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Vietcong: Fist Alpha Review
PIII 700, 128MB RAM, 16MB Video Card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jan 28, 04 (released)
|» All About Vietcong: Fist Alpha on ActionTrip|
Some time ago I took it upon myself to tackle the job of reviewing Pterodon's military shooter, Vietcong. As it turned out, both my review and the game were controversial in many regards. Loved by some and scorned by others, Vietcong was one of those games that showed traces of brilliance at times, but ultimately failed to fully impress on account of some rather sloppy and rushed crunch time programming, and rather weak marketing.
Tiptoeing softly towards the enemy...
I repeat, put your hands up in the air!
Many months and quite a few patches after its release, we got a copy of the first expansion pack entitled Vietcong: Fist Alpha. Naturally, the add-on represents, or rather, it should represent a much more polished version of the original code, supplemented with new weapons, missions and personnel to satisfy the tastes of military shooter buffs. In "Fist Alpha" your US Special Forces team is back in the 'Nam facing both VC (Vietcong) and NVA (North Vietnamese Army) troops. The game introduces Warren Douglas SFC and Ngueyn Nham who appear alongside five members of the original Special Forces team. The pack features seven new single-player missions, as well as eight new multi-player maps that support up to 64 players via a LAN or the Internet. All these new maps wouldn't surmount to much if you didn't have some new deadly toys to play with. So you'll get to fire more guns than ever with eight new weapons, some of which have bayonets fixed on them for that very up close and personal combat experience. The most notable new guns include the M14 with Sniper Scope, the M60 heavy machine gun, as well as the Soviet Takarev svt 30 and the ever-popular Scorpion Machine Pistol. Making their debut in the game are some of the USAF's most powerful aircraft at the time, including the steady and reliable F-4U Phantom and the B-52 heavy carpet bomber. All in all, Fist Alpha introduces enough new content for Vietcong fans to grab that M1 rifle and once again step into the dense jungle in pursuit of the ever-elusive VC. The single-player missions are fairly lengthy, so there should be enough action in the game to justify its price tag. Overall Fist Alpha seems a bit more challenging than the original game (which is how things usually go with expansions), so that should ensure you get a few more hours of playing time out of it.
The additional content provided with the expansion is not by any means extensive, but it's not too thin either. You have to take this pack for what it is, and as such, you'll find that it provides enough sheer quantity not to stand out in any way from the rest of the crop.
The crux of the matter, however, is whether or not this new content meets some of the expectations I had in terms of gameplay improvements over the original. In other words, have the developers succeeded in polishing up and fixing all the issues from the first game. The answer to this question is not a resounding 'no', but it's still a 'no' nonetheless. It's a 'no' with a certain degree of reservation, which, in this case, is a good thing.
The biggest improvement I've seen in terms of gameplay is the way the enemy soldiers react during gunfights. They appear a lot more successful in finding cover, flanking, and reacting naturally to your presence when you meet them head on in close-quarters combat. (They try to spray you with a shower of bullets - just like they should.) Another area in which Fist Alpha showed improvement is the positional audio, which is now damn-nearly perfect.
No Charlie on the swinging bridge.
This is no time for happy-snaps!
Also, it is my impression that the physics engine has been tweaked since the first game. I noticed that when observing how the bodies react to blast impact and how the weapons recoil when fired. Another area where FA shows some improvement is the map design, which is slightly more versatile with wide open areas like rice fields and old ruins that serve as VC headquarters. The excellent music (no new tunes sadly), combined with an awesome cinematic feel to the gameplay, make their triumphant return in Fist Alpha. This was one of the original's strongest points and the same applies to the expansion. After playing the game for several hours I couldn't shake this feeling of authenticity of the dialogue, ambient and especially of the firefights. They even reminded me at times of the action in Call of Duty.
Where Fist Alpha goes very wrong is path finding and the steep system requirements. I really was trying very hard to stay focused on what I was going to say about this game and keep things in perspective. At times I managed to fully immerse myself in the surrounding chaos and the jungle thicket, but then I'd be snapped right back into reality after seeing my point man bounce off trees like a toy robot stuck in a pinball machine. The first time I saw that happen, I let it slide. The second, third and the forth time is when I started to get slightly pissed about it. The same can be said about the frame rate. It was rather acceptable at first, but then, as the missions went by, it got to be very frustrating in large outdoor environments. As you surely know by now, Vietcong isn't the best looking game out there. The models often seem too blocky and poorly textured and some of the 2D vegetation sure can ruin a decent looking scene. I found it unforgivable then that the game would drop to around 10-15FPS in certain areas even though I played the game on a very powerful rig (AMD Barton 3000+/ATI Radeon 9800XT 256MB DDR RAM/1GB RAM). It should also be noted that I had all the visual details maxed out. The game just doesn't look good enough to warrant such steep requirements. What made me even more pissed is that the Far Cry beta had much smoother frame rates even though it's a beta and it looks better than Vietcong. I don't know what the problem is here, but the developers obviously haven't optimized their engine well enough, and it almost seems like they don't even use a dynamic level of detail system. This becomes painfully apparent during helicopter fly-bys or in places where the engine needs to tackle large open spaces like the aforementioned hillsides littered with rice fields. Shoddy path-finding of my teammates (who often weren't even there to help me out when I needed them the most) coupled with a choppy frame-rate during intense firefights played a major role in diminishing my overall impressions of the game.
Good and varied mission design, intense, cinematic and authentic combat, positional audio;
Some major drawbacks are back: steep hardware requirements, path-finding and other minor AI issues.