It came from the Bargain Bin… the mysteries of sub-$20 video games, where you weren’t sure if you were paying for a gem or an absolute clunker. These are the budget games that make you question whether it was worth the money spent…
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.
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. Later joining 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.
About a year or so back, I wrote about Modern Combat 5. I did so because I had jumped from Windows 7 to Windows 10, and never got to experience the Microsoft Store ecosystem.
One of the games I had downloaded, Sniper Fury, weren’t really worth talking about all that much. Just felt like Modern Combat 5 but more like a rail shooter.
I was going to do a “series” based on Windows 8-10 apps, but I got sidetracked. The other games I had installed had either gotten super grindy unless I paid, or in the case of Asphalt 8: Airborne, that they are such a daily ritual for me that I’m still grinding to get that last achievement to this day. The only other games that could be interesting to write about are too “well-known,” like the Killer Instinct reboot.
But there was one more game I had installed, and until recently, never tried. Then I tried it, and thoroughly regretted playing it.
STERN MILITARY FACE
Overkill 3 is the third installment in a modestly popular franchise originally released on mobile platforms. Co-developed by Spanish developer Game Troopers and Czech developer Craneballs – props for the goofiest developer name I’ve seen yet – Overkill 3 is a cover shooter. Unlike Modern Combat 5, there is no moving, only aiming. So it’s less a cover shooter and more a rail shooter.
Here’s John Scully, our resident shootyguy who must kill the evil big bads from… something, I don’t know.
There is a story but it’s so razor-thin that there’s no reason to pay attention to it. You play as John Scully, a guy with the most ridiculous protagonist hairdo I’ve seen this side of Soap MacTavish, fighting off big bads in various places. There is no principal villain, just Scully going from place to place, hiding behind cover, and shooting dudes repeatedly.
id software’s amazing run of first-person shooters in the ‘90s are in some of my top games of all time: Doom, Quake, even Quake III Arena was pretty good in spite of Unreal Tournament’s more fun, absurd nature. But one game I had a fondness for was Wolfenstein 3D.
Wolfenstein is a fairly simplistic shooter by modern standards, but it started laying the groundwork for what made their games tick: Exploring areas, defeating enemies, and strafing around arenas like operatic ballet. What happens when you take most of that away and try to shoehorn in awkward mechanics that don’t fit? You get Wolfram.
Already we’re off to a great start with this menu…
I have to give a shout out to the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation, which introduced me to this game. Being a fan of Wolfenstein and some of its other games, I had to see if this was the remake of Wolf3D that would be better than the original. The answer is no. Not by a long shot.
Just like the 1992 original!
Wolfram recreates all of “Escape from Wolfenstein,” the shareware episode of Wolf3D. Levels are the same blocky shapes they were in ‘92, wall textures are a mix between remastered versions of the originals and ports presumably from other versions of Wolf3D, even the music is ripped straight from the original, but somehow sounds worse.
Oh hey, colored lighting! This would’ve been cool in like, 1997.
So you’re probably thinking, “Hey, this sounds pretty cool! What’s your problem with it?” Well, let me explain.
Wolfenstein 3D involves using the doors a lot to funnel enemies and dodge fire. Doors become your best friends here.
Wolfenstein 3D’s combat is fairly simple. Outside of some bosses, all the enemies are hitscan – once the enemy shows a certain frame of animation, the game determines if that was a hit or a miss, and if it hits, it calculates for how much damage you take – As you progress, you learn the better tactics of the game involves ducking inside rooms and strafing back and forth at an opened door to avoid getting hit as much. It’s fairly simple and arcade-like these days, but it worked well in the era when Wolf3D came out.
This is NRA Gun Club. A first-person shooter published by Crave (RIP) and developed by our good friends at Jarhead Games. I’ve covered Jarhead’s stuff in the past, with such thrilling hits as CTU Marine Sharpshooter. (I wrote about that before, check it out here.) As far as I know, this game would be their swan song, not living long enough to make it to the 360 generation. This would also be the sole game they made on the PlayStation 2, and it shows.
After being introduced to the bland title screen, I am asked to make a profile name. Since this is based on the NRA, I’d thought it’d be nice to name my profile after Wayne LaPierre, the NRA president and mirror-universe-Stephen-King.
Or at least his first name, this game has a six character name limit.
The only mode with any sort of progression is Certification Mode. Here, there are four courses, each one unlocked after completing the previous one, with certain requirements needed to pass. There’s Plinking, Bullseye, Trap/Skeet and “Practical Shooting.” I’ll get into each one the best that I can.
The “Plinking” challenge involves rapid-fire scoring for points. It’s damn simple: Choose a weapon, shoot at targets, score points, repeat until time runs out. Most targets give 5 points, but some such as the cans give 10. Each of these are done in “Strings,” where the board is reset each time, and then the final score is averaged out of the best runs. If the average meets the minimum number, it’s considered a passing grade.
Once you qualify in each of the pistol, long-range rifle, and shotgun challenges, you do the “Multi” course which makes you go through all three. Qualify that and you’re certified in the Plinking challenge.
For a while, I wasn’t going to upgrade to Windows 10. But then a friend convinced me of a few cool features, and I decided to finally take the plunge since it’s free as of this writing. Since my current PC was on Windows 7, I missed out on all the cool apps that came out during the Windows 8 era. After perusing the store, I found a few interesting games. Boy, I wasn’t expecting this…
It’s time for STERN MILITARY SOLDIER POSE
Modern Combat 5: Blackout is probably the most generic title for a game ever. This is the product of Gameloft, a French-based development studio known famously for their mobile phone and handheld games. Naturally, this is a “port” from iOS/Android devices, supporting cumbersome touch screen controls.
While I haven’t played the previous entries in the Modern Combat franchise, I am familiar with it. One of the games, Modern Combat: Domination, made it to consoles and I remember Giant Bomb covering it once. At the time, it looked like a mish-mash of Call of Duty 4 with a pinch of Counter-Strike‘s elements. By default, I go into any new game I play with mild skepticism and low expectations just so I don’t hype myself up for disappointment, so I wasn’t expecting much here.
This is a hell of a way to start a game…
You play as Phoenix, a mercenary for works for some corporation. With the help of a bald marine named Bull, you two storm through San Marco, escaping from evil terrorists, and eventually escaping a helicopter in a boat chase sequence. Pretty exciting for the beginning of a Call of Duty clone.
Afterwards, Phoenix wakes up in Japan, taken over by raiders during some terrorist attack or something. I’ll admit, I barely remember the story of this game, and that’s coming from a guy who played through Battlefield 3 and 4, which had really unremarkable generic campaigns. But from what I gleaned from a wiki for the series, it’s basically double-crossing between various factions, and a surprise plot twist that the CEO of the Gilman corporation is also a mercenary soldier who caused the double-crossing. Hardly oscar-caliber story writing, but I got what I paid for. (Nothing.)
One of the many classes you can choose from. You get Recon to start, and the rest require you to either grind levels or pay up to unlock.
Modern Combat 5 has a leveling system, and unlockables. There’s a create-a-class option, weapons can be upgraded by using them in the game to unlock attachments and better weapons, and each class has special skills that are upgraded using SP. SP is gained between some missions, leveling up, and between events Gameloft put up. One thing I liked is how the rankings persist between both single player and multiplayer, which I wish more games did.
Multiplayer is typical military FPS in a post-Call of Duty 4 world: You have perks, you have a powerup you can use, there’s killstreaks like recon drones and EMP strikes, and you get XP for kills. There’s the common FPS gamemodes: Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and an unusual TDM variant called VIP where the VIP is always visible on the minimap and killing them rewards more points than killing other players. Fun, but a VIP kill is 5 points and the scorelimit is 50, making the matches go by faster than expected.
Huh, I guess my dad was right about combat drones. Never thought they’d look like this, though…
PC gaming in the ’90s was a real wild west affair. When games like Doom took off, everybody started making shovelware compilations of anywhere from hundreds to thousands of levels. Most of them were downloaded off BBSes without crediting people, which is pretty scummy in itself. But if you had no internet connection, this was a way to get levels with ease.
After a few years of this, publishers like WizardWorks started making their own unofficial expansions for games like Quake, Descent and Warcraft II. While this was an improvement – level designers could actually license their stuff for commercial use – the internet was really starting to bloom in the late ’90s, making these unofficial “expansions” obsolete.
Today, I’m gonna look at one of these unofficial expansions for a little game called Quake…
This looks like something I’d see as a background of some pick up artist’s vlog channel.
Aftershock for Quake is a terrible pun, but one of several expansions made to capitalize on Quake‘s success. Published by Head Games, this featured “advanced levels”, adding three episodes and a bevy of deathmatch maps.
Unlike the official expansions – Scourge of Armagon and Dissolution of Eternity – these have no new monsters, powerups or weapons. These are vanilla Quake levels, designed to run with a registered copy of the original Quake. The episodes are drastically shorter than vanilla Quake, only having five levels for each episode.
There isn’t much of a story to these maps. Hell, with the exception of episode three, there aren’t any credits to who made this. It’s unfortunate, because I was hoping to find a “before they were stars” moments with this expansion.
It’s the holiday season, and what better way to celebrate than playing something Christmas-related? How about a game based on one of the best damn action movies of the 80s, Die Hard?
I don’t care what anyone says, this is a Christmas movie in my book.
Okay, I may be stretching it a bit here. But it’s better than trying to find some Christmas-themed game involving Santa Claus. It’s also appropriate, considering Die Hard‘s legacy.
There have been many Die Hard games over the years. There was the top-down action game for the NES that’s been featured by the Angry Video Game Nerd and Games Done Quick, the multi-genre Die Hard Trilogy, even the Sega brawler Dynamite Deka which was rebranded as a Die Hard game when it hit stateside. But we’re gonna be talking about a little-known budget shooter that featured our old pal John McClane, Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza.
Love how they don’t even bother to show not-Bruce Willis’ face.
This game had an interesting history. Starting out as a “Die Hard TC” for Duke Nukem 3D, it eventually made the leap from the aging Build engine to the new GoldSrc engine in 1999. Development on Nakatomi Plaza went silent in 2000 as rumors went around 20th Century Fox did a cease and desist on the project. Eventually the game got re-announced the following year with the license proper, as well as another upgrade, this time on the fancy new Lithtech Engine. The engine that was used in The Operative: No One Lives Forever, and… lots of budget games I’ve actually talked about before. We’re talking CTU Marine Sharpshooter, Vietnam: Black Ops and…
But enough about that. Let’s get into the game itself. Nakatomi Plaza is a loose retelling of the original Die Hard‘s story. If you’re reading this and you’ve never seen Die Hard, stop reading this and watch the film NOW. Alternately, you could read the book the movie’s based on, Roderick Thorp’s Nothing Lasts Forever, which I heard is actually a good book. If you have seen Die Hard, then continue. Preferably read this while listening to that GuyzNite song about the Die Hard franchise.
Since this game’s hits all the famous parts of the original movie, I won’t go into a play-by-play of the game, only for some of the changes. Because I’m going to assume, like before, that you’ve seen the film already.
The game starts out exactly the same as the film: John McClane arrives at Nakatomi Plaza thanks to Argyle the limo driver, meets up with Mr. Takagi, Ellis and Holly Gennaro, before Hans and his terrorist buddies come in and wreck stuff, leaving John with his 9mm Beretta, shoeless.
It’s weird to be playing an FPS with a left-handed protagonist. What is this, Counter-Strike?
I’m convinced no one wants to be the sniper in a video game. Yeah, there’s parts of movies where being a sniper is cool, but most of it involves walking around and occasionally killing people at a distance with a bolt-action rifle. Unless it’s something like Call of Duty 4‘s “All Ghillied Up” mission, which is more of a stealth level than a sniping level.
Thus any game I’ve played where sniping is the focus, like Sniper Elite V2 or Sniper: Ghost Warrior, ends up being a fairly simple shooter with strangely elaborate sniping mechanics. I don’t know why people keep making games based on it, but then again they keep making sequels to the Sniper movies, so I guess there’s an audience for this stuff.
Today, we’re looking at another one of those sniping games, and this time, it’s a budget shooter…
If this doesn’t look generic to you, I don’t know what.
CTU Marine Sharpshooter is a budget FPS where sniping is the base mechanic. Despite the name, you don’t play as Jack Bauer, but rather a generic soldier dropped into certain exotic locales and go pew pew at bad guys with sniper rifles.
The developer of this game was Jarhead Games, a master of making budget military FPSes, such as Navy SEALs: Weapons of Mass Destruction and Army Ranger: Mogadishu. The only other notable thing they made was NRA Gun Club, which is ironic considering the NRA was lambasting video games before. Guess they forgot about that one.I’ve played only one of Jarhead’s games before, and it wasn’t that interesting, so I don’t have high hopes for this one.
Man, what kind of gun skin is that? Can I get that for CS:GO? 😛
You play as some generic sniper and his spotter buddy, with an M4 assault rifle. They don’t give them names, so I’m gonna call them “John McSniperdude” and his partner “David Spotterguy.”
What a good starting level, a big load of nothing.
After a thrilling introduction where McSniperdude and Spotterguy arrive to Afghanistan by boat, the game begins. Sniping in this game is a bit strange: You use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. It takes a little getting used to, especially since I’m used to many other games allowing you to scope in with the right mouse button. As you play, Spotterguy will tell you that there’s enemies in a certain direction, also highlighted on your radar above.
Each set of levels gives you a unique sniper rifle: The starting Afghanistan missions give you an M40A3 that requires to chamber a round in each time you reload. Later, you get a Barrett M82, a heavy anti-tank rifle that the player uses like it was an assault rifle. The final set of levels give you an “AW”, which I assume is meant to be the Arctic Warfare Magnum, which would’ve been more appropriate in the other levels.
Get used to this weapon. It’ll be your best friend in many cases, more than your sniper rifle will be.
When not sniping, you have two other weapons: A useless knife, and your SOCOM-MK23 pistol with an optional silencer. The pistol is really only useful in close quarter areas, of which there are a few. I’d recommend telling your Spotter to fire at will so you don’t have to switch between weapons or no-scope enemies often. You’re given 4-6 health packs you can use (signified by the crosses on the HUD), but they only refill when you change locales, so if you used up all your medkits on the early levels, you won’t last long. Also, your spotter has infinite kits and can heal himself willy-nilly.
One thing I’ve been trying to do this year is to tackle my long, burgeoning backlog. I’m limiting this to mostly current generation stuff like the 360, PS3, PC and Wii. But only because I wasn’t really up to digging out my Xbox to play Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 and or play through the gauntlet that is Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. If I tried to finish everything I owned, I’d be left with a task that would be impossible to finish in my lifetime.
I’ve been making a slight dent at that backlog in recent months, tackling Borderlands and all its DLC, Saints Row: The Third (which is good timing considering Saints Row IV hits later this year), F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Lots of shootybangs, basically.
BADASS SPACE MARINE COVER
So it makes sense my most recent completion was this little-known budget FPS called Chaser. A first-person shooter that was developed by Slovakian developer Cauldron and published by JoWood Productions in 2004. I had heard of the game in the past thanks to owning a PC Gamer demo disc that had a demo of the game’s multiplayer. While the demo wasn’t amazing by any stretch, it did seem like an interesting shooter that I might play someday.
Fast forward to 2012, when I see the game on a Steam daily deal for $2.50, which got reduced even further to $1.24. I have a soft spot for bargains, and when a game hits that “$2 or less” threshold, it’s an instant impulse purchase. Then it sat on my Steam backlog until very recently, when I had decided to try it shortly after beating Redneck Rampage, wanting an “old-school” FPS fix of a different kind.
Douglas Quaid John Chaser in an unusual predicament.
You play as John Chaser, an amnesiac stuck on a spaceship being hunted down, with no memories of what happened prior. You eventually make it to Earth and become acquaintances with members of “The Family,” as you try to do missions to find out who you are and what happened. Eventually you find the truth, befriend a few people along the way, and find out you were doing a mission on Mars. So you get your ass to Mars, go to the Hilton and flash the Brubaker ID at the desk.
Obligatory sewer level screenshot.
Okay, I know a Total Recall reference sounds dumb here, but Cauldron clearly was looking at the Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic for inspiration: From the amnesiac main character, to befriending people who would later be enemies, being chased through a spaceport, even having to go through murky Mars caves to find the truth. This is the closest we’ll get to a “Total Recall: The Video Game” that isn’t that terrible NES game from many years ago.
Let’s be honest here, shooting a bunch of dudes is better than punching similar-looking monsters and dodging glory holes.
The game is not perfect, though. Being made by a game studio where English is not their primary language, there’s that weird case of “eurojank” to Chaser‘s design. Voice acting is a very mixed bag, leading to awkward line deliveries and unusual word usage. Subtitles don’t always match what’s spoken. Jumping physics seemed a bit off, where I was more likely to miss a platform than land on it. There are many points where it wasn’t clear where I needed to go next, which lead me to walking around a lot and frequently backtracking, among other problems that are common to unpolished shooters.
Cauldron’s CloakNT Engine makes for large, expansive levels. Impressive for a game released in 2004, however it makes later stages like the last few levels drag on considerably.
Chaser is not just a rough unpolished game, it’s also very difficult. On Normal difficulty, it didn’t take much for the bad guys to whittle my full health and armor down to zero pretty quick. Enemies occasionally drop medkits and armor, but I ended up losing that as quickly as I got it. This even applies to fall damage — later stages have you dropping down on pipes, taking off small bits of your health as you descend, making it pretty easy to miss a jump and easily crater, forcing you to quick save repeatedly.
This is cruel irony.
Lately I’ve been trying to avoid playing games on harder difficulties, but Chaser was incredibly difficult to play on Normal, leaving me to go through the remaining 2/3s of the game on Easy just to get through it. Even on Easy difficulty, some of the later stages still kicked my ass, with enemies having grenade launchers that one shot me even with near-full health and armor. The quick save key became my best friend.
Even the game’s ending is especially bleak. I won’t spoil it, but I was honestly expecting a much different outcome, and playing a shooter with a downer ending, especially the long journey it took me to get there, is disappointing. I would preferred a choice, like in Singularity, another game I played fairly recently.
That isn’t to say this game is bad per se, it’s just difficult because it was clearly made in a different mindset than most first-person shooters today. Chaser hearkens back to the late ’90s-early 2000s era of first-person shooter design: reflexes, speed, exploration, backtracking, rationing items, and quick saving often to make progress. The average player today would likely have a very difficult time playing through Chaser if they’re used to the Call of Duty style of game play.
Despite that challenge, I enjoyed the varied level design — from space stations, to cities, to the Russian tundra, even the redness of Mars looked pretty neat. The soundtrack was good, reminding of MOD tracker music that was popular in Unreal Tournament and Deus Ex. There’s a bit of charm to Chaser that I had a soft spot for, despite it’s ridiculous length and punishing difficulty.
It’s on Steam at an affordable price of $5, though it does go on sale occasionally. It’s worth checking out if you want some early 2000s eurojank in your life. Just remember that it’s gonna kick your ass, but stick with it. Despite that eurojank, it’s not a bad shooter. I’ve played worse shooters out there. Much worse.
Some screenshots taken from the Steam store page and Mobygames.
(Update 8/20/2019: Updated the post with a few changes here and there.)