Shellshock 2: Blood Trails
Trying to review Shellshock 2 isn’t so much like analysing the game’s individual parts to see how they fit together as a whole as listing a bunch of suggestions on how to make an awful FPS. It tries to come across as a mixture between the warfare of Call of Duty and the horror of Condemned, but it’s so far below either it’s almost an insult to those two series to mention them in the same paragraph.
You play the role of the Vietnam War soldier Nate Walker, whose brother Cal has become infected deep in the Vietnamese jungle with a virus known as Whiteknight – turning him into a rabid 28 Days Later-style zombie – and captured by the US military. In the opening level Cal breaks free as the Viet Cong attack, spreading pandemonium around the US forces, as Nate makes his escape from the Vietnamese whilst trying to stop his brother from spreading the infection.
I promise the game does not look this good
It’s difficult to be specific about what makes this game so awful, as really it’s a collection of very poor gameplay elements brought together to make something which is – perhaps uniquely – worse than the sum of its parts. The only way in which Shellshock 2 displays any kind of competence is in its controls, which are at best workable; in every other meaningful sense it’s an abortion of a game which ranks amongst the worst this generation has yet seen.
The horror elements veer from being almost acceptable to utterly terrible. There is only one type of enemy which is the standard fast zombie (excepting an awful ‘boss’ encounter with a dual machete-wielding Manhunt reject), who either come at you en mass at scripted bottleneck moments or wait around corners or behind doors to leap out with all the subtlety and horror of Count von Count. They are dropped easily with one headshot, although ammo is extremely frugal and damage incurred often minimal, so using Nate’s machete is often the best (and only) option. Perhaps if developers Rebellion had introduced more enemy types or varied the level design around them then things might have been more interesting, but standard dumb fast zombies in extremely repetitive scenarios isn’t anywhere near par these days.
The actual bread-and-butter combat against the VC is even worse. Damage is indicated by a laughably vague thin white line at the edge of the screen and half the time the lighting is so poor (including Nate’s pathetic flashlight) you can’t see for shit where the enemies are shooting from. It doesn’t help that the iron sight viewpoint obscures most of the screen and that ammo for the better weapons is so utterly absent that you’re left scurrying around for guns to pick up whilst letting the enemies shoot so you can see where they’re positioned – when you’re locating enemies by the crosshair turning red, there’s a serious problem with any FPS. Further issues present themselves in infinitely respawning foes (before you cross a trigger point to end it), foes amongst thick foliage that is nearly impossible to see through and NPCs who always die at predetermined moments. Needless to say AI doesn’t feature, either.
Disclaimer: the game is nowhere near as interesting as any screenshots make out
Visually, Shellshock 2 looks like a decent PS2 game. Or at least; it might, if the poor lighting didn’t stop you from seeing more than muddy greyness in most areas. The animations are archaic, sound effects weak and the scripting is at least as poor as Haze. The voicework is poor on the whole, and generally it’s a very badly-presented game with dull plot abridgement monologues accompanying loading screens, in a flat attempt to dramatise what is a very simplistic and uninteresting narrative.
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Shellshock 2: Blood Trails is why Eidos chose to resurrect the franchise at all? It’s been five years since the first game which itself was never particularly successful, and original developers Guerrilla have long since moved on to focus on the Killzone brand. It also secures Rebellion as one of the least consistent development studios in the world – did this really come from the same people who brought us underrated cult titles like Sniper Elite and Rogue Trooper?! (And which leaves us more than a little worried about Aliens vs. Predator). Ultimately, it’s difficult to find anything positive to say about Shellshock 2. As a half-way point between two busy and successful genres it’s up against some tremendous competition, and given that it can’t get either the basic horror elements right, nor create a compelling shooting engine, it really has nothing going for it. Avoid like you would a vicious infection.