Reviewed: November 5, 2004
Released: October 5, 2004
Somebody in the game industry decided that 2004 would be a good year to open up the historic vault on Vietnam. While WWII has always been a popular fountain of source material for games and movies, Vietnam, perhaps due to itís controversial nature, has never shared a fraction of the limelight. Pivotal Games is hoping to change that by taking their squad-based action engine made famous in two previous Desert Storm games and using it to take us deep into the jungles of Vietnam.
Conflict: Vietnam is just one of four Vietnam-inspired titles hitting shelves all within weeks of each other. In the grand scheme of things, Conflict: Vietnam falls somewhere in the comfortable middle of the Vietnam lineup, offering some decent graphics and challenging gameplay with a bit of innovative RPG-squad-based strategy that the other games donít.
Conflict: Vietnam tries to distinguish itself from its three competing titles with a unique storytelling approach that tells the tale of four young recruits, fresh out of boot and trapped behind enemy lines during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Rather than engaging in a sequence of missions centered around a central base of operations, your only goal is to get these four men home, across more than 100 miles of ruthless terrain infested with enemy soldiers.
Things start off friendly enough as you play one of the four new recruits just arriving at your base. A nicely integrated tutorial has you exploring all the highlights of the camp, learning how to move, fight, use your inventory, and command your men. Almost too quickly, you are thrust into action and that is when all hell breaks loose.
Conflict: Vietnam delivers a brutal environment, a steamy jungle full of traps, snipers, and more Vietcong than you have ammo. Much of the success of this game is thanks to the wonderful recreation of the jungle environment. While the foliage still doesnít come close to the density and complexity of the PC version of Vietcong: Purple Haze it does an admirable job considering the limitations of the console platform.
Unlike the other Vietnam games, Conflict: Vietnam relies on you managing the entire team for most of the game. This is just as easy (or complex) as it was in the Desert Storm games with the D-pad giving you instant access to each man in your group. Each soldier has their own special skills ranging from sniping, leadership, medical, trap disarming, etc., and these skills can be enhanced with an RPG-like stat system as the game progresses.
Since you can only be in direct control of only one soldier at a time you are left to rely on some somewhat spotty AI for the rest of your men. You can issue rudimentary commands like follow, stay, fire at will, or hold your fire and your men will obey these command fairly well. There are a few issues with pathfinding that will get your guys hung up on environmental objects and the command system can be somewhat cumbersome.
The game features the complexity of a PC control scheme condensed into a gamepad, but if you are a veteran of the two previous Conflict games you shouldnít have any surprises. The inventory system can be especially aggravating, especially if you are trying to use a specific item like a med kit in the heat of battle. Thankfully, the AI will have your men heal themselves if they take too much damage. Just make sure they have a med kit, otherwise youíll spend more time patching up your men than fighting.
The enemy AI is not terribly brilliant. The Vietcong will rush directly at you and your men will cut them down with unerring accuracy. If the battle heads indoors you can merely position your men in a doorway and waste dozens of enemy soldiers as the pour mindlessly through the door. It takes a bit of the strategy and skill out of the game and turns this into more of a shooter than a military sim.
There are also some other AI issues with NPC characters that you encounter and must work with (and protect) on a few missions. These lead to several die and try again segments where you have to figure out ways to circumvent the flawed AI rather than strategically beating the game.
The game lasts for 14 rather long missions that are surprisingly diverse and will give you plenty of chances to flex your teamís skill set. Mixed in with the ďif it moves, kill itĒ missions are some rail shooters where you get to man a turret or fire from a jeep, tank, or riverboat. Itís a nice mix that keeps things fresh for the duration.
Conflict: Vietnam is a pretty game, at least as pretty as the brown and green jungles of Vietnam allow. Textures arenít of the highest caliber, but that was a necessary tradeoff to keep the overall complexity of the environments suitably dense. To their credit, the environments are all fully deformable.
Buildings are basic box designs with low detail and not heavily furnished. Vehicles are slightly better with more advanced models and better textures. Both building and vehicles will explode and break apart realistically. You can even shoot out lights.
The animation of the men is very good and the detailed textures are excellent. The uniforms are amazing with wrinkles and subtle details like insignia, belts, holsters, and all sorts of military equipment strapped on. You can tell that a lot of time was spent on this aspect of the game.
There are more than 20 weapons and they all feature distinct and very authentic sound effects. Somebody took some care in sampling these weapons for maximum effect. Vehicles and aircraft also have realistic engine noises and the explosions from mortar and air strikes are powerful with a resounding bass that is only possible with a Dolby Digital mix.
There is plenty of speech and much like the other Vietnam games you can choose from, the script is riddled with plenty of profanity. Unlike those other games, the coarse language is used for better effect than simply trying to shock the gamer. Yeah, we all know soldiers curse. At least this game doesnít belabor the point.
What would a Vietnam game be without an authentic 60ís soundtrack? Now you have the chance to find out since Conflict: Vietnam supports custom soundtracks. If you get tired of genre staples like Paint it Black you can explore the jungles of Vietnam with any music you have on your Xbox hard drive.
Gamers will likely balk at the minimal save system that only provides for two mid-mission saves per level. Admittedly, you get to decide when to use them, but with huge levels and so many pitfalls and easy ways to die you will undoubtedly find yourself replaying large sections, even if you are diligent about saving your progress. Expect a 20-30 hour tour of duty.
Of all the available versions, the Xbox delivers the best options for multiplayer with a four-player split-screen cooperative mode through the entire single-player campaign. Given the four-man nature of the game this is a natural addition to the gameplay and a significant improvement over the two-player PS2 mode and the PC version, which has no multiplayer component.
Even without playing the PC version I would have to guess Conflict: Vietnam plays significantly better on the PC than it does on the Xbox. The controls are cramped, the AI questionable, and the pacing and gameplay seems more geared toward an action-shooter than a stealthy military sim.
As bad as this all might sound, Conflict: Vietnam is arguably still a better game than both Vietcong: Purple Haze and Shellshock Nam Ď67. I did like the four-man cooperative approach to the gameplay and the entire premise of a group of soldiers lost in the jungles of Vietnam is unique and captivating. Give it a rental before you buy and hold your breath for the upcoming Men of Valor.