The oddities, obscurities and other miscellanea of video games.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So you’re probably thinking, “Hey, this sounds pretty cool! What’s your problem with it?” Well, let me explain.
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.
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…
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.
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.)
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Happy after-Thanksgiving, everybody. Hope you had your fill of fattening birds, parade floats and talking to your very religious grandparents. I was gonna write this on Thanksgiving Day itself, but stuff came up. However, it has been a while since we dabbled into the wonders of Budget Hell, and this one is gonna be a doozy. Consider this the Thanksgiving special.
You’ve probably heard of America’s Army. Sponsored by the U.S. Army, the game was a significant hit in its day. Known for being an accurate simulation of Army activities — at least, for a military video game, anyway — as well as the constant “JOIN THE ARMY” overtones, it was a decent little game for its time. 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. Problem is, it’s one of the worst free games out there.
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.
No, no, silly, not thatBlack 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.
Man, remember when World War II games were really popular? It just seems like just 5 years ago when everybody was clamoring for shooters that involved shooting them Nazis. Then Call of Duty 4 happened and now it’s everybody clamoring for shooters that involve shooting them Insurgents. Or Koreans.
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, developer 3LV Games and publisher ValuSoft 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 presumably takes us through the Pacific theater in WWII. What I get instead is probably the worst World War II shooter I’ve ever played. And I played Medal of Honor: Airborne.