Partnering with Tearfund

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (PS2)

Rated: 16+.

Story: You're a mercenary who has been double-crossed by Venezuela's new and devious president. Various factions are fighting for control of the country's oil reserves and you must sell your skills to whoever is paying in order to gain the information and resources you need to exact some payback.

These skills are shooting things, blowing things up, stealing things and being able to take three tank shells to the head before dying.

Gameplay: Imagine Grand Theft Auto in the jungle with tanks (well, more tanks than normal) and you're pretty much there.

You get to guide your mercenary round a large area of Venezuela using whatever cars, trucks, jeeps, tanks or helicopters you can lay your hands on. Contacts are dotted about the place, offering missions. Some of these missions are optional, rewarding you with cash and different kinds of supply drop, from health packs, guns and vehicles to air strikes and gunship support. Other missions advance the story.

Jobs mostly involve reaching a target of some kind through a mass of enemies, destroying/rescuing/stealing it and making a quick get away. On a good day, this involves blowing up something really big.

There are also plenty of bonus items hidden around the map, along with thirty rogue military officers to capture.

The one major difference between this and most open-world games is that your actions affect your reputation with the different factions competing for control of Venezuela's oil. Send some capitalists a message from the rebel guerrillas and the freedom fighters will offer you support but the oil company won't be happy; help the American 'peace-keepers' and they'll be grateful but the Chinese 'observers' will be upset. Annoy anyone too much and they won't work with you without a hefty bribe. On the plus side, it's possible to disguise yourself as a member of a particular faction by stealing an appropriate vehicle and keeping a low profile. Then you can travel through their territory without getting into trouble.

Save System: You can choose to save at any time while not on a mission but loading the save transports you back to home base. Since it can take a while to get to places and some missions are half an hour long, there's no point switching the game on if you don't have a decent chunk of time available.

Comments: The opening mission of Mercenaries 2 really doesn't paint the game in a good light. The linear trek through a horde of daft soldiers seems to highlight almost all the game's faults in one go: poor enemy AI, short draw-distance, repetitive dialogue snippets, your character's miraculous inability to be killed by normal gunfire and some occasionally drab graphics.

Then, just at the end of it, there's the option to blow up a huge building with a tank. Things pick up after that.

Generally, the missions provide plenty of opportunity for experimentation and there's lots of fun to be had working out a sneaky way of pulling off a precision strike without upsetting any potential allies. Sometimes flying in low below the radar pays off, other times taking a jet ski to the back entrance is the way and then, of course, if nothing else works, there's always blasting through the front door with a rocket launcher and air support.

Unfortunately, mixed with the fun, there's plenty of frustration thanks to some horrible difficulty spikes and a complete lack of checkpointing in the missions. For instance, one contact requires you to steal three different vehicles and buy some tires. This is easy but time-consuming. Bring them all to her, however, and she requires you to transport a monster truck to a distant destination past lots of angry people with guns. If anything happens to the truck, it means ten minutes of rounding up vehicles again before getting another crack at finding a way through the roadblocks.

There's no reason for this, other than to pad the game out to make it a bit longer. (There are only around fifteen story missions.) As with so many parts of Mercenaries 2, it feels like someone eventually went, 'Oh, this'll do...' It's the same with the almost superfluous story which is merely an excuse to cause explosions and with the artificial intelligence which makes enemy soldiers run out from behind cover. Even the final mission gives the impression of ending halfway through.

Mercenaries 2 just doesn't have the same level of polish as the Grand Theft Auto games. That said, it does have lots of blowing stuff up and an easy to traverse world. The open, uncomplicated towns make a welcome change from the confusing bridges and overpasses of Los Santos and Liberty City. Mercenaries 2 is more accessible than either San Andreas or GTA IV. The simple map and varied vehicles make travelling around more fun. Since each hidden item is instantly useful and there's no need to find dozens of them to gain any benefit, there's also greater incentive to explore.

The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game have more features and better graphics but they also have more competition. There are any number of good games coming out in the next few weeks for those consoles. Choice is more limited on the PS2. As such, Mercenaries 2 is worth a look. It's flawed but has greater substance than Just Cause and is no more frustrating than GTA.

Besides, any game which asks you to steal a bus and go pick up some pirates, deserves to be given a chance...

Conclusion: Wanting an accessible open-world PS2 action game with plenty of explosions?

This'll do.

Graphics: The towns feel a little empty but the graphics are generally competent and atmospheric. The short draw-distance is an issue, though, since it can be hard seeing targets and going up to any height at all in a helicopter makes the entire world disappear. Using binoculars doesn't help - they merely bring the fog closer.

Length: Medium.

Rating: 3/5.

A big pile of Pokémon cards

  • Theme deck: £9.
  • Booster pack: £3.

Theme deck:
  • A set selection of 60 cards designed to provide a strong starting deck.
  • A pitiful supply of cardboard damage counters.
  • Rulebook.
  • A heavily-creased paper playing mat featuring a rules summary and space for one player's cards.
Booster pack:
  • Around 10 randomly-selected cards.
Poke theme deck mat.
One of the playing mats.

Gameplay: Each player has a 60-card deck containing pokémon cards, energy cards and trainer cards. Players have one active pokémon that's currently fighting and up to five substitute pokémon 'on the bench'. These are all laid out on the table. Players also have cards in their hand which they can use on their turn. Energy cards power up pokémon to make stronger attacks available; trainer cards allow things like healing. Active pokémon get one attack per turn and do damage to the opposing active pokémon. If a pokémon accumulates more damage than it has health, it's knocked out and has to be replaced by a substitute. Pokémon can also be 'evolved' into stronger forms if the player has the right card.

There are a few complications, like being able to swap injured pokémon for substitutes on your own go, but the basic rules aren't too complicated. Unfortunately, most of the newer cards have rather too much squint-inducing small print that makes the game vastly more convoluted without adding any real depth.

Object: To be the first to knock out six opposing pokémon.

Game length: The game takes fifteen minutes to an hour to play but creating a customised deck from a selection of several hundred cards can take days.

Number of players: 2.

Age: Officially 10+ but any child with enough reading ability to manage Harry Potter should be able to cope.

Comments: Last year, I gave a favourable review to a Pokémon Trading Cards starter pack I picked up for Sprog1. The game was simple to play, involved a good mix of strategy and luck and was reasonably entertaining. I did voice the suspicion that we might end up buying a few more cards, though.

Well, my prediction turned out to be partially correct. We did end up buying more cards. 'A few' was maybe a little optimistic, however:

Hundreds of Pokemon cards.
There are hundreds here... and these are only the ones I could be bothered to get out.
Sadly, rather than making the game deeper and more challenging, they've really made it much less fun.

We bought all three Epic Collection decks thinking they'd work well together and provide balanced games. They have a Rock, Paper, Scissors relationship, though, ensuring whichever two decks are used, one is bound to be superior to the other. The same goes for the Diamond & Pearl packs. It seems Pokémon Trading Cards isn't about playing an enjoyable, evenly-matched game of skill - it's about getting hold of the strongest cards you can and then obliterating your opponent.

We've tried using the cards to make customised decks which produce a fair fight but it's harder than it looks. The complicated mix of weaknesses, resistances and special powers mean it's difficult to know how two decks will interact. Trying to work it out takes hours. Even when some kind of balance is achieved, it simply makes obvious how dependent the outcome of a battle is on luck. If either player manages to get cards to evolve a pokémon a couple of times early on and has a decent supply of energy cards, they're almost bound to win.

To top it all, the decks come in annoying boxes:

Pokemon theme deck boxes.

The plastic wallets for the Epic decks never closed properly and have mostly fallen apart. The cardboard Diamond & Pearl boxes seem to be designed not to stack. We had to buy a tin:

Pokemon card tin.

Notice the way the corners aren't square, handily reducing the number of cards the tin can contain. It's almost as if they wanted to force us to buy another tin sooner... (We should have used a shoebox.)

The game might not be so bad if Sprog1 had a friend with a similar pokémon obsession (and moderate level of funding) whom he could battle and trade with regularly. As things stand, however, his big pile of cards is more collection than entertainment. Really, it should be both.

Conclusion: An arms race rather than a game. I'm tempted to flog off a couple of hundred of the things on eBay and buy us a copy of Stratego. If I'm careful, he'll never notice...

  • Building the perfect deck takes planning and thought.
  • The game requires a certain amount of strategy.
  • Not extortionate if you stick to the theme decks.
  • Building two perfect decks to create an interesting battle takes the organisational powers of a librarian.
  • Most victories are largely dependent on luck...
  • ...the rest are the result of purchasing superior cards.
  • Like a black hole for money if you start on the booster packs.
Rating: 2/5.

At the time of writing, these people have the starter set in stock. Doesn't that bedroom carpet in the photo on the Amazon page look familiar, though? (Makes me wonder where else my photos have reached...)

Wario Land: The Shake Dimension (Wii)

Rated: 7+ thanks to some 'violent' content but it's much more suitable for viewing by small children than the lunch-time news or a typical episode of Tom & Jerry.

Story: The princess of The Shake Dimension has been kidnapped, along with a bottomless sack of coins. Wario must rescue some 'merfles' (pixies) in order to reach the culprit, defeat him and liberate the damsel in distress get his hands on the cash.

Not that the story really matters. The narrative is almost entirely restricted to cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game. Wario Land is all about platforming and exploration.

Gameplay: Guide Wario through 2-dimensional levels, jumping on platforms and enemies, in order to reach the pixie, then race back to the exit before a countdown runs out.

Control is simple and involves only the d-pad and a couple of buttons. Wario can jump, dash, ground pound and throw things. Shaking the wiimote makes him shake whatever he's holding and causes a small earthquake if his hands are empty.

Each of the thirty or so levels has three hidden treasures to discover and bonus missions to perform, such as to collect a set number of coins or to finish the level without taking damage.

Save System: Checkpoint halfway through each level and an automatic save between levels.

Comments: It's that time of year. After months of relatively few releases, every game under the sun is getting shoved into the shops in the space of six weeks in an attempt to grab some Christmas sales. In the chaos, several decent games are bound to get lost in the crush and condemned to retail obscurity.

Given this situation, releasing a 2D platformer just at the moment seems rather brave. Certainly, on the PS3 or Xbox 360 it would be a path straight to the bargain bin.

The Wii is short on headline games this Christmas, however. There's Wii Music and Animal Crossing, a selection of obscure stuff like de Blob that might be OK and a host of multi-format titles and mini-game collections that probably won't be. Wario Land is an important title for Nintendo almost by default.

As such, it's obviously been aimed at as wide an audience as possible. Getting to the final boss is as hard or easy as you want it to be. It's possible to blunder through the compulsory levels without much difficulty but there are plenty of extra challenges, hidden objects and secret levels to test the skills and patience of even the most obsessive eight-year-old.

The use of motion-sensing is generally successful. It doesn't add much to the gameplay but it's fun. Shaking a sack to make coins come out is always satisfying and controlling vehicles by tipping the wiimote works well. That said, having to shake the wiimote to make Wario spin round horizontal bars with enough momentum to launch himself upwards can get tiring after a while if there's a series of them - any pause to think causes Wario to slow down and results in the need for more shaking.

The game is enlivened by some devious design. Although jumping through the levels provides an amusing diversion, the main meat of the game is working out how to get hold of the hidden treasures. Wario's limited number of moves provide a surprising number of puzzle opportunities and there are plenty of branching paths in the levels (but not so many as to be confusing). Returning to the exit, meanwhile, is never a chore, since rescuing the pixie unlocks new routes. Also, the way is clearly signposted to avoid getting lost and there are frequent chances for Wario to launch himself along at high speed.

The boss battles aren't as interesting. They're very traditional. It's a case of learning an opponent's attack patterns, exposing their weak point, doing some damage and then doing it all again twice more with different attack patterns. Predictably, the end-of-game boss is a good deal tougher than anything that's gone before, simply to string the game out a little. (Sigh.)

The graphics and presentation are excellent, with lovely cartoon visuals and beautiful animation. The only negative is the lack of voice acting. Children without strong reading ability will need help for the first few minutes in order to follow what is going on and, even then, the dialogue text in the opening movie changes almost too quickly to be read out loud. Considering Wario Land is a game so desperate to attract children that it has stickers in the manual, this seems a rather basic oversight.

All in all, though, Wario Land is an enjoyable game suitable for both kids and adults.

True enough, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. You're not going to get your gran playing it, for instance. Nor does it command attention by utilising a plastic guitar or a dance mat. It's not crammed full of EXCITING!! carnival games. It isn't a Star Wars game, doesn't involve shooting terrorists and has a lack of car theft... Still, isn't that a pleasant change? It's definitely worth a look if you have a Nintendo fan in the house. They'll be hunting out treasure long after Boxing Day.

Conclusion: Give it a go instead of Generic Mini-game Collection No 137 this Christmas.

Graphics: Sharp and clear and lovingly drawn.

Length: It's possible to zip through the game to the final boss in a few hours but unlocking everything will take commitment.

Rating: 4/5.

The Condemned (DVD)

Starring: Vinnie Jones & Steve Austin.

Rated: 18.

Story: Ten death row criminals from around the world are dumped onto a small South American island. They're promised that the last one left alive will receive their freedom. For only $49.99, subscribers get to watch the ensuing carnage live on the internet.

Liberals across the globe wring their hands in horror but then cough up fifty dollars for 'research purposes' anyway. Inevitably, it all ends in explosions.

Comments: There's a long history of people whacking each other round the head while other people pay to watch. From gladiatorial games to Medieval tournaments to modern-day boxing, the combat has generally got less fatal over the years but there have always been people keen to watch a good fight.

The Condemned makes the point that giving all the contestants on Big Brother machetes would do wonders for the ratings but turn the participants, producers and viewers into monsters. Brutal violence isn't entertainment. It's violent and brutal. Don't encourage it.

Well, unless it is entertainment, of course...

It's probably safe to say that watching real people blow each other up on grainy CCTV footage isn't good for you, even if they are psycho criminals. This point gets a little muddied, however, when wrapped up in brutal high definition fight scenes slickly choreographed to be entertaining. Keeping watching can be uncomfortable as the distinction between fantasy and reality becomes blurred. Whether this is genius or confusion is difficult to tell, though.

The film just manages to push through its self-contradictions but is let down by an ending which descends into stock action movie territory of an American hero meting out explosive 'justice'. Ultimately, The Condemned isn't quite as clever as it should be.

Luckily, it has lots of violence to keep everyone entertained...

Conclusion: A good action movie that could have been a classic with a little more thought. Instead, it comes close to tearing itself apart.

Explosions: Plenty.
Moral confusion: Some.
Vinnie Jones: Too much.
Steve Austin: Surprisingly competent.
Important life lessons: If you're going to dump a load of psychos on an island to kill each other, don't give them explosives and then hang around to watch...

Rating: 4/5.


Cranium Kabookii (Wii)

Rated: 3+.

Story: Kabookii is a quiz game, so there isn't really a story. Teams must score points to raise their mascot into the air, enabling it to reach a pull cord and, er... switch on a light...

Gameplay: The game is played in teams so REQUIRES AT LEAST FOUR PLAYERS but only one wiimote is used. Each turn, one member of the current team flicks the wiimote to spin a carousel and randomly select a mini-game. The team play the mini-game. If they win, they get some points. Win or lose, play moves to the next team.

There are 15 different mini-games. These include such things as answering multiple choice questions, solving anagrams, finding countries on a globe or repeating a sequence. Members of a team discuss the answer together and one of them enters the answer using the wiimote. Other games require playing a tune or drawing. In these, one member of the team looks at the screen through a special mask to see what they have to draw/play and gets cracking; the rest of the team must guess the answer within a time limit. A couple of the games involve miming actions using the wiimote.

The mini-games get harder as the game progresses but success brings more points. The first team to reach 24 points wins.

Save System: There isn't one. Yep, that's right, there's no way to save in the middle of a game. What were they thinking?

Comments: Playing mini-games on the Wii as a family is fun. Wii Sports and Wii Play have shown the potential. Countless other efforts have tried to build on it. It's difficult to think of a game that's really hit upon the ideal mix of accessibility, interaction, fun, depth and 'waggliness', though. There only ever seems to be flashes of brilliance amidst uninspired ideas and poorly thought out motion controls.

Kabookii is no exception.

When it works, it's great. When it doesn't, you have to wonder whether they actually got any families to play-test it.

For a start, it's tricky. Finding three countries that are permanent members of the UN security council on a globe in under a minute is probably beyond most primary school children. Finding three countries beginning with 'N' in the same fashion is probably beyond most adults. Finding Mauritania was certainly beyond me.

Other questions make references to American TV shows like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. The pattern matching is hard and the sequence memorisation is nearly impossible if the other team starts talking. An adult on each team is pretty much essential for progress.

On top of that, the mini-games that involve acting things out don't work. A picture appears on the screen and the player must hold down A on the wiimote and mime the action. The game nearly always ignores them, however. The problem is, when presented with a picture of a shovel standing in some dirt, it's unclear what to do. There's no clue as to which way to hold the wiimote or what motion to replicate and the result is usually frantic, random motion in a desperate effort to hit upon the correct form of waggle. Expecting six successes in a minute is a joke.

Enthusiasm is further drained by the weird scoring. Answering a true/false question correctly near the end of the game can bring 6 points, while completing five rounds of sequence memorisation near the start only brings 3. Worse, if time runs outs during a challenge, the team gets nothing, no matter how much they managed to accomplish. This is demoralising. Oh, and since it's a straight race to 24 points, the team that goes first has an advantage.

Realistically, winning is a lottery.

And yet...

There are still those flashes of brilliance. Drawing and spray-painting with the wiimote is fun and a few of the mini-games do things that wouldn't work in a non-electronic format. There's one drawing game where the lines vanish after a few seconds and another which uses stickers. The tune and sequence challenges are also fresh.

If only they'd thought it all through a little more. Ho well, maybe the next mini-game collection will be the one...

Conclusion: It's mildly entertaining in its own way but it's a little too broken to really recommend. You'd be as well to switch off the Wii and play Cadoo or Pictionary or Charades instead.

Graphics: The presentation is cute but the graphics in the mini-games are functional more than anything else.

Length: A game with two teams takes around an hour.

Rating: 2/5.

Cranium Cadoo

Cranium Cadoo box.

Cost: £15.

  • Board.
  • 40 plastic tokens - 10 red, 10 blue, 10 green & 10 yellow.
  • 300 question cards.
  • Paper and pencil.
  • Decoder mask.
  • Hourglass-style timer.
  • Small tub of 'clay'.
  • A special 6-sided dice.

Gameplay: There are two types of card - 'Combo' and 'Solo'. On their turn, each player gets to take one card and must immediately follow the instructions written on it. The type of card taken is determined by a roll of the dice.

Combo - The player reads the instructions on the card out loud. They then use the decoder mask to read the hidden word. They have to make the other players guess the hidden word within the time limit using the method (acting, drawing or sculpting) given on the card. Success means the player whose turn it is gets to place a counter on an empty space on the board and the player who guessed correctly gets to place one of their own counters in the same space. (Both markers count for getting four in a row).

Solo - The player reads the instructions out loud and must then solve a puzzle or answer a question in the time limit. Another player checks the answer using the decoder mask. If the player is correct, they get to place one of their counters on an empty space on the board.

Object: To get four counters in a row in any direction. The line must be completed by answering a 'Solo' card correctly. If no one gets four in a row, the winner is the person with the most counters on the board once all the spaces have been filled.

Game length: It could be over in ten minutes if someone gets a row but this seldom actually happens so the game is more likely to take around half an hour.

Number of players: 2-4 but extra players can be accommodated by forming teams.

Age: 7+. Younger players can join in as part of a team but someone on each team needs to be able to read. A certain level of drawing and sculpting ability is also an advantage...

Comments: With acting, drawing, sculpting and quiz questions, this is every party game ever devised all rolled into one. Fortunately, it isn't some Frankenstein disaster. It's fun to play for both adults and children. More than that, the scoring system gets round the problem normally associated with games like Pictionary - the need for enough players to form teams.

Cadoo works well with three players and is still OK with only two. Cunningly, the 'Combo' questions help to balance the skill levels of the players. It doesn't matter if one player is particularly good at drawing, for instance, as everyone has the opportunity to benefit from their expertise.

This gives younger players a chance. They'd struggle otherwise, since they draw some very odd pictures:

Can you see what it is yet?*

There's a good mix of 'Solo' questions, including photo recognition, dingbats and spot-the-difference, although a few of the knowledge questions seem misjudged and/or liable to becoming dated. ('Which group has the most members? U2, Destiny's Child or *NSYNC?') At least these are multiple choice, however, so younger players have a shot. The main issue is that there are only 300 cards. Since there's only one question on each card and most games use about twenty questions, it would be possible to burn through them all pretty quickly.

Still, how many other board games do you have that are worth playing through fifteen times?

Conclusion: A game suitable for children which is entertaining for adults at the same time. Hooray!

  • The fun of Pictionary and Charades without requiring as many people.
  • Fast-paced.
  • Easy to pick up and relatively quick to play.
  • Requires skill and thought, not luck, but 'Combo' play means everyone has a chance.
  • Clay goes hard after a while.
  • Limited number of questions.
  • Can be frustrating for kids who aren't very good at drawing (or guessing).
  • Purple clay will make those with beige carpets feel nervous.
Rating: 5/5.

*Yep, that's right. It's a drum drawn by an eight-year-old.

Tadpole's Promise

By Jeanne Willis & Tony Ross

Story: A tadpole and a caterpillar meet at the surface of the water and fall in love. They promise each other that they will never change.

This goes very, very badly...

Age: 4-6 years. The ending might be lost on younger children or possibly disturb them. Older children will be put off by thinking the book looks like it's for toddlers. (Eight-year-olds might actually get the most from it, though. Try to have them loitering around while you read to a younger sibling).

Length: Under five minutes.

Comments: There are far too many children's books involving fluffy animals, predictable outcomes and happy endings. There simply aren't enough black comedies. Tadpole's Promise goes some way to redressing the balance.

Sproglette picked this off a shelf in the library and I read it to her, expecting a twee and tiresome story about friendship, all dressed up with cute creatures. As we progressed, it became quickly apparent we were going somewhere darker. Nevertheless, I found the ending shocking, funny and true.

This book strikes me as exceptional in the same way as The Gruffalo, Mister Magnolia and The Father who had 10 Children. Unlike those, it's not going to appeal to everyone, however. Tadpole's Promise is entertaining and clever but also sad and brutal. It's not a pleasant, feel-good story. Hunt it out in your local library but don't buy it as a gift for the next random birthday party your child gets invited to. They might not get invited back next year...

Conclusion: A tragedy about the life-cycle of frogs and butterflies, the ugliness of nature and the importance of not making promises you can't keep. More educational and thought-provoking than entire shelves of books about happy bunnies.

Rating: 4/5.

Civilization Revolution (Xbox 360)

Rated: 12+. Quite why this should be the case is a mystery once again - there really isn't anything you'd be worried about a passing toddler watching. Still, actually playing the game is going to be beyond most eleven-year-olds anyway.

Story: You are the leader of a small tribe of nomads. You must found a city, spread your culture, advance your civilisation and take your people from the stone age to interstellar colonisation, all while competing with opposing tribes.

Gameplay: This is a turn-based strategy game...

Hey! Come back! It's not what you think! It's fast-paced, works great without a mouse and keyboard, doesn't take months to get through and favours tactical thought over micro-management. It...

Oh, darn... Now all the geeky guys with beards have left.

That just leaves you and me.

Ho well, guess I'd better finish the review anyway. No sneaking off, though. You had your chance.

So... Civilization Revolution is a turn-based strategy game where you must explore a planet and utilise resources to become the dominant civilisation. You start off with a single city and direct its citizens to concentrate on trade, science, harvesting or industry. In time, the city produces military units and/or settlers to found other cities. Put some effort into science and your civilisation develops new technologies, allowing useful buildings to be built and (eventually) very big tanks. Each turn, your units can move a space or two.

Of course, the planet is full of other civilizations vying for the same territory. You can win by conquering them all but victory can also be achieved by scientific, economic or cultural means (essentially by concentrating on research, trade or building large cathedrals).

Save System: Save at any time.

Comments: I played Civilization 2 a decade ago and enjoyed it. Each game seemed to take weeks, however. By the time I'd spent 5000 years leading the Vikings to world domination and I'd finally seen off the expansionist greed of the Aztecs, I couldn't face starting again on a higher difficulty level. There was too much detail involved in organising cities, and the units moved too slowly compared with the distances they had to travel. I decided to go play Tomb Raider and get some instant entertainment.

I didn't dare touch the later Civ sequels in case I ended up spending months of my life arranging train timetables or managing the budget of public service broadcasts.

Civilization Revolution is for people like me - people who enjoy a good strategy board game but start to get nervous when the rulebook is more than four pages long. Sure, there are plenty of details to be picked up about the merits of the different technologies and units but the basic gameplay can be grasped in minutes. Everything has been redesigned to make the experience speed along. The worlds are small, the controls are well-designed and there aren't stacks of menus.

The end result is a game that takes around five hours to play. This is long enough to require plenty of strategy but not long enough for starting again to feel like a chore. Variety is maintained through varying difficulty levels and the large number of different tribes available - each has their own special abilities which genuinely affect how the game needs to be played. Trying to achieve the different winning conditions adds to the longevity, and there are also special scenarios which change things even further (by, for instance, unlocking all technologies from the start).

The short turns make the game very addictive. It feels like something is always going on and there's always time for 'just one more turn...' I keep sitting down at ten with a drink and my controller and looking up a few minutes later to discover it's midnight and my beer's untouched.

I can't remember the last game which did that.

Civilization Revolution will be too slow and complicated for many and too fast and simplistic for others. I, however, think it strikes just the right balance, requiring a satisfying amount of brainpower but not too much effort. Superb.

Conclusion: If you want a fast-paced, turn-based strategy game which involves plenty of planning and thought but little micro-management, then this is for you. (Yes, you! You over there! In between the irate, bearded guys muttering about 'dumbing-down' and the teenagers sloping off to play Halo...)

Graphics: Clear, bright and attractive. Text is large enough to read on an old-fashioned telly. You'll be staring at it intently for hours, though, so I'd recommend some form of high definition display.

Length: A single-player game is a few hours long but you can play many times over.

Rating: 5/5.