Genre: Third-person Shooter
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: September 14, 2004
Few people to this day really know much about the Vietnam War other than that it was a dirty, horrible war that took place in the jungles of Vietnam. World War II has been historically looked upon as a more honorable, heroic war, while Vietnam sparks thoughts and images of inhumane torture, murdered noncombatants, and a war that had no clear goals or end point. Guerilla isn’t the first developer to try and capture the look and feel of the Vietnam War with its upcoming game Shellshock, ‘Nam ’67, but it probably will be the first to capture the Vietnam War as it was actually fought rather than use it as a different backdrop for a military-themed shooter.
In Shellshocks onset you fill the boots of a “cherry”, a soldier just arriving in Vietnam. Throughout the course of the game you will first fight as a conventional soldier in a squad of a handful of men, progressing into a Special Forces unit sent into combat zones that would be considered suicidal. A VC General nicknamed “King Kong” by his troops has been masterminding hideous torture and executions of captured GI troops, and naturally his death becomes one of the gameplay’s overarching objectives. The missions in the game are large and fairly diverse, as it seems that Guerilla recognized that fighting in jungle after jungle would get tiresome fairly quickly. Day and night jungle combat does make up a good portion of the game, but additionally battles are fought in cities, whorehouses, rice paddies, VC tunnel networks, villages, and ancient Buddhist temples.
Combat in Shellshock is initially aggravating due to the relative inaccuracies of most of the weapons. Even when an M16 is fired in three shot bursts while in a crouch at a target about 50 feet away, it can take nearly half a clip to kill a single, standing soldier. Largely it seems at this stage of development any semi-automatic weapon is best suited for combat within 20 feet of your current position. The 98K bolt action rifle is carried by many of the VC troops and is fairly accurate though slow to fire and reload, but if you are a steady shot you can easily blow the heads off of five enemy soldiers a hundred feet away in rapid succession. The king of long range combat by far is the sniper rifles, which allow you to shoot however far you want with pinpoint accuracy and deadly force. Secondary weapons such as grenades are powerful though they are always in short supply. Grenades can be set to either explode on contact or after a couple seconds timer, and will absolutely eliminate anyone within a few feet. Other grenades such as smoke grenades allow you to create your own cover, whether it is to advance to a new position or fall back to a better one.
When enemy soldiers die a ragdoll system kicks into play, augmented by a rudimentary gore system. For instance, when you shoot a VC soldier in the leg with a rifle not only will it blow his leg off below the knee or below the hip depending on where you fire, but he will fall over realistically. The effect is realistic most of the time, though every once in a while you will find a soldier who had died in a humanly impossible position or bounce into the air a bit when shot. The gore effect isn’t nearly as advanced as seen in games such as Soldier of Fortune 2 but works well enough in its own right. Shoot an enemy in the head and it will explode in a shower of bone and blood, blow a VCs arm off and both the arm and the rest of the VC will hit the dirt, throw a grenade into the middle of a group of enemy soldiers and you can expect to see a bloody smattering of assorted body parts decorating blackened earth.
One thing that Guerilla really tries to portray is the fuzzy morals and hideous actions that took place in the Vietnam War. Both men and women alike will fire at you, captured VC soldiers execute themselves rather than be captured, gruesome booby traps impale and explode the unaware, a group of villagers are mercilessly gunned down during a weapons search, and brutally killed GIs are a commonly seen occurrence. The portrayals aren’t something that will bother most gamers who have seen such things before, but will undoubtedly make more people respect just how bad things were in the Vietnam War.
Graphically Shellshock is significantly behind the curve in its current state of development. Draw distance is significantly smaller than what most gamers will be used to, textures are fairly low resolution and slightly washed out, and character models look a bit unpolished. The video filter applied to the visuals serves a dual purpose, not only making the game look like old Vietnam War footage but also serves to hide some of the flaws mentioned above. Character animations look pretty smooth and natural with few exceptions, such as casual walking animations of soldiers walking around in the base. The gore effects look a bit unrealistic, such as when a grenade explodes and turns an enemy body into charred bloody bits, but never cartoony enough to detract from the overall looks of the game.
Shellshock has a couple licensed songs from the era that play during the credits and the menu screen as well as blasted from the loudspeakers in the base, though in actual combat the ambience of the jungle itself is the backdrop for the game’s sound effects. Enemy soldiers yell in what is presumably Vietnamese, though there’s no way to be sure of what is exactly being said other than something along the lines of taunts and war cries. The weapon sound effects all sound decent and unique, and an experienced player will be able to pick out the sounds of the various rifles, machine guns, and sniper rifles among the other sounds of combat. Wounded soldiers who are still alive will scream and cry out in pain as the shudder on the ground, and it can be an equally gratifying and slightly disconcerting feeling to shoot a few bullets into the brush only to wound an enemy soldier and hear his screams from the jungle underbrush.
Shellshock doesn’t have much time left to cook, but it is shaping up to be a pretty good Vietnam-based third person shooter. The combat is entertaining once you wrap your mind around the pitiful accuracies of most of the rifles, and is almost always pretty straightforward and fast paced. The filter adds considerably to the old war movie feel, and while most of the graphics are fairly uninspiring the portrayal itself is pretty high in quality. There were very few bugs to speak of though there were a few strange things to be seen (I don’t care if “King Kong” is a “boss” character or not, no one can shrug off 15 shots to the head), but overall Shellshock: ‘Nam ’67 looks to be a fairly accurate portrayal of the Vietnam War packaged with entertaining gameplay.
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