Category: Reviews

The various opinions I have of many different video games.

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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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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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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El Matador: A Czech take on Max Payne.

The early to mid 2000s were a weird time in the shooter realm. Remedy gave us the wonderful classic Max Payne in 2001, the shooter that popularized bullet time and action movie stunts, a tribute to John Woo. Yet it wasn’t until 2003 when the sequels to The Matrix hit did it really kick off a brief “bullet time shooter” boom.

Remedy would return with a sequel that year with Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. Then two Matrix game tie-ins: Enter the Matrix that takes place inbetween The Matrix Reloaded, and Path of Neo, sort of a loose retelling of the film trilogy from Neo’s perspective. After that, Monolith’s classic F.E.A.R. in 2005. But then Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare happened and the trend died as quickly as it came.

Those are most well-known examples, though. A lot of Eastern European game developers took a crack at bullet time, including today’s entry.

Not even a box quote from PC Gamer’s Norman Chan could sell this.

El Matador was one of a handful of games that saw how big bullet time was and tried to make a decent Max Payne clone out of it. Developed by Plastic Reality Technologies and published by Cenega not long after 1C Company bought them, this game came and went, much akin to other budget games. Thrown into the pit of obscurity to be talked about from people like me.

I’ve owned this game for many years, even writing about grabbing it in an old I Bought Stuff entry from 2012, complete with an interesting story inside the box. In what is a trend I need to inevitably break, it took me a very, very long time to actually get around and write about El Matador. Better late than never, I suppose.

Victor solving the problem the only way he can: with bullets.

 

You play as Victor Corbett, a cop for the DEA who after their success solving a hostage situation gets called down to Colombia to help their police forces take down a drug empire. After defeating one of the drug lords, he eventually gets the title of “El Matador,” which is generally accepted among the squad for reasons not completely explained. Corbett eventually goes from place to place, killing drug barons and helping out his squad to end the drug threat.

Sometimes the game throws in these sections where friendly AI help you in your battle, but they’re just cannon fodder that get in the way.

El Matador falls into the standard third person shooter elements at the time. Hold a gun, left click fires, right click zooms in (or scopes in with the appropriate weapon). Shoot dudes until they die, try not to get shot too much yourself, and don’t die. Pretty simple stuff.

Victor gets a bunch of weapons throughout, which are common for a Max Payne clone. From the common pistols and submachine guns to gimmick weapons like sniper rifles and rocket launchers. Since he’s meant to be a cop, he’ll usually start missions with the assault rifle, which ended up being my preferred weapon throughout most of the game. It’s a shame, because in Max Payne he slowly built up his arsenal, forcing you to rely on pistols and shotguns until you get the bigger, better guns later on down the line. I rarely had to use my pistols or submachine guns unless I was completely out of ammo in those other weapons.

Hope you like motion blur, cause this game loves it.

Since bullet time is a core mechanic, Tab activates the slow motion while Shift does a shootdodge. Killing enemies refills the bar even while in bullet time, and Victor reloads weapons instantaneously while in bullet time, meaning certain weapons become literal bullet hoses. This made certain parts of the game a bit easier, though not by much.

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A little Weekend Writing about Darksiders.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Weekend Writing post. The last one was BioShock 2 way back in July, in fact. While I may not do it every weekend, it did inspire me to write about things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. This one is no different, but it also spurred from a conversation a friend gave me.

Anyone who checks this site at a cursory glance may notice I often write about about action games and shooters. Hell, the last post was Rambo: The Video Game, literally a light gun shooter. I’ve written about them so much that some friends have called me a “shooter guy,” which makes me feel like I don’t write about anything else.

Today, we’re gonna change that. This ain’t about a shooter even though shooting’s in it. This is a game that’s a weird cocktail blend of everything, yet somehow it works without outright falling apart.

I’m probably not the only one who’s confused this with a handful of other games that start with the name “Dark.”

Darksiders is one of many games I’ve bought several years ago and only just now got around to. I got a free code from GameStop’s Impulse service many years ago, back when I had written about Stoneloops! of Jurassica. I never got around to it in 2012, but did end up with an extra code thanks to getting the Humble THQ Bundle, back before THQ got swallowed up by some German conglomerate and before Humble Bundle became Just Another Digital Storefront. Man, 2012 was a much different time. I eventually passed the Impulse copy to a friend since it came with a Steam key.

I played Darksiders through the more recent Warmastered Edition, which was given free to those who already owned the original, which was a nice thing on THQ Nordic’s part. Warmastered Edition is one of several times THQ Nordic gave punny subtitles to the names of their remasters of Xbox 360 and PS3-era titles. (SEE ALSO: Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition, Red Faction Guerrilla: Re-Mars-stered Edition, etc.)

I didn’t play the original, so I can’t do a compare-and-contrast, but if I had to guess, there’s likely some polished graphics and optimization improvements but otherwise is identical to the original release. Perhaps the remaster has bigger impact graphically on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, where they likely run smoother than the 360/PS3 original, but I can’t say.

Darksiders’ story is fairly simple: It involves the spirits of Heaven and Hell fighting for dominance and causing the end of days, which Our Hero, War of the Four Horsemen, trying to stop and make sense of this. Eventually he’s dragged near death, but bargains on one condition: To figure out who done this, with the goal to be freed.

So much detail for something barely seen this close.

I’m gonna be honest: Darksiders’ story is really, really dumb. It’s something a 7th grader would’ve wrote doodling on a notebook while listening to Avenged Sevenfold. The whole game is trying to be edgy and hardcore with its story, but it comes off as incredibly silly. It alludes to The Four Horsemen and uses elements of Greek mythology in bizarre ways. Hell, War broods so much that even Kratos from God of War would tell him to dial it back a bit.

Granted, I did not get this game for its deep, impactful story. I heard it was a good hack and slash game with some elements of The Legend of Zelda, and while I do come off as “the shooter guy,” I try to dabble in other genres so I don’t get burnt out as easily. So let’s dive in.

Time to wreak havoc on these fools.

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Rambo: The Video Game: Torque bow sold separately.

The Rambo series of films are an interesting timepiece. The first film, aptly titled First Blood, features Sylvester Stallone as Vietnam war veteran John Rambo being chased from some irate cops in a small Washington town, and is more of an action-driven thriller. However, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III are definitely action movies in the simplest sense, something that could really only be made in the Reagan-dominated 1980s.

They’re cheesy as all hell, and a little bit unsettling these days – especially the more recent entries, John Rambo and Rambo: Last Blood – but I can appreciate their relevance in pop culture all the same.

Over the years there’s been a handful of Rambo video games, mostly of average quality. One of the more well-known ones was Pack-in-Video’s Rambo game on the NES that was a knockoff of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and many of Sega’s games throughout the ’80s. After Rambo III, there weren’t any games featuring that M60-wielding muscle man, unlike similar action films like Robocop that got games years after the films were relevant. Cut to 2014, several years after the fourth film, and at a time when the franchise couldn’t be any less relevant, and somehow we got… this.

“I’m sorry they sent you to such a hellhole, John.”
“I’ve seen worse.”

Rambo: The Video Game is the most recent attempt to make the action movie series into a video game. With so many years between the last major Rambo game, you’d think we get a really solid adaptation of the film series, right? Wrong. Developer Teyon and publisher Reef Entertainment brought this out to critically negative reviews, from gamers and fans of the films alike.

So, what’s the genre they opted to go for? First-person shooter, right? Perhaps a third-person cover shooter? The answer to that is neither: It’s a light gun game. Considering Teyon’s pedigree – they made a majority of the Heavy Fire series of light gun games – it seems fitting, but also very limiting.

“Let’s commemorate this man by being glad the bastard’s gone, that’ll show him.”

So how does the game piece the story together? Well, our game begins with a cutscene of a military colonel talking about John Rambo at his funeral, retelling his stories of war, while satisfied the man’s dead.

This is amazingly inaccurate it hurts. Not only does Rambo live after the events of these films, it just comes off as incredibly comical and not at all powerful or emotional. I honestly thought this was a reference to a small scene in one of the films, but nope, this was made specifically for the game. I don’t know why they opted to tell the story this way, but it’s really really dumb.

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Alpha Prime: Plunging back to the world of eurojank.

As I’ve been writing about random games for years at this point, I’ve started to look back at the various cheapo bargain bin games I’ve written about. Most of them were made here in the United States and published by ValuSoft, the most infamous of bargain bin game publishers. Other times I’ve written about stuff a little lesser known, like City Interactive’s Enemy Front. But sometimes, despite owning many different bargain bin games over the years, there’s a few that made me wonder “Why the hell did I buy this?” Alpha Prime fits that bill perfectly.

A shame I have no idea who Ondrej Neff is. They should’ve done what they did with Metro 2033 and make a novelization of the game that’s somewhat difficult to read in English.

I honestly can’t remember why I bought Alpha Prime. Maybe it was $1 in a Steam sale. Maybe I saw someone show me a dumb video about it, and it looked so bad I couldn’t resist giving it a try. Regardless, I had the game in my backlog, and I felt like I needed something drastically different from BioShock 2, which I had just finished and written about recently.

Alpha Prime is made by Black Element, a development studio based in the Czech Republic. They were part of a collective called the Independent Developers Association (IDEA), founded by Bohemia Interactive. Suddenly it makes sense why the makers of ARMA and DayZ published this mid-2000s budget FPS. At least, according to the Steam store page.

Since I have a penchant for rough, janky games made in Europe, I decided to give this a try just out of morbid curiosity. Let’s just say the experience was rather… unpolished.

It looks like Arnold isn’t even interested in Livia’s advances. Wonder if that’s a side effect of the Hubbardium.

The plot goes like this: Arnold Weiss (or Arnie as some call him) is a former soldier who was stationed at Alpha Prime, an asteroid full of Hubbardium, a fictitious space rock that is said to give people special powers. After being egged on at a bar by an old fling named Livia, he goes back to Alpha Prime to help his buddy Warren, and stop his group from mining more Hubbardium. But then disaster strikes.

Those are words that *can* be used to make a sentence, but I can’t make heads or tails of it.

At least, I think that’s how the story goes. Naturally, since this was made by Czech people, English is not their first language. There is lots of stilted, awkward dialogue in this game, combined with a bunch of spelling and grammar mistakes that made it very hard to comprehend the game’s story, and I ended up ignoring it after a while.

Leaning? shooting behind cover? Yeah, this is definitely a 2000s era FPS.

Alpha Prime is a by-the-numbers FPS. Shoot dudes, try not to get shot too much, that sort of thing. The weapons are standard FPS fare for the time: pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, grenades, the works. There’s some interesting ideas, like the assault rifle being a mini gatling gun, but it acts no different than your standard FPS assault rifle.

These uses of the ReCon could’ve been useful, but most of the time it’s used to look into cameras, which isn’t really as useful.

The game does throw a couple interesting ideas, however. At one point you acquire a ReCon, a device that lets you hack into cameras and activate platforms and traps. It’s kinda neat in spots, but in most cases seeing into the next area won’t help you that much unless there’s a trap inside to make combat easier.

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A little Weekend Writing about BioShock 2.

I’m starting a new idea for the blog called Weekend Writing.

Weekend Writing is an experiment for me to try to write more often. Some posts may be about things that I don’t think merit a full article, or may be me talking about games I’ve recently played in an attempt to play more games than I usually do.

There’s no guarantee every weekend will have a Weekend Writing post, but I hope I can stick with this idea for a while.

This still looks pretty good years later.

As of this writing, I finished BioShock 2 Remastered. Part of BioShock: The Collection, it’s one of those fancy HD Remasters that was released for the current generation of platforms and PC. I had finished BioShock Remastered back in 2016, not long after beating BioShock 2 for the first time. Since it had been a few years, I figured it was time to go back to it, just to have something to play in the meantime, and to see if my opinion has changed on the first two games.

Something I didn’t know until looking through my screenshots for this and the original: This credits sequence is different in the remaster. Looks nicer than the original.

I say first two because despite buying it way back in 2014, I still haven’t played BioShock Infinite. Maybe some day.

BioShock is a pretty cool series. A stylistic art deco first-person shooter with skills, hacking and magical abilities; the game came out in 2007 to universal acclaim, some putting it on their “best of all time” list. I’m not one of those people, though I do consider it to be a solid game.

Shout out to the artists at Irrational and 2K Marin for making a cool world to look at *and* roam around in.

BioShock shares several elements with System Shock 2, considered a spiritual predecessor to BioShock. Fitting considering both were developed by Irrational Games. Stripping away the futuristic space motif for Rapture’s 1950s look was a wide decision as it gave them a fresh, unique environment to work with. BioShock’s look and feel is something I haven’t seen in a big budget game before or since, the closest is maybe Fallout. I’m surprised this style didn’t get ripped off more.

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Games I beat in 2018: Enemy Front, possibly the true successor to Medal of Honor.

Welcome to the first Secret Area post of 2019. Here’s something that was several months in the making. This was mostly due to procrastination. Naturally, I’m writing about a game I finished last year, two days short of a year after I had beaten it. And it’s a callback to a post I made last June. Let’s do this.

Last year, I had written a somewhat scathing review of the 2010 Medal of Honor reboot, which took the legacy of a long-standing WWII FPS franchise and basically ruined it by being a Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare copycat. You can check that post out here. At the end of that post, I had hinted towards a game that I had said was just as close to the original Medal of Honor games.

Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it is a World War II FPS, and surprisingly a decent one at that.

Enemy Front was a shooter released in 2014 for various platforms, including PC. Released by CI Games, it was a fairly unknown budget shooter in an era where those kind of shooters were slowly disappearing due to the drought of retail games as well as the prevalence of Steam making it a newer (and cheaper!) haven for the cheap schlock of the past.

I had heard of it thanks to a certain YouTube personality. Ahoy – later a maker of wonderful flashy documentaries about Doom, Half-Life, the Amiga, and many others – had done a video chronicling the arsenal of Enemy Front. He had done similar videos before for Call of Duty and other franchises, and would later be revised to an all-purpose format with his Iconic Arms series of videos. I’m still waiting for the new season of Iconic Arms, just to see what games he uses as an example for the weapon he’s talking about.

Though, it wasn’t just a British YouTube personality talking about a budget polish-developed FPS’s weaponry that got me to snag Enemy Front. It was also dirt cheap on a Steam sale. All it takes is something to be under $5 and you’ve caught my interest almost immediately.

Broadcasting your war diaries doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.

Enough preamble. Let’s get to the meat and actually talk about Enemy Front proper. You play as American journalist Robert Hawkins as he reports the stories of a resistance front all around Europe. Hawkins’s voice sounds familiar to me. There’s no voice cast in the game itself, and IMDB only gives a brief unconfirmed list. I swear I heard him in that infamous Duty Calls game I also wrote about long ago, but there’s no proper credits for that one (or for Enemy Front).

Later meeting up with resistance fighters, Hawkins must stop the Nazi menace in various locales around Europe, including during the Warsaw Uprising. A fair share of the game takes place around that Polish conflict. It’s fitting, considering developer/publisher CI Games is based in Warsaw, Poland.

Human shields are a good way to be threatening. Until they realize you just grabbed some expendable low-ranking goon.

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I’m playing Call of Duty 4 multiplayer. On PC. In 2018.

While playing on Bog, a dark, wide map filled with small gaps of cover and two small buildings ripe for camping, I noticed an enemy player’s been using the infamous “noob tube” – an M203 grenade launcher – to get easy kills. I decide to switch over to my sniper rifle build, with an R700 equipped, ready to pick off the offending noob tuber.

I then started sweeping around the map looking for enemies. I spotted enemies on the other side of the map and starting aiming down the scope and taking shots, occasionally moving to avoid being easily killed. I then spotted an enemy with a rifle and his grenade launcher prepped, and I nailed him in one shot. However, he had just shot a grenade before he died. A grenade that landed right on me. I couldn’t resist to type “good trade” in the chat.

The aftermath.

It’s 2018, and there’s people still playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare online 11 years later. I had picked up the PC version of COD4 as well as World at War on Steam for $10 each. I had hoped they would hit the $4.99 sweet spot, but Activision doesn’t believe in the concept of making their games that cheap.

Surprisingly holds up even graphically.

Honestly, I didn’t need to buy these versions again. I already had both of those games on a console – hell, Call of Duty 4 was the first game I ever got for my PlayStation 3 in 2008 – but the PC version had a fair share of advantages that I wanted to check out. Plus I couldn’t resist replaying the campaigns to one of the best games in the entire series. (Black Ops would probably be a close second.)

First, I also wanted to look into the mod scene. There was a Star Wars-themed mod for COD4 called Galactic Warfare that was making the rounds around 2009-2011, and it was kind of the reason I wanted to look into the PC version. Sadly, it seems the overall mod scene has died out, leaving me with just vanilla COD4 to play with. With Hardcore settings on, no less.

Hardcore makes it so there’s little HUD, and everybody’s a glass cannon. At least some of the weaker weapons prevail in this mode…

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