Shellshock: ‘Nam ‘67
Release Date: September 14, 2004
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This is not the kind of war game we’ve grown used to.
Ever since the first Medal of Honor or so, there’ve been quite a few action games that tried to accurately represent the horrors of war. Most of them up until now have been World War II stories, where the Greatest Generation (™ Tom Brokaw, all rights reserved) fight the evil agents of the Axis; or set in some antiseptic future period where the targets are discernibly and safely inhuman. In both cases, the war is presented as a Good Thing. You are on the ground to fight the good fight for freedom.
When you start a game of Shellshock, you’re told that you’re in the period where the Vietnam War still seemed like it could be won. One of the first things you see in-game is one of your squad members, a “cherry” just like you, talking about how much he wants to get “some of that primo Viet Cong meat on [his] bayonet.” You’ll come under heavy fire about two minutes into the first level, but it’s from your own side, as you barely survive a misplaced mortar bombardment.
Most tellingly, there comes a point, on the third level, where in order to progress, you must kill several civilians. You’re told not to by your commanding officer, and I’m sure there’s a way around it, but after fifteen minutes of searching for ways to “pacify” a village, we only got something to happen when we threw a grenade at an innocent woman.
You are not standing on the moral high ground in Shellshock.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing – if this depiction of the Vietnam War and those who fought in it is an appropriate theme for a video game – I’m going to leave up to the flame warriors on a few thousand message boards across the Internet. It’s a sore subject.
The game itself is an intense third-person shooter, where the player controls a single member of a novice Army fire team during 1967. Your job is to go out into the jungle on mission after mission, with your increasingly scared CPU teammates, and fight the Viet Cong. A given stage tends to be long and linear, as you follow your squad across miles of enemy territory to rescue somebody or blow something up.
You can carry one large rifle – a “grease gun,” AK-47, M-16, shotgun, or sniper rifle – a backup pistol, the occasional melee weapon, and a variety of grenades. Ammo economy is usually a going concern, as most of the time, your enemies are distant specks who’re well behind cover. You can either rush their position, which is very stupid, or you can try to return fire at range using short bursts of automatic weapons fire, which doesn’t often work.
I’m not quite sure how Shellshock handles health. It appears, on the face of it, to be some kind of sliding meter, which gradually recovers over time, which is vaguely reminiscent of the “Fear Meter” from Fear Effect. It’s not a fixed amount of damage that kills you, but rather, a certain amount of damage incurred within a limited timeframe. If you absorb a few bullets, you’ll be almost as good as new if you can avoid further injury for a while. To recover faster, grab a medical kit.
Avoiding injury is a question of finding cover, or lying prone on the ground, while you return fire. From the first stage onward, Shellshock feels less like a polished Hollywood-style gunfight, and more like a bunch of scared guys pointing guns at each other. There’s a real sense of dread and anticipation as you creep through the bush, as any foliage could conceal a soldier or a booby trap.
You’re graded at the end of each level by the number of enemies you killed and how, and how many trophies you took. The latter, thankfully, are sort of tame; you can grab medals off of dead men, or find small objects in enemy encampments. You will not be sawing off ears.
At the end of a mission, your success rate determines how many “chits” you’re paid. You can use these to buy various goods and services back at base camp, such as… um… the services of one of Mama-san’s girls. (2004: The Year Console Games Discovered Whoring.) While you’re at camp, you can also talk to the other guys in your squad, listen to the radio, or practice at the shooting gallery.
Shellshock doesn’t have the same feel as a Medal of Honor game, where everything has been exhaustively and obviously researched. It does, however, have a touch of the same psychotic and amoral atmosphere that marks the best Vietnam movies, and it’s not a bad shooter, either. It’ll be coming out next month, right at the start of the back-to-school gaming season.
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