or sent out to everyone by the publisher).

"Feature content" means real features about some actual subject, ie not previews by another name.

The issues reviewed were those current as of 10 July 2000.

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WHO’S THE BEST?

As with the Playstation mags, it’s pleasing to see average review scores creeping closer to a true average, with three of the five titles averaging between 50-60%, compared to mid-70s at the last analysis. Otherwise, the PC games magazine market is very much like the Scottish Premier League – two divisions in one. World and Gameplay might pick up the odd cup, but the league is still a two-horse race.

1. PC ZONE – it’s a very close call this year, but PCZ’s warmth just tips the balance over PCG’s annoying smugness.

2. PC GAMER – much better than it was, and a little self-discipline occasionally could yet see it take the prize next time.

3. PC GAMING WORLD – the most demos, and the best choice if you’re a bit old and don’t like too much shouting.

4. PC GAMEPLAY – worthy and competent, but crushingly dull.

5. ULTIMATE PC – being impaled arse-first on a jagged rusty spike then savagely beaten to death with broken-glass-covered hammers would be too good for the people responsible for this vile shite. In my opinion, that is.

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