Shellshock: Nam '67
is a third-person shooter with some serious problems. First, it's set in Vietnam but often feels more like Vermont, North Carolina, or possibly some sort of sparsely vegetated western set that came with a long forgotten Hollywood back lot.
Number two: Given all accounts I've been privy to, Vietnam was horrific. While plenty of games have come sporting this particular war theme to further their own specific kind of action, Shellshock is one of the few titles that actually boasts the horror of Vietnam as a selling point. But then it doesn't actually deliver any real horror, so we're pretty safe on that front. Instead, its superfluous violence is laughably animated, less it comes as part of a senseless cutscene that develops no story, but serves as a happy medium used to showcase unnecessary brutality that's completely irrelevant to the game and the plot. But hey, look at what one knife, one jerk, and one helpless victim can make when they're all put together!
Next on the problem list is a confusing set of rarely explained objectives that focus more on aimless exploration and less on the logical deduction of what can and can't be done in any given environment. Search this! Say wha? Take this! Right, but how? Go around there somewhere and do whatever! Peachy. Had the "Objective is right frickin' here, moron" indicators actually worked consistently when you tried using them, we might be able to overlook our commanding officer's insistence on pointing us "Thataways" and then letting whatever happens happen.
Those three problems wrap the entire experience up in a fantastic film of aggravating, insulting boredom, and yet this is still not a game without its share of plusses.
To its credit, Shellshock boasts a fairly impressive engine. The PlayStation 2 iteration runs at a relatively consist framerate, features volumetric fog, long draw distances, many characters on-screen, and one of them nifty grain filters we're seeing used more often. This flies on a system whose graphical wonders are typically few and far between, but on those platforms where we're accustomed to such things and then the bonus of having articulated character models without color differences between their heads and necks, there are going to be problems. The lacking visuals become especially apparent in any blandly textured unfurnished interior, be it fort, house, hut, or torture area X.
This doesn't mean the whole game looks terrible, though. In fact, Shellshock admirably attempts to meld the heat of Vietnam with the grit of Saving Private Ryan. Since this attempt is so hit and miss in practical delivery, even the game's surprisingly large levels offer very little to help it out of the ug-rut. The dead-eyed, puppet-jawed comrades of your nameless grunts may add an extra dimension of lifeless fear to the Viet-horror theme on paper, but they just don't work in-game.
And then we find ourselves engulfed in combat. This is where we get to clumsily stumble around environments contending with some bizarrely overlooked collision detection issues that could have been remedied by the simple addition of a useable jump button. Whatever mood and feel and impression of horror that may have theoretically came as part of this one's design document flew right out the window the second we had to painfully wonder why the Vietcong are capable of jumping over logs while we American soldiers are forced to navigate nicely sloped hills and smooth grasslands. Perhaps they're all some kind of Jedi?
Even this bit of unintentional gamer grief is layered upon some worth, however. The walking and marching may not be all that appealing (bloody logs), but shooting has its ups...and then some downs. For the most part, Shellshock isn't afraid of throwing many enemies at the player. There are times when the battles simply feel overwhelming. Fortunately, the Vietcong aren't as highly trained as your everyday monkey, so while they'll occasionally roll away from bullets and use cover to their advantage, their primary tactic is to madly dash into direct fire hoping there are more of them than there are of the flying bullets heading toward them. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. But why is that? Just when we thought we were past the days of scripted spawning... Just when we thought we could clear an area and not fear the spontaneous generation of an enemy in some bare room behind us, Shellshock comes around. Having to constantly swivel in place isn't that big of a deal, and the added bonus of having to predict when the next magically generating enemy will appear just because an objective marker happened to be triggered before the area could be properly surveyed creates some tension. But, this becomes especially frustrating on Xbox and PS2 where the third-person controls aren't anywhere close to precise. Of course, on PC this is remedied by the speedy mouse and all its optical or ball glory, which makes battling the endless hordes of regenerating V.C. a touch easier. Now, if only they didn't sometimes seem capable of withstanding six or seven bullets to the chest and knees, we might be alright.
Fortunately for the astute and apparently insane United States Army General Infantry, Uncle Sam also trains a slew of invincible teammates capable of decimating the ranks of communists in their sights, provided they happen to fall directly in their sites. Yup, the same AI problems that are prevalent with foes are here for friends. At least it's an equal opportunities kind of lame, eh?
Between all this comes the previously touched upon chunks of violent CG. But, there is also a bit of pointless in-base milling about. Should you take it upon yourself to acquire the rags and stars of fallen adversaries, you'll accumulate chits to pay for drugs, postcards, and even underprivileged prostitutes. None of this serves any point. In fact, you'd be better off conversing with the idiotic soldiers sauntering around you than partaking in a little extra curricular fornication, which apparently involves an elevated hut, some noise, and a rattling window shutter. Odd that we can see a man's face removed and speared in front of a smiling Vietnamese boy, but when it comes to purchased whoopee, the best we get is a vibrating shack. Had multiplayer been implemented in any of the versions, we might be inclined to think up some clever boom-boom game ideas. Too bad.
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