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Vietcong Review

By Jeff Buckland, 3/31/2003

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It seems all of a sudden that everyone is rushing to make a Vietnam-era first person shooter. Vietcong, which was done by Illusion Softworks and Pterodon, is only one of the titles that has either just come out or has been recently announced. 2015, creators of the Medal of Honor games, is now moving onto Vietnam with the just-announced Men of Valor. On top of that, another FPS was just released, called Line of Sight: Vietnam. That game focuses on sniping your enemies rather than Vietcong's squad-based open combat.

So what's with all the Vietnam games? Well, there have been a couple of attempts over the years (like this one), but war-based FPS games were pretty much all terrible up until a couple of years ago. Computers are now powerful enough to draw a decent-looking jungle environment while juggling a dozen or more AI characters - I'd say that a good Vietnam FPS is long overdue. So is Vietcong actually any good? Well, let's take a look.

Vietcong uses a custom engine written by Pterodon which I don't think I have ever seen before in action. The game doesn't make use of any great whiz-bang features like pixel shaders or DirectX 9 effects, but it does push a lot of polygons and it runs pretty well overall. The lighting in this engine also works pretty nicely, as a few of the night missions in Vietcong will show you.

Generally, this engine almost seems to have been written mainly for this game, as it plays specifically towards what is needed in a Vietnam game - lots of varieties of trees and lots of polygons to support the environment, your enemies, and your own squad.

Vietcong does make use of a pretty large number of keys on your keyboard, but this game does have a lot of items to play around with. Even then, some of the keys can be condensed down into menus - for example, you have access to glow sticks and medkits, but they can be used directly from your mouse-wheel weapon menu. This is a handy addition, and works well when you have long-forgotten the key for some random item you suddenly need.

All of the standard controls and associated options are present, along with a good key setup system. Going prone is here, and it of course helps your accuracy - quite a bit. Any weapon can be aimed with an "aim" key (similar to an alt-fire), which helps some weapons a lot more than others. One minor complaint is that I wish they would put all the multiplayer-only key bindings on their own separate page - I had to look at the description for every key to see if I needed to keep it handy during the single-player game. Still, not a big deal.

Your buddies who accompany you on a majority of missions can take orders as well, all of which are available from a menu. Hotkeys are set up for calling any specific guy to your side immediately, and you will need to interact with your men often to get through some missions.

The game does make a valiant effort to look realistic - and while the gameplay is far from realistic, it does look great. There are a lot of little details to enjoy, like the stuff you build up in your personal bunker after completing missions. It feels like home, sort of.

The environments look great for the most part, and they make up probably the best-looking jungle environment in a game that I've seen yet. Even though you spend a majority of your time out in the jungle, the developers have managed to make each level unique in at least a few ways - and many of these unique landmarks become a focal point of your mission.

The models for your squad aren't too bad, but as is what is becoming a standard nowadays, they look terrible when they talk. Watching mission briefings is rather painful, as your captain and your character, Hawkins, show lots of teeth and just look extremely unnatural while talking. Enemies aren't quite as detailed as the guys on your own squad, but that is done mainly to keep memory usage down as well as keep performance up during firefights. They still are somewhat varied as you go, with different sets of clothing, hats, and quite a few faces. But that's about all the variety there is. In fact, I don't remember ever seeing a woman or child in this game - not once.

There are a ton of weapons to use in Vietcong, most of which look pretty good - simply because they look "used". Many games show off shiny, never-been-used weapons that just look completely out of place in war, but this one doesn't do that.

Most of the animations look pretty good, although the game doesn't really do any of the ragdoll physics effects that is becoming standard fare. Since you will be spending at least a bit of time ransacking enemy bodies for ammo, weapons, and intelligence items, it becomes at least a bit of a sore point.

Vietcong offers up a pretty extensive single player campaign where your character, Hawkins, leads a squad consisting of upto five other guys through a range of missions. These missions are pretty varied, but you can expect that basically every one of them will having you kill lots of Vietcong. The mission goals are fairly forgiving in how you should accomplish them, but every once in a while you will have no clue what to do and checking the goals won't help at all. You do get a map you can look at, but in a couple of missions it is either useless or just downright misleading. A few times I had to run around for a while to figure out what to do.

There are four difficulty settings to play on, and quick saves/loads are all there - even though I found that loading games wasn't all that fast. Vietcong offers a few surprises in the story here and there, but for the most part you will just get your briefing and then go complete your goals. As you can expect, your ragtag bunch of squadmates talk a bit of trash during the briefings, just like any popular war movie has - it's too bad that the trash talk kind of sucks and the game doesn't incite any real attachment to any of the guys on your squad.

After each completed mission, you will find yourself back at your bunker, where you can head out to practice shooting at the range, read up on the intelligence you picked up on the field, or start the next mission. The intel you pick up will go into a few files, and the game even writes a journal for you (although it is always the same, no matter how you complete the missions) as you go - complete with photos and drawings. It adds up to a very complete atmosphere that makes you feel more like you are there than most war-based FPS games.

One thing that has to be stressed here is that sometimes the player will find himself getting shot with no clue where the enemy is. Your instincts will tell you to look for muzzle flashes, but they are relatively small in Vietcong, which can make finding your enemies difficult. Still, if you can keep moving, the enemy will generally wind up missing enough to let you figure out their position. If you dislike a shooter where the enemy is hiding behind a tree with only a small portion of his body visible, then Vietcong is not your kind of game.

The game does supply a few changes to the standard gameplay - one mission has you going solo into a network of VC tunnels, searching for a captured comrade. The problem is that this mission goes on forever, having you run through an endless series of cramped little spaces (punctuated by an occasional room with some enemies inside it) searching for this guy. By the time I was a third of the way through the mission, I was ready to get back out to the jungle. Then when I did, I was outside for another five minutes then back into the tunnels for another long stint of crawling. It became a chore to do this mission, and that's never good.

Another frustrating mission was one in an almost pitch-black swamp, still trying to get that same POW back - this time I had to slog through a quarter-mile of swamp, with enemies hiding and shooting at me, my map leading me to the wrong place, and me cussing at the monitor. The payoff of actually getting into the village, saving the POW, and killing everyone else in the camp was simply not worth the trouble.

Despite a few troubling missions, Vietcong is a fun game to play - the solo campaign is better than your average FPS nowadays, and the squad-based play is pretty good once you learn how to keep your guys with you and have them support you correctly.

The game does supply a full range of single-player action - on top of the campaign, there is the tutorial to get you acquainted, a Quick Fight mode which is somewhat of a multiplayer match but against AI bots, and you can also go back and play any single campaign mission you have already beaten.

Vietcong also sports multiplayer gameplay with some modes similar to those in Medal of Honor or Day of Defeat. There are the usual DM and Team DM modes, as well as Last Man Standing and a round-based teamplay mode. On top of all this, CTF and territory-capturing modes are included, and even a multiplayer co-operative mode on a few maps. Vietcong does not lack in the way of multiplayer features, and when you add this together with the single-player modes, there is a ton of gameplay here.

Lag in the multiplayer mode was generally manageable, and servers are easy to find with the integrated browser (which is licensed from GameSpy). I find the multiplayer gameplay to be pretty good, but it is definitely still a game of hitting people without being seen - those who stay behind cover wind up getting the most kills.

I can't say that I'll be playing Vietcong's multiplayer modes forever, but it does supply enough to keep me going for a couple of weeks past the single player. For any FPS nowadays, I think that is more than enough to warrant a purchase.

Vietcong's sound effects are quite good, with lots of cool ambience and some great weapon effects. Explosions will give a good boom, and will even cause temporary deafness along with the ringing in the ears afterwards (which can be turned off if you don't like it). While the game supplies only a little music, it sounds very genuine for the time - you'll hear it during a few missions while you are hanging out in your bunker.

The voice acting in this game is generally about average with a few problems. First, the main character, who winds up doing the most talking, just sounds way off - the acting isn't bad, but he sounds too much like a generic gung ho action hero. He sounds constantly upbeat and way too innocent to be out there killing hundreds of Vietcong, but there he is, chiming in with his goofy witticisms all the way. The other guys in your squad fare only slightly better, mainly because they stay shut up during most of the missions. During the cutscenes, though, they just seem a bit phony. All in all, the voice acting is plentiful, but mostly forgettable.

Vietcong supplies plenty of gameplay to keep you going, and is generally all-around fun in both the single player campaign and over the internet. Even though there are a few infuriating missions and some out-of-place voice acting, it feels fairly genuine and is a high quality, unique addition to your shooter collection.

Overall: 89%



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