Vietcong: First Alpha

Pterodon offers a second tour of duty.

During a mission in Vietcong’s Fist Alpha expansion pack, you come across an underground tunnel system. “I’m not in a hurry to go down there, man,†says your radio operator and comic relief. “I hate their damn tunnelsâ€. He must remember the infamous tunnel mission that brought the original Vietcong to a screeching halt. Suddenly, an atmospheric game about lively firefights and convincing AI became a tedious slog through an empty maze. Fortunately, Fist Alpha’s secret underground base is just a minor coda to a tremendous mission. You come in over rice paddies, roaring up to an ancient temple and using your Huey’s door-mounted .50 to sweep away the VC defenders. The chopper drops you into the paddies and you storm the temple, blowing the doors and fighting your way through the breach.


Calling in your progress auto-saves.

Unfortunately, this mission is the exception to the rule. The mission design in Fist Alpha’s single-player campaign tends to range from “more of the same†to “utterly insane.†Shortly after the tunnel crawl, you get bogged down with a stealth mission featuring an instant fail state – the type that killed the original dead – with murky objectives, loud teammates, awkward AI pathfinding, and uncannily perceptive guards. Odds are this brick wall is as far as you’ll make it in Fist Alpha. And up until this point, you’re basically reprising the rescues, patrols, native outreaches, and base defenses you already played in the last game.

It’s too bad the mission designs are so weak this time around, because developer Pterodon has hit on a clever idea for connecting the expansion to the first game. Rather than tacking on the continuing adventures of your squad, Fist Alpha is a prequel. It covers the last days under the squad’s previous commander, an affable guy who insists on glottally clobbering the “g†in “Nguyen.†Fist Alpha also details how the first game’s base, Nui Pek, was established, and how its most memorable character, the Vietnamese guide Nhut, came to join the squad.

But even after you’ve given up on the clunky scripting and obscure goals, Fist Alpha’s quick fights still provide some good shooting for those who’ve enjoyed Vietcong (the game, not the guerilla fighters). The new maps are large and varied, obviously built for higher-end systems. The dynamic AI does a great job of giving each skirmish map lots of replay value, as either the Vietcong or the US, with an entire team or creeping through alone. The AI is workable despite some hiccups, like the enemy seeing you through vegetation and pathfinding quirks.

The handful of new weapons include an automatic sniper rifle for each side, the early M14 variant in semi and full-auto for the US, and the SVT for the VC, both available with or without scopes. The rest of the new guns basically repeat roles already filled by previous firearms. Even through they’re of questionable utility (the zoom function on sniper scopes is still uselessly exaggerated), all the guns look great, offering a new view to a kill.

12_1It’s also worth noting that Pterodon has nicely integrated Fist Alpha into the player community. Even if you only have the original game, you can still join the original maps with people who’ve bought the expansion. You can even pick up the new weapons when you find them lying around without issues. Whereas most expansion packs splinter their player base heavily, which can be the death knell for a game with a small following like Vietcong, Fist Alpha does it right. Its average campaign notwithstanding, Pterodon has the right idea when it comes to winning hearts and minds

System Requirements: 700 Mhz CPU, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, WinXP

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