Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Past and times of Yore: Vietcong & Fist Alpha, I give a nod to US forces

One thing that makes me sad about doing these reviews for past games is that I sometimes never get around to playing them again, it would be wrong to review a game that you haven’t played for a decent amount of time which I think is what happened with my Battlefield 3 review, I had only just finished the singleplayer and hadn’t played that much of the multiplayer and apparently it did show with feedback from some people I guess I was just in a hurry because people wanted to see the review and I wanted to deliver. This is not the case with Vietcong however I have played the singleplayer and multiplayer extensively in the past just not that recently, usually with‘The Past and time of Yore’ reviews I have replayed the game and wrote the review within a short period of time. To be honest it’s only because of the quiet period at work brought on by Christmas and New Years that I decided to write this review as my time at home is currently filled with Test Drive Unlimited 2 which I have previously reviewed and of course The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim which I possibly intend to finish (to some degree) before I write the review.

 Release Date: March 26, 2003
Exclusively on: PC
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Gathering of Developers (aka GOD Games)
Developer: Pterodon Software

It’s been awhile since I’ve played Vietcong, and will probably be some time before I play it again, if ever, and this isn’t because I don’t particularly like to play the game of course, it’s because I love it and have possibly played it a bit too much however I have tried to replay the Fist Alpha expansion with some success but did not finish due to some strange bugs happening with it. You may have heard me mention it in my Battlefield 3 review, I did have a lot to talk about in regards to the Vietcong’s singleplayer mode which greatly outshone Battlefield 3’s even by today’s standards but I’ll get into that later. Vietcong was one of the first games I ever played online, the first possibly being Starcraft or even Quake 2, I’m honestly not sure but as I’ve said before it was the first one where I was serious, serious as in I was in a clan as was online at specific times in order to play for “wars” against other clans, Vietcong was a great game in a way that it had a great multiplayer and a great singleplayer which is a great achievement for an FPS. I think the first time I played it was a friends Lan and instantly I was amazed by the authentic Vietnam war style and very realistic (2003) graphics. The only First Person Shooters (FPS) I had played before this were Doom and Quake (of course) which were all sci-fi alien invasion shoot-em ups and were obviously not based on anything real whereas Vietcong was my first taste of a realistic tactical shooterwhich would eventually lead to many more.

Vietcong Main Menu
Vietcong, as you probably may have guessed already is a realistic shooter set during the Vietnam War, you play as some American army dude called Steve R. Hawkins who along with 3 other American army dudes and 1 South Vietnamese army dude (ARVN) you live in a dirty camp and pretty much every day go into the jungle and kick ass and kill commies, well that’s the basic jist of it. Of course the storyline is a bit more in depth than that, you arrive at Nui Pek camp in the middle of the jungles of Vietnam as the new sergeant, replacing the previous one who had been shot dead by the good ol Vietcong. The Fist Alpha prequel which had a similar setup to the first game you play as Sergeant Douglas (the man Hawkins replaced) and you had the same team except for Nhut, who joins later once the previous guide is killed. The story this time is about how your whole team including the Captain moved from the Plei Ku base and constructed Nui Pek and the events that led up to them destroying a major Vietcong base in Cambodia. I loved the opening scene of the first game where you were travelling in the helicopter while talking to Hornster, one of the squad and were able to look around during the whole thing, and when you land and the usually army banter happens between two of the soldiers, and you are able to walk around and take a look at the camp and meet the rest of the crew. 

The Nui Pek US Special Forces Camp
After that you soon meet your commanding officer and settle in to your new room/office and then after some shooting practice with your new best friend Hornster, then you were ready for your first mission along with el Capitano. Vietcong has a great storyline, you play as Hawkins for the whole game a new sergeant going into a new base during the Vietnam war, you have your office and quarters where you can read your diary, previous mission reports and many other documents you also have a firing range you can go to and pick any weapon you had unlocked or picked up to test out and take on the next mission, (even enemy weapons) then when you’re ready you read and accepted the mission brief and there is almost always a meeting in the briefing room which was heaps of fun to watch before you went out on your mission and on several occasions you could walk around the whole base. 

The Weapons Room at the later stages where pretty much all of the weapons have been unlocked and are available. you could select any weapons (even Vietcong) pick it up, try it out at the shooting range then take it on a  mission.
As far as I have seen, very few modern shooters have that sort of thing, It took almost half an hour of playing before you got into the actual shooting of enemies and even then it was only about 3 or 4 until you get to the next mission and go through the whole walking through the jungle thing again until you see something, of course this is the Vietnam war, and that’s what things were like. Modern Warfare and the Battlefield series boots you right into the action immediately, I’m thinking I now prefer games like the Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis which was very much like Vietcong in the slow singleplayer story mode sense, and come to think about it. I’ll have to try out the new one sometime too. I really haven’t gotten into many shooters since Vietcong, I basically followed on from Vietcong with the Battlefield series starting with Battlefield 2, which I still have in high regard as my favourite multiplayer first person shooter ever. Of course Battlefield was all about multiplayer and no singleplayer, Vietcong has what I would think a healthy balance, I must have played Vietcong’s singleplayer over and over again eventually trying to perfect each mission as what started as quite a hard game eventuated into something quite easy and nostalgic, this was mainly due to the fact that my hardware upgraded over the years.

*insert Flight of the Valkyries here"
Graphically Vietcong looked absolutely awesome for its time, I’ll never forget the first time me and the team made our way into the dense jungle, with birds flying out of the way and just the tense atmosphere of the whole thing. It was such a change for me from playing things like Doom and Quake which are as stealthy and quiet as a bangin pots and pans parade and about as realistic as Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X is to a real flight simulator so this was a welcome change I suppose. Of course little did I know that I pretty much wouldn’t be going back to the days of the running rocket launching jumpathon, no siree bob, from then on most of the FPS games that had come out were based around the tactical shooter model which varies through World War 2 to modern day wars. Vietcong was the first game I played that pretty much required you to use your weapons iron sights which were required in harder levels and were taken out entirely in most multiplayer servers which used the ‘Vietnam’ difficulty skill which removed pretty much all objects on the HUD as well as the crosshair. 

Back then, scenes like this blew me away
This along with the gritty weapon sounds and blood splatters made for a great experience, one of the best being that a lot of the time you couldn’t even see your enemy, this would have frustrated the hell out of more action style FPS game players and you found yourself shooting in the general direction and hoping you’d hit something (aka spray and pray). In singleplayer your squad consists of you as Sergeant Hawkins, a calm and common sensed Medic named Crocker, a nervous but straightforward Radioman named Defort, A black friendly Engineer named Bronson, a hot-headed Machinegunner named Hornster and an enigmatic Pointman who is played by the South Vietnamese ‘Nhut‘ all of which have their own personalities which add immensely to the situation with either situational character or humour. It’s hard to explain how well the singleplayer holds together with Hawkins experience in Nui Pek and the surrounding area I guess it’s just a great way to tell a story.

The Team from left to right, Crocker, Defort, Hornster, Nhut, Bronson
Hawkins aka you, you can also see some LLDB (Vietnamese SF) behind Hornster
Vietcong was one of my first fortes into online gaming, (the first possibly being Starcraft) one interesting fact being that this is the time I coined my usual gamer name; JDman. As you could guess my time online was quite different to the singleplayer as you were fighting actual people, the main game mode played was Capture the Flag (CTF) where you either played on the US or Vietcong team and tried to steal the enemies flag from their base and bring it back to yours. Two things I think the multiplayer in Vietcong did best was the two sides and the classes, for one the two different sides had completely different weapons this kind of thing was unheard of in Counterstrike of course in Vietcong this was because of the reasonable amount of historical accuracy as the Vietcong had mostly Russian weapons and the American’s had their own, this did keep things at a bit of a disadvantage at times but I think it worked. 

Also the classes true to the singleplayer you could play as the soldier with the largest array of weapons, the medic who could heal other players with a limited selection of weapons, the engineer who could place traps such as claymores and tripwire grenades and had access to shotguns, the radioman who could call down artillery on certain places of the map, the machinegunner who had access to the heaviest weaponry and the sniper who of course had access to the longest range weapons. I loved this setup and played a medic most of the time which most people did not and it was heaps of fun to be able to heal myself and others, and otherwise do something other than killing in an FPS game and this was a big moment for me. This might sound silly but person-on-person killing in FPS is not my forte so you could understand why I’ve strayed away from games such as Counterstrike and Call of Duty and I constantly find new ways of helping the team while indirectly killing them. Though this is much easier in the Battlefield series then it was in Vietcong.

Multiplayer Capture the Flag Game Spawn Screen for VC, note the limited weapons for Medic
It wasn’t long before I was introduced to a clan. Clans in Vietcong were made up of players who had banded together to form a team either out of online or real-life friendship and the purpose of these clans was to have scheduled “wars” with other clans, which sometimes included “training nights” this was quite a weird experience for me (and even weirder explaining it to my parents) as it was almost like playing a sport, except it was played using a computer and the‘sport’ was killing people. This started with simple messaging over MSN Messenger then went on to actually talking to people using a microphone and the Teamspeak software chatting with people I had not even met, some of which from other countries. Over the years I was in clans called “Band of Brothers (BB)” “Aus Nite Crew -=(ANC)=-“ and “Warcorps (VV)” which eventually led into Battlefield (until ADP) and WoW and as you can see each had their own “tag” that you put in front of your name. 

A score display of one of the largest battles I ever had, 2 clans vs another 2 clans
I met a lot of new people during this many I did manage to meet in real life and got introduced to web forums and of course internet drama and clan politics which frankly I think are pretty interesting and sometimes funny and don’t bother me much. I tried many times to get people to play different maps and different game modes i.e. “Real War” which was a point capture mode and a map that was based on a singleplayer mission that was almost entirely thick jungle. This experience led to me driving reasonably long distances to actually meet up with my ‘clanmates’ or the people I played the game with at LAN parties, this was the first time I ever did this and honestly it was scary once you think about it, but always had a great time once I was there and Vietcong is one of the best LAN games around.

Me at my first lan with people from many different clans
Once the Fist Alpha expansion was released things really got started for example there were a few extra guns and a few extra maps to keep things interesting, and also more multiplayer game modes. The thing that made most of the difference of course was the custom made multiplayer maps, these added a whole new flavor to the same old thing, and I enjoyed having many ‘wars’on these special and fun maps Multiplayer was indeed a fascinating and fun experience and kept me going for a long time, you don’t know how challenging a game is until you played the multiplayer against actual people and there are many different aspect you can add to the equation for example you can hide and they don’t know where you are, and also the general teamwork and playing with genuinely friendly people. After Fist Alpha, Vietcong never had any real content after that, there was Red Dawn, which was basically just a new fairly long singleplayer mission along with some new maps. And there was also the downloadable custom map mode and pack made by the community. The sequel to Vietcong, Vietcong 2 came out in 2005 but to my dismay was poorly received by the rest of the community and was never indulged with clans or warfare, at least in Australia which I felt was a shame , as I did enjoy the multiplay and singleplayer, though I admit it did lack the quality and overall experience of the first but that’s a story for another time.

For Vietnam!
Vietcong I can say was definitely my best experience of singleplayer First Person Shooter to date, just missing out on the multiplayer by a worthy opponent. Vietcong multiplayer has pretty much died now in Australia at least, but don’t get me wrong, Vietcong had one of the best multiplayer experiences out there and that’s the reason why it built up such a strong community that lasted quite a while and one which I was glad to be part of it was what got me into multiplayer games and the general community even more then Starcraft did. It wasn’t too long ago that I played the both of them, but that was probably the last time, I’d be worried if I played again that it would start to get stale, but in this case I wouldn’t be so sure. So if ever you’re at a LAN or store and you have a chance to play or pick up a copy of the game, please do, I can’t guarantee but I’m pretty certain you won’t regret it.


A life changing experience.

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