Wading through the paddy fields on a summer’s day, gunfire rings out and you dive into the water at your feet. You listen intently, glancing all around where you can, gripping your weapon determinedly. You spot movement off in the distance and let off a volley of rounds, then move forward to do the same again.
Battlefield Vietnam feels unusually real at times, just like its predecessor. An oddity in a world of gung-ho first person shooters, it stays away from emphasising lightning quick one-on-one combat and instead focuses on the bigger picture. War is not just fought on the ground and in the trenches; it’s fought in the skies, on and under the oceans, inside vehicles and from behind the front lines. Battlefield 1942 captured this concept perfectly, allowing up to 64 players to fight on foot and in a wealth of vehicles in huge online and offline battles. The sequel takes the original concept and relocates it in the jungles of the Indochina Vietnam conflict and the result is awesome.
Battlefield Vietnam has done away with the team deathmatch and capture the flag modes from the previous game and is now totally focused around the more popular Conquest mode. Essentially, this is about capturing and holding stationary flags (which also act as spawn points) around the map. Each team has a certain number of ‘tickets’ and whoever loses all their tickets first or has the least at the end of the game loses. To reduce the other team’s tickets, you can kill them or capture more flags than them. The second option reduces tickets faster, and this makes Battlefield Vietnam far more strategic than other first person shooters. You can go killing people Rambo style all day, but lose all of your flags and you’re in a world of trouble.
Vehicles are an integral part of the Battlefield concept and using them is crucial if you want to survive. Players can get into any vehicles or stationary weapons simply by pressing ‘E’ and control them using the keyboard and mouse (or another peripheral) like anything else. Battlefield Vietnam brings with it a whole new set of aircraft to fly, boats to pilot and land vehicles to drive. Using them is not forced upon you, but when you’re pinned down by an enemy tank and a group of over-eager infantry, you’ll want air support and a lift home fast. You could be taking flak from ground units in your fighter jet, but parachute out and steal one of their tanks and you’ll have them on the run. This idea of linking the flying, driving, FPS and naval genres together is what makes Battlefield so unique.
A result of this means that no unit or vehicle is ever dominant in maps, perfectly balancing out the gameplay. It’s really like an enormous game of rock-paper-scissors; tanks can kill infantry easily, but aircraft and artillery can tear them up, while aircraft can wreak havoc with bombs and missiles but have to watch out for anti-aircraft fire from infantry and vehicles. You can kill and be killed just as easily in any of the vehicles, but you can really start to destroy your opponent if you use all of your weaponry together as a group.
Teamwork is an absolutely key element in both Battlefield Vietnam and its predecessor. Flags can only really be taken if you use vehicles and infantry together in a combined assault. Even with infantry only, you need to watch each other’s backs in order to succeed. Battlefield Vietnam makes an even greater point of this as flags can now be taken faster if more people are near it. Go in alone and you leave your opponent ample time to counter attack, but storm in with a squad and you’ll have it secure in a few seconds. Add in the fact that up to 64 people can play in the same game and you’ve got one big fight on your hands.
Veterans of the original game will have to excuse the long winded explanation of the Battlefield concept, but with the popularity of 1942 still growing, there are going to be quite a few gamers out there who haven’t got a clue how the whole idea works. Enough of that though, what’s new in Battlefield Vietnam and what makes it anything more than an expansion pack?
The Indochina Vietnam conflict brought with it a more mobile, hit-and-run style of warfare and Battlefield Vietnam reflects this perfectly. As mentioned before, all of the vehicles are new, including Huey and Chinook helicopters, Phantom and Corsair jets, Patton and Sheridan tanks and so on on the U.S. side. The infantry also get a new arsenal, with M60s, M16s, LAW rockets, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, pistols, smoke grenades and more. The North Vietnamese forces aren’t left behind in the firepower stakes though, with Mig fighters and bombers, Vespa scooters (they kick ass, trust me), anti aircraft vehicles, tanks and more. The troops on the ground also receive AK47s, RPGs (the rocket launcher, not Final Fantasy), machine guns, sniper rifles and so forth. A welcome and suitable addition is that of booby traps, both deployable and pre- arranged ones. These range from punji stakes to Bouncing Betty proximity mines and make Battlefield Vietnam a far more hazardous place to fight in than 1942. Another interesting addition is the tunnel system, which allows the Vietnamese to move a spawn point around the map so they can pop up out of sight and surprise the U.S. forces. All these new toys make fighting in the jungle and on the streets different ever time.
Although the land and sea vehicles handle the same as in 1942, the aircraft do not. Helicopters present a whole new challenge for DICE (the developers) and their solution to the problem is superb. Numerous modifications of Battlefield 1942 included helicopters, but none really got it right. Many were too twitchy and made handling difficult, let alone landing. Vietnam‘s helicopters feel different, like natural flyers and are extremely easy to fly (with a cheap joystick anyway). They are infinitely more stable than the ones seen in the popular Desert Combat mod and can be made to hover and move around without difficulty after a couple of hours of experience. Helicopters can also use a chain suspended from their belly to pick up friendly vehicles and airlift them across the maps. Seeing a twin-rotor Chinook swinging a Sheridan tank along is a sight you’re not likely to forget in a while. The fighter and bomber jets of Battlefield Vietnam are faster than the propeller driven planes in 1942, but thankfully not as fast as some of the aircraft in modern warfare modifications of 1942. The Phantom, Mig and Corsair jets fly along at a healthy pace, unleashing destruction as they go. The F4 Phantoms also come equipped with heat seeking missiles and napalm bombs, making them a dream to fly. DICE could have made a real mess of the aircraft in Vietnam, but they’ve taken their time and the end result is a set of helicopters and jets that are a joy to fly.
As in the previous game in the series, infantry have several classes, each with their own weaponry. Increasing the total from five to eight, you now pick from four main classes, then pick one of two subclasses within that. The main assault class have access to the assault rifles and grenades needed to spearhead any ground attack, while engineers use explosives and their mechanical skills to support vehicles and fellow infantry. The support class uses the game’s heavy weapons such as M60s and LAWs to pin down the opposition while the recon class equips soldiers with sniper rifles to pick of key targets on the ground. Players can also choose what their character looks like from two heads and two bodies. The increase in the number of classes and the addition of picking your appearance means that the troops on the ground are more varied than before, reducing the sense of cloning that appeared in Battlefield 1942.
Another relatively simple addition allows infantry to fire all of their weapons from vehicles. When riding in a Huey or catching a lift in a Jeep, passengers can fire their rifles, rockets and other weapons just as if they were on the ground. This reduces the vulnerability of helicopters and unarmed vehicles and make Vespa scooters more dangerous than they appear – with one man driving and one on the back with an anti-aircraft rocket, they can seriously deter air units. It may not be a revolutionary addition, but it’s one that is a natural evolution of the Battlefield series and makes a lot of sense.
Visually, Battlefield Vietnam is a definite step forward with a brand new graphics engine that makes the Vietnam scenery come alive. Under and overgrowth has been incorporated, allowing far more foliage at foot and waist height. You can now go prone in a some fields and totally disappear beneath the grass. The cover given by plants and trees is significantly more than in 1942 and can make for some fierce fighting in the more jungle-like areas. Another subtle but brilliant addition is that of a 3D map. Pressing ‘Q’ brings up icons on the main view that show where friendly units and flags are. This removes the reliance on the mini and main maps and removes a certain amount of friendly fire and confusion in the air. Battlefield Vietnam is a good looking game, there’s no doubt about that. Vietnam is definitely recognisable after playing 1942, but has a more polished and sophisticated feel to it.
The audio has been cranked up a notch as well for Vietnam. A selection of fully licensed tunes from the Vietnam era are present and can be played when in any of the U.S. vehicles. Flying in with Edwin Starr crying “War! What is it good for?” is damn cool to say the least. Everyone else can hear you coming though, so it’s best to turn the radio off when the fighting gets intense. If you get tired of the 15 or so tunes included, you can swap them over for your own music, but everyone else will just hear the default tracks, even if they have the same song as you. The game’s ambient sound is also nicely done, with insects chirping in the jungle, propaganda playing through the city (“Defect G.I. Your government has betrayed you”) and background radio communications in helicopters. The main audio effects are great as well, with full direction sound present for the sound of napalm burning in the distance, mortar rounds screeching in and so on. What Battlefield Vietnam‘s audio does best though is to combine all of its elements together to create an authentic atmosphere that feels like it’s come right out of a Vietnam film.
The singleplayer returns, again being a simulation of multiplayer with computer controlled bots filling the spaces. This time though, the A.I. is significantly better than in 1942. The radio commands that occupy the top of the game screen have been simplified and bots are now far more responsive and actually reply to your requests. If you ask for a pickup from a helicopter, you’ll either get one or you’ll get a “negative!”. There is definitely less standing around, doing nothing as was seen in 1942 and they put up a firm resistance even on the Easy setting. Singleplayer in Battlefield Vietnam is definitely a step up from its predecessor and quite enjoyable if you’re looking for a quick game, but the real fun is found online.
Like 1942, Battlefield Vietnam is all about multiplayer. A staggering 64 players can play together online or offline in the same game, leading to some awesome battles. Playing against intelligent (most of the time, anyway!) opponents takes the game to another level and the teamwork element really comes to the forefront of the game here. Of course like any game there are those who are unfamiliar with the game and those who like to spoil everyone’s fun, but these occurrences are generally rare. Notably, the anti-cheating software PunkBuster has been shipped with the game so you don’t need to worry about those gamers who don’t play by the rules. There are also two variations of Conquest mode – Evolution and Custom Combat – which combine two maps and allow custom setups respectively, plus a co-operative version of Conquest with A.I. bots. Almost all of the time, the game’s multiplayer is extremely enjoyable and frighteningly addictive, making it well worth any FPS or PC gamer’s time and money.
Because of the way the Battlefield concept works, the replay value is immense. There are just so many ways of playing each map; literally hundreds of them. You could spend the whole of one game as a pilot napalm bombing the enemy, or maybe as a sniper firing out of a helicopter flown by a friend. You could use binoculars to spot for artillery while teammates advance on their objective, or as a frontline tank gunner or soldier. Although there are only about fifteen maps, they vary from jungle warfare to beach assaults to street fighting and the sheer number of ways you can play them makes the lifespan just as good as Battlefield 1942.
Battlefield 1942 was a fantastic, unique game and its sequel takes it a step further. Some will call it a glorified expansion pack, same old ideas, nothing new, but Battlefield Vietnam has enough new toys for veterans to play with whilst updating the visuals, audio and evolving the core gameplay. It was what it was meant to be; more of the same with more than enough to warrant a purchase. If they hadn’t changed it enough then people would whine and if they had altered it too much then the same would happen – some people are never content. The simple fact of it is that not one of the modifications for the original can match what’s been done here, and that’s quite a feat.
Battlefield Vietnam‘s implementation is glorious, a triumph of multiplayer design. The graphics are smooth and the audio is outstanding, creating an atmosphere that only a few games can. Each battle is different, packed with more naturally created set pieces and nuggets of brilliance than almost any game out there. It is, without a doubt, one of the best multiplayer games out there today, and if you don’t fall in love with it the second you jump in a Huey and put Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, then you’re just not trying hard enough.