‘Nam. Stinking jungle cesspool, dysentery, MREs, belly crawling through bug infested swamps and caves filled with ‘Cong, boot rot, snipers, and booby traps. I have no idea what possessed me to come back here. And I’m not even talking about the war – I was about two years old when that was going on. I’m talking about the Vietcong expansion pack, Fist Alpha. Perhaps I should have cleansed my pallet between this and my previous review, the Black Hawk Down expansion pack, because the sour taste of that one is still on my tongue, and it doesn’t make Alpha Fist go down any easier. It’s a marginal expansion pack at a bargain basement price, and I’m kind of disturbed by the trend (and by trend I mean this is the second that I’m aware of) to eke out an itty bitty single player mission pack together with some multiplayer maps and call it an expansion pack. There was a time I can recall, back when monitors gave out enough radiation to make microwave popcorn on your desktop, that multiplayer maps would just kind of show up on the web for free, and expansion packs were saved for serious mission campaigns. I suppose as multiplayer gaming gains in popularity, that game developers have come to realize that multiplayer maps are far too valuable to just give away, though I still have no idea when a handful of missions taking less than 8 hours to complete was suddenly acceptable as a campaign. Perhaps we can blame that on Halflife: Blue Shift. For only $29.99, if you haven’t already done so, you can buy both Vietcong and Fist Alpha in a pack called Vietcong: Purple Haze. I like that - that’s a pretty good deal, but $19.99 for Alpha Fist alone – that’s a little thin.
Fist Alpha is a prequel, chronicling the construction of the base around about 1967 that ultimately becomes the base of operations in the first game – how very Back to the Future of them. This go round you are SFC Douglas, good ole’ southern boy, a very gung-ho, Confederate flag and pickup truck kind of guy. The rest of your team is the same (Hornster, Crocker, etc.), with the exception of your pointman. Anyone want to take bets of who dies? The seven missions that make up the story are a pretty good mix of scouting missions, search and destroy missions, and base defending missions, with objectives that sometimes grow and mutate as the mission progresses. On easy setting the Vietcong, though plentiful, couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn at any range. On hard setting, they’re really very accurate, and often shooting at long range, camouflaged and from concealment. Balancing this out is squadmates who are nigh invulnerable, and an enemy that is almost childishly susceptible to flanking maneuvers. The exception to all of this is the final mission, which has you sneaking past a veritable platoon of the enemy, any of which can raise the alarm and cause you to instantly fail the mission. It’s about as much fun as it sounds, and I really thought that game designers had matured past such flagrantly abusive levels.
In multiplayer Fist Alpha is a better game. The multiplayer maps are well designed for the variants that the game includes such as CTF, DM, team DM, LMS – that kind of stuff. But they’re all jungle or tunnels, and, while I can’t speak for anyone else, I like a little more variety in my maps.
The graphics are unchanged, and look just a might long in the tooth compared to some newer games. At range the jungle plants sway pleasantly with insects and sunbeams and such, but up close everything gets pixilated, and your squadmates have a pretty low polygon count. The sounds are likewise unchanged, and are loud enough to bring in the feeling of cutthroat jungle combat. Ambient sounds bring an accurate jungle creepiness, and the voicework is professionally done (even if the dialog is kind of inane). The music remains sorta 60’s guitar riffs that adequately get you into the mood for, pardon the lack of PC, blasting some Charlie. There might be some new weapons; I’m completely uncertain. I’m not really a gun guy, so sufficed to say that there were more guns than I could keep in my head (and your character can only carry two at a time anyway). There was a whole book about weaponry statistics in your bunker that you could read if the urge struck you, but for me it held no interest.
I was not, I recall, overly enamored of the first game, and while inevitable, I don’t see that the sequel adds anything that anyone was clambering for. Sold as a bundle with the first game on the cheap if you didn’t get the first one alone – that’s a deal that is worthwhile, if only to kill time until UT2004 comes around. But all alone, I don’t know who’s buying it almost no matter what the price. They’re probably the same goobers who keep buying all the useless Rollercoaster Tycoon expansion packs.