Release date: September 15, 2004
I have had the chance or misfortune to play several Vietnam-based shooter games in the past month, and Viet Cong: Purple Haze is the latest in this trend of games to come out for the Xbox this year. Vietnam is not a new subject matter for the gaming industry, but I have never seen anyone go for the harsh realities of the conflict before this recent batch.
Viet Cong: Purple Haze suffers from a badly chosen name; I had guessed that this game would be tacky or poorly done, but I was pleasantly surprised when a good game managed to emerge from the ashes of the awkward title. The Special Forces Fist Leader concept was innovative and gave the game a feel more like America’s Army than a Halo.
The player is the First Sergeant in charge of a Special Forces Detachment in the jungles of Vietnam. The objective of the campaign is to lead missions against local Viet Cong, main force Viet Cong, and NVA. The fact that the game makes distinctions between local and main force Viet Cong shows a significant attention to detail for me. Local Viet Cong were the guys that a Viet Cong recruiter either pressed into combat or whipped up into a ragtag militia. The main force Viet Cong were a militia that was gathered mainly from North Vietnam and moved down into South Vietnam. They were a militia, but tend to have some training and better equipment than the locals. The NVA were the North Vietnamese Army and were the Communist’s main army in the conflict.
The implementation of the game engine is a first person shooter, like most standard shooters, and there is the capability to bead down the weapon or look through a scope. The game implements many of the features that America’s Army first introduced to the gaming community, such as various accuracy modifiers depending on stance and movement speeds.
The command interface for the fist is a select menu controlled by the black button, using the left thumbstick to select a particular choice. With the ability to call for support or ammo from the team members, the player has the ability to leverage this support to a significant advantage. The only issue with this team is that the AI for the team members is not very great. I had my team members decide to walk into a pitfall trap that I had exposed for them, and more than once, they were stuck around me when I tossed a grenade, which they quite kindly blocked back into my face. When I toss a grenade, I want my team members to get themselves out of harm's way, but all of this is forgiven when the player is giving hell to the VC while the medic is busy patching him up.
The controls to the game itself are moderately complicated, being based off of the Halo layout. With a position change button and a quick crouch trigger, all of the options and methods of executing a task can hamstring a player. To select a weapon, the player must bring up a menu and select which weapon the player wants, including grenades, pistol, bandages, and a map, among other things. The menu allows for selection of multiple items, but also to be shot in the heat of battle. In addition, the map being on the item select menu was not too much of an issue, but it is also on the directional pad, which was such a pain. I would be using the directional pad to lean out, and accidentally press up, bring up the map and get shot in the process. There is a learning curve with these controls, and I suggest a player go through a portion of the campaign before going on Xbox Live. The game also defaults to an inverted y-axis, which seems to be a prevailing trend among games these days.
Graphically, the game looks good. There is a lack of High Definition support, and I think that was a mistake, but that choice does not significantly hurt the game. The cut scenes with the excellent narration were a joy to experience and very well done, the music was well-chosen, and the sounds were edited with an ear to accuracy.
The hardest thing to do in game is to call in an air strike. I have some light infantry training, and I know how difficult this is to do with a map and a compass. The game does show the player’s position on the map, which is nice, but trying to orient a map to the surrounding countryside is very hard to do. I was able to hit something within two strikes, using the first strike as ranging fire.
This game really shines on Xbox Live, with multiple game types and content download. The maps for Xbox Live are well picked out for multiplayer, with such great picks as Thunder Creek and Halong Port. Several of the maps tend to encourage snipers, but I found that the key was to rush between cover spots and make frequent use of the quick crouch trigger. It is hard to maintain a man in your sights when he's at a full run.
The flexibility of the assault rifle allows for medium range combat and close quarters battle (CQB), in which snipers tend to stink, so there is a distinct advantage to a good M16. When playing with a good team, having a machine gunner gives you an upper hand, but I would not recommend a general purpose machine gun (GPMG) like the M60 without the support of some good rifleman. A GPMG is a heavy weapon, which slows the player significantly, but when it cranks up, look out! When playing with a team, keep the chatter up and stay together because it allows for strong teamwork and will have everyone know where the enemy is.
Viet Cong: Purple Haze is the best out of the series of Vietnam shooters for the Xbox. The opening sequence tends to give me a negative impression on the Peacenik movement that happened in the state, and being from a military family, this settles nicely to my previous impressions. I found the game to be difficult, but not excessively so. Functionally, the game was almost perfect, with only minor issues with the AI of the team members, and the ability of the medic to heal the player to a certain extent is about as realistic as a game could get. They do not show the fear of combat, but I believe that current developers are trying their best to bring the realism of combat.
With a game this good, but without the mass appeal of a Halo 2, I think this game will entice the older gamers out there. Looking for a good set piece for the Xbox with XBL support? This is it.
Score : 8.5/10