Oh hey, it’s been a while since I done one of these. Way back in January, to be exact. So let’s enter another chapter in Budget Hell. Or rather, Budget Purgatory. Because today’s game is not really that awful. I mean, it’s not good, but I wouldn’t say it’s as awful as Elite Forces WWII: Iwo Jima. Our victim for today is a game called Black Ops.

Oh come on, you probably thought I was talking about this too at first.

No, no, silly, not that Black Ops. That’s hardly a budget game, and it’s actually a good game, despite what haters may say. No, the actual title is Vietnam: Black Ops, and it was made way back in the year 2000. (Insert your “In the year 2000” joke here.) It was made by a podunk little studio called Fused Software, and this is their only game. There isn’t anything notable by any of the designers of this game — outside of a few credits by Google searching the developer’s names in five minutes — so there isn’t any dirt I can dish out of these guys. Unless you’re reading this and you worked on this game, then please leave a comment because I wanna know people worked on this. Oh, and this is another Valusoft joint. Kinda fitting, since THQ sold Valusoft off recently, so we may see a Valusoft budget game renaissance. At least something besides freakin’ copies of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 on my PC budget aisles.

So, it’s a 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 a file format Lithtech uses (REZ). 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. That’s our story, folks, it doesn’t get any more complex than that. Honestly, I’ll take Alex Mason and him babbling about “hearing the fucking numbers” over this dull story. You start with a useless knife, then get an AK47 and M16, as well as a M60, a Sniper Rifle, and two explosive launchers during your travels. You get most of these guns within the first few levels, and there aren’t very many levels in the game overall. 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. Also, 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. Thank god for quick saving!

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

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 geometry’s all blocky and rough-looking, and the later levels look like somebody experimenting with level design for the first time, with blocks and textures placed all willy-nilly. I know the screenshot above is supposed to resemble a temple, but I could make a better map than this, and I have little experience with mapmaking. 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, this game is 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, so I’ll take the short length any day. It means I can beat it, and then go back to playing longer, more thought out games like Brutal Legend or Redneck Rampage, and not feel bad that I haven’t finished it yet, like a dozen other games in my library. One day, I will finish you, Painkiller

I found this in a thrift store for $2. For the time I got with it, $2 is sufficient enough. It’s not mindblowing, but it’s not awful. Hence, Vietnam: Black Ops goes into the budget purgatory, where games are not depressingly bad, but not surprisingly good.

(Call of Duty: Black Ops promo picture originally taken by Treyarch and cribbed from the Call of Duty Wiki. The Vietnam: Black Ops video is from YouTube user MarphitimusBlackimus, aka Marphy Black.)

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