Category: From the Bargain Bin

Sega Swirl: The puzzle game time forgot.

Sega in the late 1990s to early 2000s was a weird time, at least here in the United States. After bungling the Sega Saturn, there seemed to be some hope for the company with the blue hedgehog as they released the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, being a modestly successful system. But then Sony’s PlayStation 2 came out the following years and steamrolled over all competition, forcing Sega to abandon games console production and go into full-time game publishing instead. As time rolls on, the Dreamcast era seems to be more fondly remembered, alongside many of the games that came with it. But there’s one game Sega heavily pushed during this era, one that has been slowly forgotten to time.

While Sega was mostly known in the console space, they did have a middling PC division during those years. Most of them ports of legacy games like Sonic & Knuckles Collection, but there was one game they released around 2000 that was a unique, interesting idea. It was a game that would absolutely dominate my middle school years in terms of its simplicity and fun factor.

What the heck kind of company is

What the heck kind of company is “Sega of America Dreamcast” anyway?

Introducing Sega Swirl, a fairly simple puzzle game released by Sega, loosely inspired by the Dreamcast logo swirl. This came out as a freeware game from around 1999-2000, and while the title screen is incredibly basic, there’s a lot more to it than you think.

The swirls almost look like colored cinnamon rolls. Damn, now I’m hungry.

The gameplay is fairly simple: You’re given a grid of swirl colors, and your goal is to find groups of colored swirls for points. Removing them shrinks the playfield down, making it easy to build up combos. However, removing a single swirl will result in you losing points. In the standard “Level mode,” you must complete five goals to finish the stage, thus chaining swirls together for massive points is the end goal. It’s a fairly simple game, but still fun even in spite of its basic looks.

A shame this came out in 2000, before esports were a thing. I would totally watch a Sega Swirl tournament.

There’s also a Versus mode, where up to four competitors start taking enemy swirls for massive points. The goal is to knock your opponents out by eliminating that player’s swirls from the field. Like before, clicking a single swirl makes you lose points, but since your goal is to eliminate your opponent, it’s a good strategy to grab one swirl just to knock them out of the game faster. It’s a fun, competitive mode.

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CTU Marine Sharpshooter: One Budget FPS, One Mediocre Game.

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.

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, Spotterguy? Can I get that for CS:GO? :P

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.

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.

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.

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Chaser: The Total Recall game we should’ve got.

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.)

Plunder & Pillage: A pirate mod with a seedy past.

I have a very stream-of-conscious sort of thinking. I’ll be in the middle of something like watching a video, listening to music, playing a game, then suddenly think about something related to what I’m doing right now, like information on a movie or song. It happens to me very often, leading to me going on weird tangents about silly stuff. In some cases, it can lead me down a rabbit hole I wasn’t expecting, such as how a jingoistic military FPS lead me down to a pirate mod.

I wonder where he got the background from.

Plunder & Pillage is a standalone modification for the Build engine where, naturally, you play as a pirate sailing the high seas. From creator Jesse Petrilla, he seemed to be a bit interested in modifying the old Build engine long after engines like Unreal Engine and id Tech 3 were available.

I could give you the plot summary, but I’ll just quote the modification’s readme file:

You are Capt. Jess Murdock, a renegade pirate who has lost everything in a shipwreck on the high seas. You wash up on the shore of an island inhabited by pirates of other gangs, you must fight your way through the island, and plunder and pillage all that you can in an attempt to regain what was lost and make a name for yourself as the most feared pirate on the high seas.

This isn't Blood caliber level design, but it's probably better than most fanmade levels.

This isn’t Blood caliber level design, but it’s probably better than most fanmade levels.

Yeah, it’s a simple game, this isn’t Secret of Monkey Island levels of story complexity, it’s a by-the-numbers first person shooter. There isn’t anything wrong with that.

After I downloaded Plunder & Pillage and gave it the proper tweaks for it to work in DOSBox — as of this writing, no Build engine source port supports this abandonware — I stepped into the boots of Jess Murdock, “arrrrrr”ing like the rest of them.

The “quick kick” function from Duke Nukem 3D is also here, which in this mod is his cutlass sword. Thus you can pretend you’re the kraken and have multiple arms.

Plunder & Pillage shows three episodes, but in reality there’s only one episode with three short, quick levels. In the first level, Murdock kills some pirates to get a new ship. The second level involves him going through Parrot Island and… plundering the place? I guess that does fall right into the game’s title.

Unfortunately this has all the hallmarks of a Duke Nukem 3D total conversion, and not done very well. Enemies will do devastating damage even at range, and a lot of the items and weapons are just identical to the base game. Murdock starts out with a flintlock pistol and can get more weapons like a blunderbuss that works like a shotgun, and an explosive crossbow, which acts like the game’s rocket launcher.  Even the setup menu references stuff like the Holoduke and Jetpack, something our Cap’n doesn’t get the opportunity to use.

I’m pretty sure that villager sprite is stolen straight from Strife. How unprofessional.

At one point, finishing the second “episode” lead to a cutscene from Duke Nukem 3D plays, the one where Duke Nukem kills the Overlord boss. I’m genuinely surprised 3DRealms didn’t get on his ass. Guess they were too busy “developing” Duke Nukem Forever to care.

Plunder & Pillage is surprisingly short. There’s only three playable levels, and as far as I know the only version available is this three level demo. It would’ve been nice to see some more levels with interesting designs, but I think Jesse Petrilla should’ve gotten some level designers, because all three levels here are unremarkable and rather straightforward.

You think that would be the end of this saga, which would make for a fairly short article. But now here comes the twist, and it’s gonna go in a way that you don’t expect.

After the tragic events on September 11, 2001, Plunder & Pillage designer Jesse Petrilla completely switched gears and was hard at work on a new game. Sticking with the aging Build engine, he changed the premise: going from fighting pirates to fighting… the War on Terror.

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PRISM: Guard Shield: Sponsored by the National Guard.

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.

As opposed to what, the seventh line of defense?

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 TrialsNeverDead 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.

Look at those wonderful particle effects! Far Cry 2, eat your heart out.

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Vietnam: Black Ops: Not the Black Ops you’re thinking of.

Way back in January of 2012, I had written a post about a bargain bin shooter I had grabbed called Elite Forces WWII: Iwo Jima. That wasn’t a fun game to play. But there are several other bargain bin shooters out there, some of which that are actually alright.

Granted, I wouldn’t say it’s good, but I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as Elite Forces WWII: Iwo Jima. It’s yet another game based on a war, this time a little more recent. So let’s play Black Ops.

Sadly, Woods did not learn time travel and appear in a budget game from 2000. Though anything’s possible these days.

No, no, silly, not that Black Ops. Though I wouldn’t mind talking about probably one of the better games in the Call of Duty franchise, we’re actually talking about a game called Vietnam: Black Ops, and it was made way back in the year 2000. Insert your “In the year 2000” joke here.

With that font, I wonder if I’m playing Black Ops or Postal…

Made by a podunk little studio called Fused Software, this would end up being their only published game. Most of the people would work on this game and a handful of other projects around the late 90s to early 2000s, though one art designer for this is still in the biz working on art for stuff like Dragon Age: Origins, so good on him.

Oh, and this is another Valusoft joint. I had mentioned them in the previous post, and I wasn’t expecting to be playing two war games published by the same company. It shows how ubiquitous they were during this period. While I can’t say I remember this era fondly, it was certainly more interesting than seeing copies of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 on my PC budget aisles.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuyN8Njt5c4]

You play as some unknown marine during the Vietnam War. Captured by Vietcong, your goal is to kill General Phan, and get out of there safely. Occasionally you’ll see text giving your character some personality, but that’s about it. Honestly, I’ll take Alex Mason and him babbling about “hearing the fucking numbers” over this bare-bones plot.

So, it’s another first-person shooter on the Lithtech engine. Which is weird, because I thought it was the Quake engine at first, until I dug into the files and realized it used the REZ file format that Lithtech uses.

In every level, you just get to kill a bunch of Vietcong, do some slightly obnoxious platforming, and get to the end of the level each time.

You start with a useless knife, then get an AK47, M16, a M60, a Sniper Rifle, and two explosive launchers during your travels. Most of the weapons will be in your collection not long after you start, and unlike Elite Forces WWII: Iwo Jima, there’s actually ammo for these guns this time!

Never thought the Vietnamese would have some hidden temple like this.

However, that doesn’t excuse the game’s punishing difficulty. You have 100 health and no armor, and it doesn’t take much for you to die. Get used to seeing the Purple Heart and “Taps” playing repeatedly every time you die, because you will likely see it a lot. Expect to be hitting the quick save key a lot.

Now I can give this game credit for something: The levels are pretty large, which is impressive for a 2000-era game. Problem is the the levels look blocky and simplistic, with the later levels being “my first FPS level” in some spots. They look like they belong in an action-adventure Tomb Raider knockoff rather than a Vietnam War FPS, but I’m not expecting realism here.

On the bright side, a handful of the levels feel somewhat non-linear, allowing you to take one of two different paths which probably take you to the same place anyway. At least, it felt that way, I didn’t replay the game to be sure if I was right.

Besides the ugly graphics and very banal gameplay of shooting dudes and getting to the exit, there really isn’t much else to this game. Thankfully it’s ridiculously short: I beat it in an hour and a half over two separate sessions. Honestly I was hoping for something longer, but then I flashback to WWII Iwo Jima and realized how much the game padded its levels with ridiculous difficulty spikes, so I’ll take the short length.

I found this in a thrift store for $2. For the time I got with it, $2 is the right price. It’s not mindblowing, but it’s not awful. Hence, Vietnam: Black Ops is just a passable, but ultimately forgettable game.

Surprisingly, there was a sequel: Vietnam 2: Special Assignment. Some of the developers from Black Ops return for the sequel, which surprised me. I haven’t found a copy of this anywhere, but I’m not expecting anything mind-blowing. Maybe I’ll find it and get around to writing about it some day…

Call of Duty: Black Ops promo picture taken from the Call of Duty Wiki. Vietnam: Black Ops video courtesy of YouTube user Marphy Black.

StoneLoops! of Jurassica: An interesting GameStop freebie.

So I’m sitting here, browsing the internet and looking at goofy forum posts, when I get an email from GameStop. Usually they’re for dumb deals where you can save $5 off a copy of some used game from six months ago or something. But this one caught my eye.

A free downloadable game? Can’t beat free! Sign me up!

I’m a complete sucker for free games, so I couldn’t resist the temptation to snag a free game, despite it being somewhat of a clunky way to do this.

Normally I don’t frequent GameStop because of their nasty business practices of pushing pre-orders, plus I often find games on sale elsewhere, so often times my GameStop visits are usually that: visits. This was back before they branched out to “geek culture” alongside games.

So I buy a few games at a store just to use up another coupon I had: Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Edition for PS3, since I had heard it was a pretty cool game; and Die Hard: Vendetta for the Gamecube, since they were gonna stop selling Gamecube games soon. (Note from me in 2019: I played Arkham Asylum and thought it was great, but I still haven’t played Die Hard: Vendetta to this day.)

I get home and go through the less-than-interesting set of events, including having to register for GameStop’s Impulse service, and then installed StoneLoops! of Jurassica. In my excitement and fervor for something free, I didn’t realize what the free game really was.

This looks like something I’ve seen before…

Look familiar? Yeah, it’s similar to the Magnetica series of games (or Ballistic/Puzz Loop, if you prefer). A color matching ball shooter game created by Mitchell Corporation, duplicated by many others, notably PopCap’s Zuma and MumboJumbo’s Luxor.

For those who haven’t played these kind of games, the goal is to shoot balls of a color into a matching color to stack combos for points. Luxor changed it up a bit where instead of shooting randomly colored balls like Zuma or Magnetica, you’d pull a ball over and shoot it back onto a stack to make combos, clearing groups of balls being pushed by special monsters (Beetles in StoneLoops!). Luxor added to this by giving the player powerups like spears and time stoppers, almost like the powerups in games like Arkanoid.

StoneLoops! is based on Luxor‘s gameplay style, yet has a theme/style more reminiscent of Zuma, so in a sense it’s a weird mashup of the whole ball shooter genre. The similarities to Luxor were so blatant that MumboJumbo actually muscled Apple to remove an iOS version of StoneLoops! from the App Store. Not a big deal for developer CodeMinion, as they still have the game available on other platforms, including the PC.

Though I doubt Luxor has an excited announcer yelling words like “ASTONISHING!” and “AVALANCHE!” when you’ve done great combos. Guy could give the Unreal Tournament announcer a run for his money. StoneLoops! has the same kind of gameplay loop these ball shooters have, including upgrading your hut (which doesn’t do much of anything), and a long story progression of multiple levels of challenge.

There really isn’t much else to this game, the game is fairly innocuous and no different than the other color-matching ball shooters out there. Despite that, it’s a decent time-waster.

You can try StoneLoops! of Jurassica for yourself on CodeMinion’s official website, free of charge. Sadly it’s a trial version and not the full game, but an hour is probably enough to see the StoneLoops! experience for yourself. I recommend it just to hear that overexcited announcer.


2019 update:

This would be the first out of two games I’d get from GameStop’s Impulse service, the other being a free copy of Darksiders that I didn’t use. (It came with a Steam key, so I gave the key to a friend.) It was clear GameStop was using this to attract people to the Impulse service, which wasn’t a big success as it would shut down in 2014. Which means this whole adventure was kind of a waste, in retrospect.

However, I downloaded the trial again recently and found it just as goofy as I remember it. I’m not even super-big on casual games like these and I had a fun time for about 10 minutes. I can see the appeal and the addictive nature of these games, for sure.

This post has been completely overhauled, making it drastically different from when I originally wrote it, where it was more like a blog post. I tried to update it more how I usually write things these days. My apologies for it being so short, these kind of games are fairly simple and don’t require a lot of words.

Elite Forces WWII Iwo Jima: Budget Warfare.

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.

Lithtech… that’s usually a bad sign.

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.

This guy must be strong if he can handle an M1 Garand singlehandedly.

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.

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