What is going on with Vietnam? It's the war of the year for videogames and apparently the statue of limitations has expired for people feeling weird about playing a historical war that's not too far in the past. Vietcong: Purple Haze
, Shellshock: Nam '67
, and now Conflict: Vietnam
have hit the shelves. The appeal of having a gritty war experience with foul language and some kick-ass music has proven too appealing because we're in the thick of it once again. Well, that's the bad, or at least weird, news and the good news is that Conflict: Vietnam
is the best of the bunch so far with Men of Valor
possibly upping the ante even more.
To get players into the crappy situation right away the storyline starts with a new recruit joining three other soldiers in a squad to do a tour in the jungle. Throughout the camp there are soldiers talking about past fights, fallen soldiers, and conspiracy theories fueled with some religious imagery. It's a big mess and after some quick training with a couple of soldiers it's already time to run out and get some action.
Out in the jungle the game picks up the pace and runs with it, providing the feeling of sitting in a steamy jungle with possible threats at every turn. There are booby traps, snipers, plenty of Vietcong, and a whole lot of foliage to get in the way and make the problems go from horrible to really, really bad and worse. With some story elements and some scripting there are a few cool events that happen along the way, but the primary journey here is along a long and twisted path as these unlucky grunts have to go it alone as the whole world goes to hell around them.
To make control of these four soldiers that much easier the d-pad is used to quickly select the different men. The soldiers have their own skills in terms of disarming traps, sniping, healing, and whatnot so managing each situation is often a matter of finding the right man for the job and selecting him for it. While not being directly controlled the other soldiers can be easily given some basic commands to follow, stay put, hold fire or fire at will. Their own skills, which can be upgraded at the end of each level, will help to determine just how well they handle themselves on their own. For example, Junior could be counted on to drop Vietcong with a single rifle shot once he's boosted his sniper rifle points to a respectable level.
So with these basic controls the game works like a dream, absolutely no problems whatsoever, but with the other finer points about giving commands and coordinating efforts the control scheme feels like a set of PC controls that had been shoved onto a console controller without much though given to the process. Giving a command to another soldier to run to a specific area or to assist with a squadmate requires a complex controller juggle that never quite feels right. A shoulder button is pressed while the d-pad and then a face button followed by some analog stick movement and then another face button. It's sheer madness and the same problems pop up with the regular inventory and passing items from one person to another.
Another problem happens when trying to heal the same person or a squadmate. When a soldier's health goes down to zero their health bar goes red and they can be revived with a field dressing (as in gauze and tape, not a way to liven up arugula). Obviously it would be even better to heal people before they even get that far. This then leads to more struggles with the inventory system of opening up inventory, scrolling all the way down to select the dressing, then going back to the game and pulling the trigger to use on one's self or going to another to help them out. After that it's a matter of going back to inventory and scrolling back to the gun at hand to get back in the fight. It's like trying to fight through red tape while in the middle of a battle and it just makes the situations even more confusing than it should be.
To get around this, the easiest thing to do is to pre-load everyone with their own field dressings and let them heal themselves on their own which they'll do if they drop down to around a third of their total health. This can be circumvented with the current character as well. Instead of going through the song and dance of healing the currently controlled character it's much easier to switch to another character, instantly making the previous character heal himself, and switch back. This sort of workaround takes far fewer button presses, but don't worry there are a few more shortcuts that need to be followed as well.
In the game the computer-controlled characters have a knack for knowing the location of each other. Enemy AI will fire through dense foliage with no line of sight and the other soldiers will return the favor. Sometimes the soldiers will even fire at walls between them and the enemy. With this in mind it's sometimes better to just leave the fighting to everyone else and just tend to the wounds and overall strategy of the group to make sure that nobody's running out into the open and getting slaughtered. If you want to be more proactive the auto-aim will strongly lock onto nearby targets so that you too can shoot and kill people you can't see.
If the Vietcong are hiding behind walls or are in another room there's no need to worry about a difficult entrance because the AI will run everyone right through a doorway and into the firing line. By setting up the squad with a direct line of sight of a doorway, killing over a dozen Vietcong is only a matter of entering the next room to activate them and wait for all of them to run in and die. It's cheap and effective and should not be the way it is, but hey, maybe that's realistic. I wasn't in Vietnam although I do suspect that the tactics were a bit more than running at Americans.
Midway through the game another character may lead one to think this way, however. A village chief's daughter is in charge of leading the squad through the jungle to a temple where Vietcong have taken villagers and a statue hostage. By following her, the squad is pointed out to a booby trap and led to the first soldiers that she warns must be taken out quietly. After killing a couple of them she runs off and says to follow her. The only problem is that she runs right into a few Vietcong and gets slaughtered, game over. After a few frustrating rounds of this, I finally figured out the route to success: run past the girl so that she isn't activated and so I could kill all the soldiers and get to the temple. At that point she runs up to deliver a message of hope and well wishing on our death quest and she ran off again.
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