It was Vietcong that made foliage fashionable. Rather than presenting the traditional FPS fare of linear box corridors and buildings, it attempted to knock down the walls, cover the floor with brush, and drape lianas over everything. It almost worked. The good news: Fist Alpha demonstrates what Vietcong could have been. The missions that grace this expansion are far superior to those released a year ago. The bad news: a truly hideous ambush of glitches and game crimes await.
Let's focus on the good. The first Vietcong demonstrated an absolute lack of understanding of how to pace a game. Patrols were essentially extended firefights through green corridors. Now, you go from dense undergrowth to open areas, shooting across valleys, getting the drop on ambushes, sniping at Charlie in the undergrowth.
In one outstanding level, you're flown over a munitions factory based in an abandoned temple, manning the machinegun on the side of the Huey, pouring lead, sealing foxholes. The pilot then sets you down 500 metres away. Now you have to crawl, under fire, on your belly, back to the temple. The undergrowth is your frond. It's a gorgeous piece of design: you have to drill into the enemy from the air first, or the assault just won't succeed.
But. It's too hard. Pterodon seem to expect Vietnam veterans to play this, so expect a high body count. Mostly yours. There's instant death, horrific numbers of enemy troops and masses of camouflage. Yet again, you find yourself either firing at bushes hoping for a cheap kill, or up-close and personal. There's absolutely no in-between. When things get too close, you can now pitch a bayonet into the flesh of an aggressor. At times, you feel like you're taking part in the Kobayashi Maru simulator, bombarded from every angle, with mortars dropping, fire zipping overhead. When you're asked to repel a dawn raid on your camp, it's genuinely terrifying. Your only targets are muzzle flashes and glimpsed movement.
Vietcong's failings have become far more apparent since Call of Duty sharpened our critical eye. Faults that might have been skimmed over in 2002 now can't be ignored. The path-finding of your team is unforgiveably abominable as usual. Occasionally, your scout gets stuck in feedback loops, forever cycling animations. Ooh, he's climbing. No, he's crawling. Now he's circling on his tiptoes, round and round. It's more than a little frustrating when you're relying on him to guide you through the jungle.
When Fist Alpha comes together, it's genuinely entertaining. There are so many little touches that take you past the rough polygon edges and dated visuals (see 'Don't Inhale'). But that effort and ambition is whittled away by nasty, obscure little bugs. Two Vietnam campaigns, and still no winner. This war is really dragging on.