Category: From the Bargain Bin

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. 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.

Continue reading…

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.

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.

Continue reading…