Publisher: Gathering/Take 2
Release Date: February 2, 2004
Buy 'VIETCONG: Fist Alpha': PC
Less than one year before the release of Fist Alpha, Vietcong was rushed out the door to a lukewarm reception of critics and, more importantly, consumers. The game faired pretty well in Europe, but here in the states there doesn't seem to be much appeal for squad Vietnam shooters. Plus, the fact that Vietcong shipped with some system-halting bugs didn't help sales much either. Well, the patches have been released and Vietcong now performs admirably, even on sub-ghz machines. And not a moment too soon because the expansion pack titled Fist Alpha has just hit store shelves and can be purchased as both a standalone expansion or bundled with the original Vietcong. Both options are bargain priced and good solid fun for that person you know who just loves reenacting the bloodiest American overseas occupation ever!
The new main character is Sgt. 1st Class Warren Douglas, a southerner, who likes to swear. Between him and his squad mates one might occasionally draw references to Full Metal Jacket. Unfortunately, the Fist Alpha campaign is somewhat brief in comparison to the original. But it takes what Vietcong did and does it and better. The mission design this time around is impressively unique. The fundamental tactics in Fist Alpha remain much the same as they were in Vietcong. You'll follow your point man through the terrain, occasionally scout ahead for ambushes, and snuff out traps. You will find yourself crawling through the jungle and staying undercover until a few Vietcong baddies bust out of the surroundings, then you'll unload scads of ammo, cover you teammates, and if necessary, run for cover. Fist Alpha's missions tend to be pretty well thought out for the most part, so even though the tactics haven't changed much at least the diversity in missions has.
As with the original game, much of the allure to the combat here is the inclusion of computer-controlled teammates. Your squad can help you stay alive by providing additional firepower, healing the injured, scouting ahead, or if things get too hairy you can order your radioman to call base for emergency evacuation. Your teammates aren't wussies, either. They can take a surprising number of hits and are always very prompt about providing requested aid. Fist Alpha also has a quick game feature that generates a map and enemies, allowing you to polish your skills with or without the benefit of a squad.
A number of new weapons have been added to the Fist Alpha expansion pack. The already vast array of guns and grenades that were featured in the original is even more impressive with the inclusion of Fist Alpha's offerings. Fist Alpha introduces, among others, the standard M-14, the M-14 with optics, the Sten submachine gun, and the Scorpion machine gun. Bayonets are also available for some gun types, and can lead to especially fun close range fighting.
Those who had a good time with Vietcong's multiplayer options should be glad to know that Fist Alpha continues the tradition of getting multiple people in on the action by adding a variety of new multiplayer modes and maps. Fist Alpha is also backwards compatible with Vietcong servers, allowing those with the expansion to play against or with those that do not have it. Some of the included modes are co-op battles against computer-controlled VC squads, standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture-the-flag, and "turn table", which is a CTF/assault hybrid where each side takes turns defending and trying to capture flags. Despite the less-than-desirable welcoming Vietcong received at its launch, there are many servers online and dedicated to the game now, and many active players on those servers around the clock.
Like Vietcong, Fist Alpha utilizes the proprietary 3D engine developed by Illusion Softworks. While it may not be as visually stunning or have the perfect physics of a well-known engine, we applaud developer Pterodon for their willingness to adopt a FPS engine that isn't already being featured in every other shooting game on the market. The graphics are somewhat dated but due retain a nice, clean look about them. Character animation is pretty good; mouths move when talking, faces nicely purport their current emotions, and their entire range of movement is undeniably soldier-like. Fist Alpha has unfortunately not done a whole lot about Vietcong's sometimes frustrating collision detection however, which makes it possible for characters to literally get stuck (!) on each other. Essentially, the visuals you are getting with Fist Alpha aren't a whole heck of a lot different than what you got with Vietcong.
Unlike the graphics, which are pretty much hit and miss, the audio presentation in Fist Alpha is of a consistently better-than-average quality. All the weapons in the game emit unique sounds when fired, ignited, or detonated. The voice acting is good enough that it won't rip you out of the illusion. Plenty of '60s era rock plays on the base camp radio station during menu screens, which is a nice touch. Rest assured, the sound in Fist Alpha is just as good, if not a little better, than that of the original game.
Though the Vietcong engine is beginning to show its age, it can more than hold its own with the other realistic wartime shooters it currently shares rack space with. If you're a fan of the Medal of Honor games or just squad-based shooters in general then you'd do well to pick up both Vietcong and Fist Alpha as they can both be had right now for under 30 bucks. But if, like me, you simply don't enjoy realistic interactive war reenactments then don't expect Fist Alpha to make you change your tune.