Man, remember when World War II games were really popular? It just seems like there was a time when everybody was clamoring for shooters that involved shooting them Nazis. Then Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare happened and suddenly Nazis were so passe, replaced by middle eastern militia, Russian ultranationalists or Korean dictators.
Let’s go back a few years. Even before Call of Duty was a thing and Medal of Honor was the only WWII shooter in town, there were a handful of people getting in on the WWII train.
Enter ValuSoft. With the help of developer 3LV Games, they graced us with this wonderful game: Elite Forces: WWII Iwo Jima. A sequel to Elite Forces: WWII Normandy, this is a first-person shooter that takes us through the Pacific theater in WWII. At least, I assume, which I’ll get to in a moment.
I should back up a bit and give you a brief history of the developer. 3LV Games only made three games in their lifetime: The two Elite Forces: WWII games and Arthur’s Quest: Battle for the Kingdom, a game that GameSpot gave a 1.9 out of 10 to. So already that’s a bad sign.
While there isn’t much to say about 3LV, there is a lot to talk about ValuSoft. These guys were the absolute kings of bargain bin games. Most of these games were also very bad, made in a slap-dash quality to make a quick buck. In the early-to-mid 2000s, if you were perusing the bargain rack at a Wal-Mart, it’s likely it was published by ValuSoft.
ValuSoft was snatched up by THQ in 2002 and folded into a bargain label. When THQ folded originally in 2012, it was acquired by Cosmi, a studio that had been releasing games for decades prior. It’s now under a generic “Play Hard Games” brand where you can get stuff like Mutant Football League and The Original Strife: Veteran Edition if you want to get your games from even lesser-known digital storefronts.
It’s an unfortunate loss in the budget gaming world, leaving PC budget racks everywhere with cheap copies of Ubisoft titles or loads of slot machine games instead. It’s an improvement in which you’re less likely to gamble on garbage, but that takes all the fun out of it.
So Elite Forces WWII Iwo Jima uses Monolith’s “Lithtech” engine, although not very well. There’s a fair share of games around this era that used this engine, presumably because it was the cheapest to license. Nowadays, the equivalent would likely be Unity. But it’s not the engine that dictates the game, it’s the game itself, so let’s drop in.
You have a myriad of weapons, from the common knife and M1911 pistol, to even rocket launchers and flamethrowers. Surprisingly, they give all these weapons to you from the very beginning, which seems alarming. There’s no ammo pickups, so one has to be careful not to lose all their ammo, otherwise you’re fighting a bunch of Japanese infantry with just a knife, and that doesn’t end well.
There’s also no health pickups, thus making the game real hard on higher difficulties. Since this is a game of the era, there aren’t checkpoints in the level, so dying results going back to the beginning of the level unless you saved first. The quick save button will be your best friend in this game, especially if you want to get past the first level.
Every single level is just various geometry mixed in with trees, sandbag bunkers and occasionally underground tunnels. It gets incredibly monotonous very quickly, with little variation throughout. A few of them have the finish marker be in the same place as the starter marker, resulting in going around in one big-ass circle. Enemies seem to vary from “guy with rifle” to “guy with grenade,” including the occasional machine gunner that was 90% of the reason I died. Despite their lethality, the enemies are dumber than a sack of rocks, so as long as one gets the jump on them, they’re mostly harmless.
There is one mission where you start it solo, but every other mission gives you 1-3 additional squad members to give commands to. However, it uses the function keys to give commands, so I never used them.
If you thought the enemy AI was bad, your buddies are just as bad. Rather than using the proper weapon for the situation, they often shuffled between their arsenal, thinking it’s a great strategy to pick off dudes at a distance with the pistol.
Apparently the levels have something to do with actual locations in the Pacific theater, like the titular Iwo Jima, but every level looked like the same bland beach environment. Even a stage that took place in an air base still looked liked the beaches I was roaming around in earlier, with nary a plane in sight.
After slogging through the dozen or so levels, the game ends with a victory message, roll credits. Going through all that, dying frequently, abusing the quick save key, and getting incredibly frustrated made for a complete, unpleasant experience.
There is one good thing to all this, though: The music. Despite sounding rather generic, it’s actually fitting to the environment. The composer, Will Loconto, went on to do music for bigger and better games, such as KISS Psycho Circus, Anachronox, Bad Day L.A. and… Daikatana. I guess they can’t all be winners.
I didn’t even think WWII Iwo Jima would run on my Windows Vista machine at the time, but sure enough it ran smoothly at 60 frames throughout. I wouldn’t recommend anything past Vista/7 though, as Lithtech games of this era — this includes stuff like Blood II: The Chosen and The Operative: No One Lives Forever — cause lots of graphical and speed issues on modern machines. If you somehow find this game, be expected to mess around with dgVoodoo and any video card tuning program if you wanna play it. Alternatively, not playing this game is an option, and one I highly recommend instead.
Honestly I came into this game with zero expectations. I was familiar with this game thanks to Something Awful, which had covered the previous game, WWII Normandy, and they said it was outright terrible. Thus I had little expectations for WWII Iwo Jima. But even with low expectations, it turned out to be a frustrating few hours I’m not getting back. I even tortured myself to capture some footage of the game since there wasn’t any on YouTube. If you wanna see me suffer through this, you can watch through the video below.
In all honesty, this game isn’t really worth playing, even as a novelty. I wouldn’t recommend giving this a try or hunting it down unless you’re curious on how bad it is. But you’re better off playing anything else. Even the worst Medal of Honor or Call of Duty game is better than this.
Some images are from Mobygames.
Updated on 4/8/2019: Edited the main article for clarity, and added screenshots. Updated again on 4/19/2021 for additional edits.