Remember when nearly every developer was making at least one World War II videogame? Thankfully that repetitive phase is over. The new trend, if you already couldn’t tell, is games based on the conflict in Vietnam. Some are worthy of the Special Forces (like Vietcong on PC), but most should have dodged the draft. The popular Conflict series now joins the bandwagon with Conflict Vietnam and moves from the scorching deserts of Iraq to the dense Vietnamese jungles. Sadly, the newest installment of this veteran series plays like a new recruit.
On paper, Conflict: Vietnam has a lot going for it. You control a squad of four U.S. soldiers (whom you can strengthen with experiences points) over the course of fourteen massive levels. The levels are rife with references to classic movies, and there’s a seemingly infinite amount of NVA and Vietcong soldiers, so the action promises to be fast and furious. But things don’t pan out as well as they should, much like they didn’t
in the real Vietnam conflict.
The biggest problem in the game is trying to successfully control your squad. There’s a variety of commands to give, such as ‘eliminate a target’, ‘heal a squad mate’, ‘retrieve objects’, and so on. Conflict: Vietnam makes using your squad strategically a must since one grenade or mortar can immediately cause a game over. Also, enemies attack from all sides, so separating your fellow soldiers and placing them in useful positions is necessary. Unfortunately, the control scheme is far too cumbersome to be effective. For example, in each of the three layouts, the black button is used for grenades. To order your squad to follow you or come to a halt, you must hold the left trigger and then hit the black button. Having the most-used command and your grenades share the same button isn’t exactly part of a solid control scheme. Also, giving the most basic commands, such as to advance a few feet to guard the front, takes a couple seconds. That may not sound like too long, but when there’s half a dozen VC soldiers firing and lobbing grenades at you, a couple of seconds is way too long.
The A.I. of your squad mates can also cause some problems. When under heavy fire they never look for cover, and rarely do they bother ducking or going prone unless you tell them to. During one memorable occasion, I was disarming a trip wire. Just as I was about done, one of my comrades decided to walk over the trip wire, which set off a grenade and killed two of my teammates. I was at a loss for words.
As if commanding your squad wasn’t a headache enough, the auto-aiming is equally frustrating. When Charlie is surrounding you, the auto-aiming likes to flail around madly from guy to guy without ever staying on a target long enough. Also, it likes to lock onto guys directly in the line of fire of your own squad mates. Since it’s almost impossible to tell when you’re locked onto an enemy, you’ll find yourself wasting plenty of shots. There’s also a first-person view that can sometimes be helpful, but on most guns there’s a ridiculously obscured view that makes it less useful than it should be. You can turn off the auto-aiming, but doing so will make the game even more difficult since you’re usually locked onto enemy soldiers that you otherwise wouldn’t be aware of.
Despite the terrible controls, Conflict: Vietnam manages to get some things right. Probably the strongest part of the game is the RPG element. At the end of each level each character is given experience points based on your performance, and these points can be redeemed to increase their effectiveness with various types of weapons and objects. Each character also has a large inventory, so picking up and distributing guns, ammo, health kits etc. among your squad adds some more depth to the game, especially considering that there are dozens of weapons available.
Conflict: Vietnam earns another medal for a split-screen co-operative mode for up to four players. When your friends are controlling each person in your squad the game becomes much, much more enjoyable. The few rail-shooting levels, while somewhat enjoyable to begin with, become an absolute blast when you’re fighting for Democracy with your friends and not the poor A.I.
Overall, the graphics don’t stand out when compared to similar games, but that doesn’t detract a lot from the overall experience. It’s simply average; nothing more, nothing less. The environments range from the interesting to the unintentionally distracting, but the character models and explosions remain consistently “alright.”
The sound puts on a much stronger showing with some obvious high production values. All of the voice acting comes across as convincing. The soldiers actually sound likes grizzled vets when they swear, talk tough and bark out orders. There are also some slick orchestral pieces and authentic rock music from the era that add some much-needed personality to Conflict: Vietnam. Full Metal Jacket fans will be delighted to know that The Rolling Stones’ amazing “Paint It, Black” made its way into the game. I’m sure any game this song was added to would be improved. Too bad a good soundtrack doesn’t help with the shoddy controls.
I couldn’t help but think of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic “Fortunate Son” when thinking of how to sum up Conflict: Vietnam…
Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord,
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
So how much should we give? I wouldn’t suggest any more than $15. If you have three friends to go on a tour of duty with and a large TV, then perhaps you’ll get your money’s worth. Otherwise, give it a rental, wait for the bargain bin if you have to or just stay away like it was a VC punji trap.
Five out of ten