You Found a Secret Area!

Weekend Writing: About Sega’s 60th, Free Games and Game Preservation.

Rarely do I ever write about things as they’re happening. Often times I’m behind the curve and write about things after the fact. But this particular post felt so time-sensitive that I needed to push back another post that was gonna be hitting this week to write about this. I’m gonna talk about freebie games and the importance of game preservation.

Sega is doing a special event to celebrate their 60th anniversary as a company. Called “GO SEGA,” it’s a Steam sale that discounts many of the publisher’s games. From their PC breakouts like the Total War, Company of Heroes and Football Manager franchises, to established classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Yakuza. Hell, you can even get NiGHTS into Dreams… for free. (I heard this version is not as good as the Saturn original, but Good Enough for most people.)

This may look like a dinky mobile game, but I appreciate anyone remaking Combat even in 2020.

In addition to this sale, they’re releasing some free games. A top-down tank battle game based on Company of Heroes called Armor of Heroes. A mashup of Fantasy Zone and Endless Space called Endless Zone. A mashup of Streets of Rage 2 and Yakuza called Streets of Kamurocho. And finally, a polished prototype for a Golden Axe reboot called Golden Axed that ended up getting a bit of notoriety since some of the developers on that project, Tim Dawson and Sanatana Mishra, were surprised their unfinished hard work was being given away for free. (You can read both Dawson’s and Mishra’s Twitter threads about their involvement in the game. It highlights how even on unfinished work like this, that crunch culture is prevalent.)

Fun fact: I’ve never played Fantasy Zone. If this crossover is any indication, I’d have a real hard time enjoying it.

Those all sound neat, right? Free games inspired by Sega’s established franchises are always a neat little thing. Well, here’s the catch: They’re all only available for a few days, with them releasing a new game each day. (As of this writing, Streets of Kamurocho has just been released.) After October 19th, they’re gone for good, making them unable to be downloaded once the sale’s over.

So you’re probably asking: why are you so concerned? It’s free stuff for a promotional sale, it’s stuff that isn’t gonna blow people’s minds or anything. “You should be grateful they’re even giving out free stuff!” you might say. That’s a terrible line of thinking, and let me explain why.

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Carmen Sandiego Out of This World: A bizarre album based on the game show.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is one of those rather ubiquitous edutainment titles of the late 80s and early 90s. A geography-driven game, the goal is to find clues around the world to stop Carmen’s henchmen from stealing some of the most notable artifacts from around the world, eventually leading to stopping Carmen herself.

A fair share of computers around the world had Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? installed, probably alongside Odell Lake or Number Munchers. But as time goes on, the video games have become only one part of what people remember about Carmen Sandiego as a franchise. If you’re in that generation of ’90s kids like me, you probably remember Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? not from a best-selling video game series, but through a rather popular game show.

(Rockapella intensifies)

Also called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, it was a kids game show that was about the wonders of geography. This show was co-produced by PBS stations WGBH and WQED, and aired on PBS stations all around the country. Hosted by actor Greg Lee and featuring actress Lynne Thigpen as “The Chief,” it featured kids playing gumshoes at ACME Crimenet, answering geography questions to stop the theft of an artifact of the world from one of Carmen’s henchmen, with the final round having the winning gumshoe try to find Carmen herself to win a fabulous trip.

This show holds about as much nostalgia for kids of the 80s and 90s as most of Nickelodeon’s well known game shows did. It definitely rivals some of the greats on that network, what with it’s cool style, entertaining form of education, and fun quiz elements, giving a silly but fun vibe to the whole show. It lasted about 4 years on PBS before pivoting from geography to history, with a follow-up series called Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego? lasting two more years before ending production.

Naturally for a show that’s modestly popular like Where in the World… is, there would be loads of merchandising. The common T-shirts, video game adaptations, the works. Since the show featured a capella band Rockapella singing throughout the show’s 250+ episode run, naturally a soundtrack CD was also released. But there’s more than one soundtrack made for Where in the World…, and that one’s been mostly forgotten. Let’s talk about Carmen Sandiego: Out of this World.

Look at how happy Greg Lee is.

Admittedly, I’m writing about this primarily because of an article I read about the game show that has been making the internet rounds lately. Christian Carrion of Buzzerblog, a noted blog about game show news, did some investigative journalism about a rumored long-lost episode of the show called “Auld Lang Gone,” where a contestant was visibly injured in the bonus round, causing it to be unaired. You can read about that tale over at Buzzerblog here, and it made me think about this album as a response.

This album features 10 songs about various things, from pop-driven songs about geography, to twangy country about families, to songs about bugs and Carmen Sandiego herself. A lot of these songs have fairly simple, cutesy lyrics, which tells me this album is clearly aiming for a younger demographic. Which is not a bad thing, children’s music can be fun and exciting like its adult counterparts without being fluff Yanni-esque fare.

So, you’d think an album based on the game show where a bunch of guys sing a capella would have Rockapella show up everywhere, right? Well, technically yes. Prominent member Sean Altman produces and co-writes most of the album with longtime collaborator David Yazbek, and does a handful of backing vocals on a lot of the album.

If you want to listen along with me, I’ve put up the entire album here. Legalities aside, the album’s been out of print for over 25 years, and with the exception of two songs here, the album isn’t available on YouTube or streaming services like Spotify. If that ever changes, or a record label objects to me having this music for some kids album freely available to download, I will take the link down.

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Shellshock Nam ’67: A Vietnam War game from an unexpected developer.

There was a brief time around the 2000s where there were a bunch of shooters based on historic events. Medal of Honor in 1999 kick started the craze of World War II-themed shooters, which lasted well into the late-2000s. During this time period, there were a lot of games based on conflicts new and old, most of them shoved off into the annals of obscurity.

During this brief period, there was also an unusual spike in Vietnam War games. Despite the Vietnam War being one of those pointless wars in retrospect, there were games that covered the conflict, usually in a sanitized safe “Americans vs. the Bad People” form. Basically, less like Apocalypse Now, more like The Green Berets.

There were a fair share of these games around that time. Stuff like Battlefield Vietnam, the Vietcong games, and Men of Valor. I’m gonna cover one of those Vietnam War games, and it’s by a developer that you wouldn’t expect have made a game like that, especially considering their legacy.

This reminds me of something, but I can’t quite place what.

ShellShock: Nam ‘67 was one of the many Vietnam War-era games made during that brief period that kinda came and went. But it was one of the earliest games developed by Guerrilla Games, that Dutch studio that’s known for the Killzone series of games, and the critically acclaimed Horizon: Zero Dawn.

This was the only game released during that in-between phase in their career, after their brief Game Boy phase as Lost Boys Games, but before they were a cog in the PlayStation machine. In a sense, we’re going back to their humble beginnings with this one. I always like looking back at developers before they were well-known, and this one’s no exception.

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(Warning: Some plot spoilers follow.)

This would probably have more impact if this intro wasn’t narrated by Steve Blum.

You play as a nameless soldier as they rise up the ranks from rookie to special forces, as you find “King Cong,” a general by the name of Ngo Diem who leads the Vietcong. There really isn’t much else to the plot, you’re dropped in parts of Vietnam, you kill Vietcong, you destroy a few sampans and tunnels, rinse and repeat. In this case, the set pieces are what makes the game interesting, rather than the characters.

How the heck is this gunner hitting me? I’m behind a rock, for chrissakes.

Shellshock is a third-person shooter, which is unexpected considering Guerrilla’s pedigree for mostly making first-person shooters. Left click shoots, right click zooms in, Q to crouch, and there’s even leaning and diving to prone. You can hold a bunch of weapons, and you have a health bar that can be refilled by medkits. Shellshock does have a few tricks up its sleeve to make it stand out from its peers.

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Some Weekend Writing about Far Cry 4.

I rarely abandon games. Mainly because of the infamous “sunk cost fallacy”: I spent money on this, thus I must play it in its entirety to get all of my money’s worth. Even for a person like me who doesn’t buy a lot of games these days, there’s that fear of wanting to not let even a game I bought on deep discount go to waste. With that thought process in mind, I would drag myself through a game that I wasn’t thoroughly invested in, just to see the ending and sit through a 30 minute long credits sequence.

This post talks about my most recent case of suffering from that sunk cost fallacy. Amusingly, it’s a sequel to a game that I’ve written about on this very blog in 2014, the year that game’s sequel came out.

One of the rare occurrences the fourth installment isn’t as good as the third.

Far Cry 4 is a game that basically pulled a bait-and-switch on me and a friend, and in many cases did things backwards compared to the previous game, which I thoroughly enjoyed. How can a sequel bungle so many things that the previous game got right? Well, let me explain why this game is a disappointment to me.

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There are a handful of games I own that fall into this category of “here to play it in co-op with friends” than to be invested in the story or the characters. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about the game’s world, but I tend to use it more as a social experience to talk with friends rather than anything to be deeply invested in.

For me, Destiny 2 is a good example: While there’s a unique, interesting world with a rather neat amount of lore to it, I honestly couldn’t care less about any of it. Thus I just roam around areas and kill enemies with friends. Most “looter shooters” fall into this format with me, but at least Bungie makes up for it with cool designs and some rather picturesque visuals.

Friend of the site Bobinator from Hardcore Gaming 101 suggested that I get Far Cry 4 way back in mid-2018 as it would fit that criteria of “playing it in co-op with friends.” It being on deep discount for $13 probably helped too. The two of us have played games like the Saints Row series entirely in co-op and we had a fun time playing through them. Far Cry has a similar free-roaming nature of causing chaos in a digital world, so I took the plunge. What could possibly go wrong?

One of the few highlights during our co-op session. Don’t ask me why he has a shovel handle stuck in his arm.

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Devolverland Expo: Playing around in a virtual E3.

2020 has been quite the year. A roller coaster ride that sees no signs of stopping, and there’s no way to get off the ride. COVID-19 has really sidelined a lot of projects, such as E3, the famous video games expo usually to show off the hot new games. The ESA actually canceled this year’s E3, after going for a good 24 years straight before that. As a result, many publishers have been live streaming their events from the safety of their homes. That includes the rather infamous Devolver Digital.

Devolver Digital’s been around the video game landscape since 2009, taking up the mantle of B-tier publisher releasing out there, off-the-beaten path games like Hotline Miami, mostly to critical acclaim. They’re also the absolute masters of the advergame, releasing a free game to promote a movie or a holiday event.

Since E3 was canceled, Devolver Digital opted to follow its peers by doing a livestream of their conference instead, complete with the oddball sketch comedy that’s rather goofy and ridiculous. After doing the usual announcements of their upcoming games like Shadow Warrior 3, Serious Sam 4, and Fall Guys, they advertised one more game. This one was different, and was free to play right that moment.

At least Devolver Digital doesn’t have to share space with the big publishers or controller companies.

Devolverland Expo is a bit more self-indulgent than the previous efforts. Developed by Flying Wild Hog – the Shadow Warrior reboot developers – it’s a first-person game that gives you the experience of being at a convention without risking yourself getting sick.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done this kind of promotional game. I’ve written about them doing this twice before: The Expendabros, a standalone expansion to Broforce that was based on the then-recent The Expendables 3, and Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike, a pixel-style difficult platformer made by the same people who made Enter the Gungeon. I’m not surprised they decided to go back to that well once again, this time with something fairly relevant, considering current events.

I mean, this looks less tacky than seeing an ad for Medal of Honor: Warfighter

The plot is simple: The Devolverland Expo was going to be this big event to show of the hot new games, but due to unexpected events, the expo was canceled. Despite that, the player decides to head to the convention hall anyway – which is a loose representation of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where E3 is usually held – and after doing some quick hacking on a power box near the entrance, access to the Devolverland Expo is granted.

COME TO THE ROBOT ZONE, HUMAN

Since Flying Wild Hog are known for their first-person prowess like Hard Reset and the Shadow Warrior reboot, the game is also a first-person game. Though, it’s more of a first-person exploration game than an FPS. After entering the expo hall proper, there’s robots roaming around that’ll capture the player if they’re in line of sight for too long. But you’re not defenseless, as there is a convenient weapon that’ll give you a bit of an upper hand.

Those red neon lights makes me think that’s a prize for a game show, rather that a promotional item at a booth.

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Stacked with Daniel Negreanu: Poker without Guns.

There was a time around the 2000s where you just could not avoid poker on television. Thanks to Chris Moneymaker making a decent bank in an online poker tournament, Texas Hold’em Poker got real big and started being the next big TV filler. Every channel had a poker show, from Bravo’s fluff-driven Celebrity Poker Showdown to NBC having a late night poker show to fill in the gaps between Last Call with Carson Daly and Early Today. Even Game Show Network had not one, but two poker shows under its belt.

Then in 2011 there was a lawsuit involving some of the major poker websites possibly being involved in money laundering, and the poker boom was over. While there’s still mild demand for Texas Hold’em, it’s pretty much gone back to the pre-2000s era of popularity.
During this poker boom, there were poker video games being made left and right. Some based on existing poker brands like the World Poker Tour. In some of these games you got celebrity endorsements, or actual professional poker players. Today, we’re gonna cover one of the more notable poker video games that’s not something like Poker Night at the Inventory.

This title screen is preceded by a fancy animation involving poker chips flying everywhere. Clearly the budget was spent on this.

Stacked with Daniel Negreanu is a fairly unique poker game. It’s likely the first video game poker game featuring a notable poker player in the title, making it somewhat of an oddity in the sea of poker games around this time. Developed by 5000ft Inc, this is their final released game, and it’s amusing it had to be a licensed poker game. Considering their previous titles were stuff like Army Men: Green Rogue when 3DO were pumping out Army Men games like they were going out of style, this is likely a marked improvement.
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Kid Poker himself, in one of the tutorial videos you could watch to get tips from him about poker. Man, I’m getting Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku flashbacks…

For context, Daniel Negreanu is a famous poker player. Nickname “Kid Poker,” he’s won 6 World Series of Poker bracelets, 2 World Poker Tour titles, and a handful of other tournaments here and there. Often appeared in many of the TV poker shows, he’s probably one of the more charismatic personalities to endorse your poker game. Though, I would’ve killed for a poker game starring the infamous Phil Hellmuth.
Let’s see if this poker game stacks up to the competition, or if it should have folded its hand.

Hopefully this casino isn’t sponsored by Randy Pitchford.

Stacked starts by letting you either play random poker matches with changeable settings, or through the game’s long, challenging career mode. In Career Mode you’re given a stack of cash to start, and any tables to play to your liking, with limits/no limits in place. Some are cash games given to bolster your cash in game, but the others are standard table tournaments with buy-ins where you can win money if you reach a certain standing in the tournament.

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Revisiting Old Secrets: Year One (2012).

Throughout most of 2011, I had this idea to start up a blog about random gaming junk. Stuff that was on my mind, interesting little games and things that I had found. The previous outlets I used for this – community blogs on GameSpot, IGN, and Giant Bomb – felt like I was writing a lot of words to an audience of nobody.

On January 3, 2012, I registered a domain on WordPress.com, and “You Found a Secret” was born. The “Area” was added to the title a few months later, after I realized I was misremembering what finding a secret was called in Quake. Never bothered to change the address, though.

A portion of the original site, courtesy of the Internet Archive. I kinda miss that little intro paragraph on the right.

The next day, the first Secret Area post was published: A repost of an old article back in 2010 from another WordPress blog I’ve since abandoned; but then started proper with the article about MTV2’s infamous Video Mods show. The first month was a steady stream of random articles before settling down to the more standard 1-3 a month I’ve kept up with ever since.

When I moved off of WordPress.com and onto the asecretarea.com domain in early 2019, the process meant that a lot of posts needed some slight adjustment. At first it was just merely updating links so they weren’t directing to the old site. But as I looked back at what I wrote seven years ago, I immediately thought “I could do this better.”

Thus I started my personal “Renovation Project.” Initially going in chronological order before changing it to editing certain articles depending on my mood, the goal was to update a lot of the older Secret Area posts so they were up to a more acceptable standard. I’ve written about 150 or so posts in the eight years I’ve ran this blog, and I was intending to update about 75% of these.

One of my early posts was about a bargain bin shooter called Elite Forces: WWII Iwo Jima. Made by the guys who also made KISS: Psycho Circus, it’s an entry that I recoiled in horror when I read it initially. There were lots of things 2012 me did that I don’t do now: Belittling game developers, lots of swearing, making terrible analogies like I was a poor man’s Angry Video Game Nerd, the works.

Seeing that post caused me to do some drastic rewriting in spots to seem less harsh and more in my current neutral tone. Another article I wrote about tactical Quake mods was made in time for the then-upcoming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, alongside mentioning the (now-defunct) Tactical Intervention. A fair share of these older posts felt like something I wrote in the moment as of 2012, and really didn’t hold up nearly as well several years later.

This is what the Renovation Project was to me: To give these articles a new life. To correct a wrong, basically. Rewriting them so they’re more general purpose and aren’t of the time I wrote them. The overall goal is to make these blog posts readable and interesting no matter when you’re reading them.

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Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Music Kits Series 5: Of Masterminds and Missing Links.

I never thought I would ever come back to this. After a steady stream of music packs released throughout 2014-2016, I assumed Valve was done with the whole “CS:GO music kit” concept. After the Radicals Box hit in 2016, there had been nary a peep when it comes to that kind of content.

Then something changed. Throughout 2019 to 2020, Valve started slowly doling out individual kits, which was a better strategy to me as I could basically write about them when I had enough music kits to review. Then in late April of this year, they just dropped a pack of 7 new kits, which means I had to throw those plans immediately in the garbage.

It’s weird. The last major music kit release was in 2016, so to see them go from absolute silence to adding new ones every few months is a surprise. Especially with the spread of musicians we have on offer this time.

While I don’t play much Counter-Strike: Global Offensive these days – Call of Duty: Warzone has been my current vice, as my previous article could tell you – I still find some charm in the game. Global Offensive does things that seem absolutely baffling by modern shooter standards, yet works perfectly well without feeling too old school and too modern. That Valve has mostly stuck with it while adding elements of its competition like character skins makes it interesting to look at as a game, even if I’m not as invested as I once was. But we’re here to talk about the music, and talk we shall.

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To start, I’ll cover the four music kits released in the interim between the Radicals Box and the Masterminds Box. Like before, I’ll cover information about the musician in question, whether the music itself is good, and whether it fits in the context of Global Offensive’s gameplay. I’ll finish it off with a verdict. So let’s get started.

Like before, I’ll link to a YouTube video or to CS:GO Stash if you want to listen along.

The Verkkars, EZ4ENCE

DESCRIPTION: The Verkkars rise through the Finnish charts with a heart-pounding tribute to ENCE. Can it really be so EZ?

LISTEN ON: YouTube (courtesy of YouTube user ThEMaSkeD), CS:GO Stash

AVAILABILITY: Available for purchase as a standard kit for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or on the Steam marketplace.

The first of the interim kits, this was released as a promotional kit after the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice tournament in 2019. The Verkkars are an electronic dance band based in Finland, the same country that Major qualifiers ENCE are from.

ENCE is an eSports team that consists of noted Finnish CS:GO players, including allu, one of the replacements for Fifflaren in the classic CS:GO Ninjas in Pyjamas lineup, and was a fairly reliable player during his tenure with that team. Combined with some other good players from the Finnish CS:GO scene, they came to be the underdogs of the tournament, getting as far as the finals in Katowice.

The downside was that their opponents in that final were Astralis. Or as I like to call them, The New England Patriots of Counter-Strike: A team that you can’t deny their high-tier skill and abilities while playing, but they are absolutely boring to watch them dominate everyone. (Surprising no one, Astralis beat ENCE 2-0 in the final, winning their second consecutive Valve-sponsored major.)

This was clearly made as a promotion for the team ENCE, and the title is a reference to a line that people were spamming in Twitch chat about the team when they were at their peak. The song itself is… okay. It’s bog-standard EDM. It really didn’t grab me.

Then the chorus got stuck in my head. The whole song is in Finnish (except for some sampled English dialogue from a tournament that plays during the breakdown), but the tone of the chorus just… hits the right notes to just get stuck in my head in the most obnoxious way.

I put “EZ4ENCE” in a category I’ve called “terrible god damn earworms,” where a specific portion of a song – usually the chorus – gets stuck in your head in all the worse ways and never ever leaves you. The Verkkars’ ENCE anthem is in the same league as Paul Oakenfold’s “Starry Eyed Surprise,” or Paul McCartney’s “Temporary Secretary,” which is quite an impressive feat.

If you’re a fan of the team, it’s a good pack. If you’re not, Mord Fustang’s Diamonds does the same kind of EDM stuff but without the earworm chorus. Even listening to it again for this review has that damn chorus stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

EZ4ENCE, ENCE, ENCE

Dens putted upperbelt

Putted upperbelt…

VERDICT: Only recommended if you’re a fan of the team. Otherwise I lightly recommend it, get it on the Steam marketplace.

Scarlxrd, King, Scar

DESCRIPTION: Scarlxrd blends heavy trap beats with a flow and delivery that creates his own unique subgenre. With this exciting blend his live shows capture the attention of everyone in the crowd.

LISTEN ON: YouTube (courtesy of YouTube user George), CS:GO Stash

AVAILABILITY: Available for purchase as a standard kit for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or on the Steam marketplace.

Okay, I don’t want to be That Person, you know, the one who doesn’t “get” present-day music. But I do not understand the trap genre of music, and I certainly don’t understand Scarlxrd. (That’s pronounced “scar-lord,” if you’re wondering.) He’s a young musician that makes mostly trap music, a sort of electronic rap genre that admittedly I don’t know all that well. Scarlxrd’s style is mixing trap music with some Japanese style and unusual character replacements for flavor.

It’s a shame that it’s not good music. The song itself, also called “King, Scar,” is obnoxious, prodding noise. It’s really hard to listen to, where Scarlxrd basically yells his lyrics in a harsh, robotic tone, while sticking with the very swing-like rhythm of him screaming hey and amplified bass that makes it sound like my speakers are being blown out.

Since I don’t enjoy the song itself, which plays in the main menu, it’s really hard to recommend the rest of the kit. Any track that’s just the introduction with the prominent toy box sounds are the best part because it doesn’t go full force, in-your-face about it. But then the vocals kick in and it becomes outright unbearable. This doesn’t even have the “lightly bang your head along” factor that some hip-hop has to me, it’s just too brash to really enjoy as a song, even as a music kit.

Keep in mind, there’s probably good music in this genre, hell probably even by Scarlxrd himself, but this is a bad, bad music kit. If anything, this song now rivals Hundredth’s Free in the “great if you want an obnoxious MVP anthem” category, which I didn’t know there was competition.

VERDICT: Not recommended. Straight up. This will probably be the only one in this list that I can say I actively dislike.
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Some Weekend Writing about Battle Royale and Call of Duty Warzone.

Please note: This was written in April 2020 and reflected what the state of the game was like around launch. In the months since, the game has added events and such not mentioned here. I’m adding this disclaimer since I wrote about a live service game, and thus some things mentioned here may not reflect what Call of Duty: Warzone is currently. Thank you.

For a long time, I never really liked the battle royale game mode. There was some things about that mode that put me off in various ways. Over the years I’ve tried some of the notable ones, and even some of the off-shoots. Most of them were enjoyable for a pinch, but then I’d drop off of them for some reason or another. But then another battle royale game came out recently. And for some reason, this is the one that got me.

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I honestly found 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare entertaining, yet rote. While I didn’t play the campaign, I did play the multiplayer beta before launch, and while I was having a blast like before, it just felt like I’ve been here before. To me, it seems like Infinity Ward has given up creatively, with this current effort trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle that they did with the original Modern Warfare.
There were still attachments, perks and killstreaks, many of the same game modes, even maps I’ve seen in past entries started cropping up. It seemed the biggest innovation the game had at the time was basically ripping off Battlefield’s long-standing Conquest mode. Yet despite the game being fairly derivative, it was still fun to play.
At this point, Call of Duty as a franchise has been a glimmer of nostalgia more than something I get incredibly hyped for. To me, Modern Warfare 3 was when it started going downhill, what with its busted multiplayer and ham-fisted conclusion of a campaign mode. I was so disappointed with it that I advised people shouldn’t play it way back when I played it on a Steam free weekend in 2012.

This is pretty much WWII‘s multiplayer in a nutshell: People randomly watching others open lootboxes. To think this was so common a few years ago.

The only Call of Duty game I played with regularity after that was, surprisingly, WWII. All the others might as well just exist in my mind, something where I play the campaign once, play through some of the multiplayer for a while, then move on to something else that catches my interest.

Love how this is front-and-center. Probably annoying to those who play the standard multiplayer.

In late March, Activision announced something I was worried they were gonna repeat: They were adding battle royale mode in Modern Warfare. I figured that with multiplayer, singleplayer and a zombies mode being in every yearly installment, that trying to make a yearly battle royale mode was the easiest way to kill battle royale’s popularity faster than something new taking its place. After all, this is Activision, a company that clearly sticks to what works until it stops making money.
I was not really interested, until they announced the surprise: Warzone was free to play for anyone, Modern Warfare was not required to play. Now they’ve caught my interest, as I wasn’t really interested in spending more than $20 on a Call of Duty game in 2020. So I tried it, and somehow… it all clicked. After playing several battle royale games, I found the one that worked for me.

Hey, this looks kinda familiar…

Warzone really doesn’t need much explanation if you’re familiar with other battle royale modes. You drop as a squad of 3-4 or play on your own and try to be the last one standing. Search buildings and areas for armor, weapons, grenades and some of the Call of Duty hallmarks like killstreaks and the new field upgrades. Kill, try not to die yourself, seems simple. So you’re probably wondering what makes this different from the others you’ve played. Well, it’s complicated.

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Strife: The Outlier of the Doom Engine.

Doom is over 25 years old. The tale of id software’s first-person shooter causing a new wave of clones and derivatives has been told to death. But id wasn’t just content with making games. They were willing to license their technology out to other developers who would add their own spin and magic to it, sometimes those games becoming big on their own. For example, Raven Software ended up using id’s Doom engine to greatness with Heretic and Hexen using id’s fancy engine. The two were practically inseparable for 15 years after that, using id’s engines for their games for a very long time.

But there was one other major game that used that engine. One that had a troubled development due to a multitude of factors. You could say they had a bit of strife. The result is one of the more ambitious games made on that old Doom engine.

Not to be confused with that other Strife, the MOBA.

Enter Strife. A first person shooter that had a troubling development cycle and came out to little fanfare in 1996. Why did this game get thrown into the world of abandonware? Let’s find out.

Strife had a rough history: Developer Rogue Entertainment consisted of ex-Cygnus Studios people after wanting to make a new game after 1994’s Raptor: Call of the Shadows. The developers had conflicts with their boss, and decided to take their ideas elsewhere. After co-operating with people at id, Rogue got a deal with publisher Velocity Inc, makers of the JetFighter games and Battlezone clone Spectre, to publish their new project. Strife ended up releasing in May 1996, to passable reviews.

Problem was that by 1996, old “Doom clones” like Strife looked incredibly dated compared to the mind-blowing 3D visuals of Descent and id Software’s upcoming Quake, which came out a month later. This, combined with publisher Velocity folding not long after Strife’s release, meant that the game was basically dead in the water, and mostly forgotten by the general PC gaming populace.

more like “Thanks, die”

Rogue would eventually bounce back, making expansions for id’s Quake and Quake IIDissolution of Eternity and Ground Zero, respectively – and helping out on a former id Software employee’s pet project: American McGee’s Alice. In an ironic sense of history repeating, Rogue itself would dissolve in 2001 as the CEO left to go join EA, resulting in the remaining people forming Nerve Software, which is still around making games today.

Back to Rogue’s debut. I found Strife thanks to the now-defunct Home of the Underdogs, which was a common go-to spot for so-called “abandonware” titles. (Other games I found thanks to Home of the Underdogs include Blood II: The Chosen, which I wrote about back in 2012, and the amazing System Shock 2.) At the time, I had made a good amount of progress into the game itself, but at some point, I forgot what I was supposed to do and ended up bumping around in a sewer area repeatedly before giving up and moving on to other games.

After not touching Strife for so long, I decided to give it another try, nearly 15 years later, and see if it was as good I remember it. Turns out it’s… alright.

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