Category: From the Bargain Bin

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…

Juggernaut: The New Story for Quake II – A janky expansion.

After writing about Doom Eternal last month, I felt like I was kinda losing my touch when it came to offbeat, weird stuff. Struggling to think of something to write about, I thought of something. And it’s time to head back to the unofficial expansion mines once again.

I’ve been down this road countless times at this point, but this is one I had to come back to, since I mentioned it briefly before late last year. Since I covered one of the unofficial expansions — Zaero for Quake II — back in November 2021, I had to go back and look at another expansion for Quake II. And y’all, it’s a doozy.

“Headgames is in no way affiliated with id Software.” Gee, I never would’ve guessed. (Cover courtesy of Mobygames.)

Juggernaut: The New Story for Quake II – quite a mouthful – is an unofficial add-on for id Software’s space marine Strogg-killing shooter Quake II. The second of two unofficial add-ons, this came out around 1998 as a way to add more to your Quake II experience.

I became familiar of this thanks to Something Awful, back when they used to “review” video games of dubious quality. Much like a lot of internet writing of that era, it’s really hard to go back to reading, especially since its creator Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka was an absolute piece of shit. But I had been curious about this add-on, so I started looking for a copy. Turns out it was a bit tougher finding a complete copy than I thought it would be, thus I put it aside and wrote about Zaero instead. It wasn’t until after I published that did a friend come and help me find a copy.

Much like previous add-ons – official and unofficial – the game offers you to shoot and gib monsters, grab keys and have a fun time, right? I wish this was true, as this is not the case with Juggernaut. Problem number one is who published it.

Sadly not sponsored by Foreigner.

Head Games was a fairly infamous budget publisher through the late ‘90s, alongside some of the more infamous ones like Valu-Soft. While they dabbled in publishing unofficial expansions like the previously talked about Aftershock for Quake, their bread and butter was the “Extreme” line they published from 1999-2000, like Extreme Rock Climbing, Extreme Boards & Blades, and yes, the infamous Extreme Paintbrawl games. They’re not known for a high pedigree of quality, so buying a Head Games product meant you had to put your expectations real low. And this was before Activision acquired them.

That looks more like a dome than a canopy.

Though we can’t just blame the publisher: Developer Canopy Games has their own tale of making clunky games as well. For the most part, they were known mostly for budget-label driving games based on Harley Davidson, Hot Rod Magazine and oddly Initial D of all franchises; as well as Midnight Outlaw: Illegal Street Drag, a racing game clearly made to cash in on the Fast and the Furious franchise that Something Awful also covered back in the day. (This will be the last time I mention that site in this article, promise.)

They occasionally dabbled in other genres, including the then-lucrative market of hidden object games in the late-2000s, but from the research I did shooters were not really their thing. Juggernaut would end up being their only add-on for a commercially released game. So I don’t have high hopes for this.

These cutscenes are… interesting, to say the least.

According to what I gleamed through the cutscenes and the readme files, the story goes like this: In the far-flung future, a Juggernaut ship exported people from Earth to the two moons on Jupiter – Europa and Callisto, respectively. You’re a soldier named “The Defender” who lives on Europa, doing your usual mining business until you find out that settlers of Callisto are doing science experiments on people that turns them into mutated beings. The Defender must fly to Callisto and eliminate those mutated freaks before their demon stuff… spreads throughout the universe? It’s not really clear, the story is likely explained more in the manual or the intro cutscene than it is in-game.

Fun fact: In this intro demo, the player has god mode on. Already a bad sign.
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Alien Rage: An old school shooter in more ways than one.

Over the 10 plus years I’ve been writing about video game stuff, one thing that’s stayed constant is me writing about the most jankiest, clunky games out there, often in January. So much so that I almost considered making an event called “Jank-uary,” where people would play these particularly busted games as a celebration of the underdogs and trash of video game culture. Maybe I’ll still consider that in the future if there’s any interest.

Since it’s the start of a new year, what better thing to write about then yet another janky FPS? After all, might as well keep up my tradition of writing about this jank to start the year. This time with a developer I’ve talked about a few times in the past!

“Bet you can’t scream louder than me, human!” Cover courtesy of Mobygames.

Alien Rage is a first person space shooter made by the present-day masters of budget label games: CI Games, the company formerly known as City Interactive. Released on Steam, the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 in 2013, the game came out to mostly uneventful fare, often being forgotten except by people like me who are a glutton for punishment as well as quality Eurojank™.

We’ve talked about CI Games/City Interactive twice before: Once in January 2019 when I wrote about the interesting-but-flawed Enemy Front, a World War II FPS that tried to be a bit more stealth-action like the old school Medal of Honor days; and again in April 2021 where I covered the infamous Terrorist Takedown, a rail shooter that was made during peak War on Terror, and for a long while was CI Games’ most iconic franchise before Sniper: Ghost Warrior came around.

Since I’ve played a myriad of the company’s work at this point, I know to go into this with the lowest of expectations. And boy those expectations were met and then some. The result is a game that doesn’t quite understand what it wants to be.

It’s always those rare materials that we’re looking for, isn’t it?

Taking place in the distant future of 2242 AD, humans find a new material named Promethium on a space rock, which they use to make a space colony. Then the Vorus, an alien race, come in and invade, taking over the Promethium, and starting a war between the humans and the aliens. Eventually the aliens burrow underground to further stop the humans in their tracks, and it’s all hinging on the help of one supersoldier named Jack to go in and eliminate the Vorus threat once and for all. Yep, in typical classic shooter fashion, they send one guy to do the job of a whole platoon. Though Jack is not alone in his journey, Jack is supported by an AI assistant named Iris and a soldier buddy named Ray. Guess you gotta give Jack someone to talk to, eh?

“Hmm. This certainly looks like Something Bad’s about to happen…”

Alien Rage is a run-of-the-mill first-person shooter. Jack can hold three weapons: a sidearm and two human or Vorus weapons he procures throughout his journey. Standard WSAD controls for movement, left click fires, right click ironsights, F does a melee attack, and E is the catch-all use button, where Jack will activate keypads and climb over chest-high walls when prompted.

Middle mouse button activates a special alternate fire which changes for each weapon: A burst fire for the pistol, a grenade launcher for the SMG, etc. The player can hold a maximum of five of these overall, and can be used for any of the game’s weapons, so one must be careful when using them on a pistol rather than a rocket launcher.

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Zaero for Quake II: Back to the land of unofficial expansion packs.

When I wrote about the previous Mods and Maps article about Soldier of Fortune, Inc., I honestly wasn’t expecting it to go beyond Quake. When I found it that there were new tie-in levels made for Quake II, it made me replay through Quake II and its expansions, something I hadn’t done in years. I was originally not so hot on it, and I thought maybe a replay would give me a fresh perspective on the game. Sadly, it didn’t.

Wouldn’t be an id software game without some classic monster infighting.

Quake II is… fine as a game, I guess. A solid shooter with lots of colored lighting, a derivative story, and a killer soundtrack by Sonic Mayhem – with contributions by Bill Brown, Jeremiah Sypult and Rob freakin’ Zombie of all people – that just lacked the sort of bizarre mish-mash that Quake did the year prior that I enjoyed thoroughly. It just felt rather derivative as a game. Considering how id software was in turmoil at the time, I’m not surprised it feels kinda boilerplate, because they knew anything with an id logo on it would sell gangbusters.

While playing those Quake II themed levels for that Soldier of Fortune, Inc article, it dawned on me that despite having written about all kinds of retro FPS stuff for Doom, Quake and Half-Life, I hadn’t written about anything related to Quake II. That changes today, as I look into one of the more deeper cuts of Quake II, released during that wild west period of the early-to-late ‘90s: unofficial expansion packs to games.

Good to know it’s not supported by id Software, I guess. Cover courtesy of Mobygames.

Zaero for Quake II is one of the aforementioned unofficial expansion packs. Developed by a group named Team Evolve, this expansion added new levels and weapons to the main Quake II arsenal. But how did this expansion come about? For those who weren’t really around when this was big – and admittedly, I was only tangentially aware of it back then – let’s give a quick refresher course on the shovelware compilation boom.

I get to use this cover again! It’s just as ridiculous as it was the first time.

For a period of time, a fair share of shovelware budget publishers such as Softkey, WizardWorks and others found a new way to make some easy cash: capitalizing on some of the biggest game franchises by releasing compilations of levels for these game, often downloaded off the still fresh-to-the-world internet, for $20-30 a pop. It was interesting to go to a store and find a compilation of new levels for Doom, which was becoming one of the biggest video game cultural touchstones of the 1990s.

Unfortunately this practice raised the ire of some developers, feeling that those publishers were profiting off the backs of independent hobbyists and budding game designers. At one point id Software themselves decided to respond with The Master Levels for Doom II, a small set of levels made by a handful of the notable members of the Doom community, which came with its own compilation of Doom levels compiled from the web called Maximum Doom.

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Terrorist Takedown: More like Stereotype Shooter.

(content warning: Depictions of violence and war within.)

In 2021, it was announced that the previously canceled game Six Days in Fallujah was being brought back. With some of the original development team handling development, it naturally got a lot of backlash now just as it did back in 2009: by glorifying a specific military conflict as a good thing, and feeding into middle eastern stereotypes of them being nothing but terrorists. So much so that the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked for major publishers to drop support for the game. It will likely come out to poor reception, if it actually comes out this time.

A promotional screenshot from the original 2009 version of Six Days in Fallujah. Sure looks generic until you find out the game’s backstory.

Seeing this made me think a lot about the glut of military games made in a post-9/11 world. While war games existed before that tragedy – Novalogic’s Delta Force franchise was modestly popular around the late 1990s – they ballooned to being rather ubiquitous once the War on Terror started. We got games like SOCOM, Conflict, lots of Tom Clancy stuff, even Battlefield dipped its toes into modern warfare. There were so many that actual US military organizations started getting involved, with games like as America’s Army and PRISM: Guard Shield. Nowadays, the only franchise from that period still around making similar war games is Call of Duty, but that might be considered a stretch by some.

Why all this preamble? It’s so I can talk about one of those games made by a budget label that cashed in on the War on Terror, and is a bad game, not just on a technical level, but a moral one as well. One game I’ve had for several years, going back to 2013, and this has lately been a year of looking back, so let’s travel to 2003 and look at one of the more bad games.

This article was originally up on Patreon one week early. If you wish to see this article before everyone else, you can pledge to my Patreon here. Just a buck will get you a chance to see this stuff early.

Yeah, this cover looks incredibly generic alright.

Terrorist Takedown is the first installment in a franchise made to capitalize on the war on terror. Developed by Polish developer City Interactive, this would be one of their early breakout hits. Nowadays they’re known as simply CI Games, but their overall message has been consistent: Make games based on war conflicts old and new, and sell them in bargain bins everywhere. For Terrorist Takedown however, City Interactive didn’t have much of a presence outside of Europe, so another budget publisher, Merscom, handled the release here in the United States. Merscom even touted that some of the profits of the game would be donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which I think is a conflict considering this game’s premise.

Probably the blandest menu screen I’ve ever seen.

There is no story to Terrorist Takedown. You play a bunch of no-name, faceless soldiers as you’re sent from one conflict zone to the next, taking down terrorists left and right by any means necessary. The “Terrorists” in this case are generic middle-eastern soldiers presumably meant to stand in for Al-Qaeda insurgents, but it’s kinda hard to tell in this game.

Charlie Don’t Surf this ain’t.

The missions themselves are rather varied: The first mission has you in a helicopter gunship mowing down anti-air emplacements and random soldiers. The second mission has you protect a convoy from enemy soldiers and RPGs. Each mission is similar in structure: Survive a conflict of terrorists while protecting objectives and not dying. At least it spices things up a bit, from using machine gun turrets to flying a helicopter, to controlling a targeting reticle on a surface-to-air-missile.

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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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