Happy after-Thanksgiving, everybody. Hope you had your fill of fattening birds, parade floats and talking to your very bigoted grandparents. Unless you’re reading this on a day that’s not Thanksgiving, in that case then happy whatever-day-it-is.
I was gonna write about this game on Thanksgiving Day itself, but stuff came up. However, it has been a while since I last dabbled in bargain bin shenanigans, and this one is gonna be a doozy.
You’ve probably heard of America’s Army. Sponsored by the U.S. Army, the game was a significant hit back in its day. It was known for being an accurate simulation of the Army’s functions and operations — at least, for a military video game, anyway. A decent little game for its time, in spite of the blatant “JOIN THE ARMY” overtones.
At one point, the U.S. Navy sponsored Sony’s SOCOM series of video games. Realizing the “big boys” were getting video game deals, the U.S. National Guard decided to have their own sponsored game. A free, sponsored game, just like the U.S. Army did. The problem is, it’s one of the worst free games I’ve ever played. And I’ve played a fair share of garbage.
The National Guard’s sponsored game is PRISM: Guard Shield, a futuristic first-person shooter. I don’t know who the developer is exactly, the company mentioned on the (now defunct) website is Rival Interactive, a developer of unknown, unremarkable strategy game Real War, and a program about… Neonatal Intensive Care Units. I’m not making this up, by the way, it was on their website when it was still around.
However, the game also features the logo of another familiar developer: Rebellion Developments. Ah yes, that wonderful UK developer that gave us such great hits like Dead to Rights: Reckoning, Shellshock 2: Blood Trials, NeverDead and motherfuckin’ Rogue Warrior. Oh, and a bunch of Sniper Elite games, I guess. I’ve played Dead to Rights: Reckoning and Call of Duty: World at War – Final Fronts, so I am familiar with their body of work. It usually varies from “not completely terrible” to “how in god’s name did this get commercially released?” So, I knew to temper my expectations accordingly.
I’m familiar with this game for one reason: Back when this was brand new, I got an email from Fileplanet (RIP) saying I could get a free T-shirt if I filled out a form and played this silly game. I happily obliged, and after installing it, I played it and was shocked at how poor it was.
I remember playing this during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2005, alternating between playing the game, and watching the floats and silly Broadway numbers. So if you’re wondering why this is somewhat Thanksgiving themed, that’s why.
As for the T-shirt, I got it months later, in the wrong size. It was a black T-shirt with the logo on the front and a dead link to the website on the back. As far as I know, it’s somewhere in my house with other junk clothes, including a NASCAR t-shirt I won from a GameSpot stream back in 2006. I can’t say I’m really attached to that shirt.
Onto the game itself, our hero is a nameless, faceless character named Frank Shepherd. No, he’s not related to the Half-Life: Opposing Force character, and I doubt he’ll tell you that what their favorite store on the Citadel is. A successful graduate of the Gordon Freeman School of Character Development, Frank does his routine security guard beat at a “New York Harbor” — which I’m not sure which harbor in New York they’re referring to — which gets ambushed by evil bad guys, forcing you to shoot a bunch of generic goons while occasionally picking up intel and scanning laptops.
Along the way, you find a wounded soldier of PRISM — which stands for something, but I don’t really remember what — who gives you his suit and powers, making Shephard a PRISM soldier himself. The next few levels involve you doing the same thing over and over: Shoot generic bad guys, occasionally save hostages and defuse bombs, and grab more intel by grabbing papers, scanning laptops and occasionally knocking people out with your taser.
When I played this back in 2006, there were only two levels: The starting New York Harbor level, and a level taking place in a prison. It seems the last update for this game was released in 2008, so there must have been a small following to keep updating this game for 3 years. Some more missions were added to the single player, bumping the level count from 2 levels to 7. The new locales include a dam, a subway area, and an airport.
All these levels are filled to the brim with enemies who like shuffling back and forth, having the intelligence of a drunk person. They’re also pretty damn accurate and will whittle your armor and health quickly if you’re not careful, making the levels a pain to play even on Easy difficulty.
This was also one of the few games to use the infamous Massive streaming ad service, featured in games like SWAT 4. Like the above, the game would stream random advertisements for items and products in an attempt to add realism to the game. Though in the end it just makes the game look even more sketchy.
As I was going through each of the levels, shooting and dying a lot, I got to the game’s final level in an oil refinery.
Except somehow, the game broke. There was no audio, the enemies were permanently stuck in a T-pose, and never fought me. My gun model mysteriously disappeared. Some objectives didn’t even work. I can’t tell if I downloaded a broken copy or if this is how it was intended, but it is a fitting end to the game’s abysmal campaign mode.
The game’s multiplayer, which was the more appealing item of the game, was just bog-standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, and a co-op survival mode where you could modify how many enemies appeared, whether there were bombs or hostages, and even if you needed to beat it in a certain time limit.
It was “Powered by Gamespy,” which didn’t mean a whole lot even in 2006. Much like its single player, it was not a fun experience whatsoever. It doesn’t even work anymore, selecting the online multiplayer option causes it to show a strange error message before going to an endless loop that makes it unable for me to get back to the main menu, requiring me to do the three finger salute and kill the program through Windows’ Task Manager. But from what I played of it back in the day, it certainly wasn’t gonna leave Counter-Strike in the dust, that’s for sure.
Even by 2006 standards, this game was bad, even for a free game. The only redeeming elements are the corny voice acting and the innocuous action music. The shooting isn’t very fun, the missions feel uninspired, the enemies are horribly balanced, it’s just a hot mess. It feels like this game was crapped out with no heart put into it, and the National Guard begrudgingly releasing it to potentially recuperate any money they lost.
Apparently there was gonna be a retail expansion called PRISM: Threat Level Red, but that never got off the ground, and judging by the quality of Guard Shield, we should be thankful.
If you’re curious enough to play it, you can get this off of Fileplanet’s archives here. Though be forewarned: With how infamous Rebellion is as a developer, keep your expectations low. Very low.
(Updated on 8/31/2019 with some cleanup and a new download link.)