Genre : Action
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Release Date: October 26, 2004
Men of Valor’s big difference is that it’s about Vietnam, and really, that’s all the difference in the world. Instead of the rah-rah near-superheroic exploits of James Patterson or Joseph Griffin, either of whom were damned near wearing capes by the end of their respective games (“Patterson, we want you to invade Berlin singlehandedly.” “…well, okay.”), you’re seeing Da Nang through the eyes of a scared young Marine named Dean Shepherd.
Shepherd’s a new recruit when the game starts, and you get to play through his first combat mission, which quickly turns bloody. Your squad will accompany you through most levels, providing covering fire, distractions, and instructions as required. As AI companions go, they aren’t bad at all, although they have a tendency to hog all the best cover.
That’s a problem, because you need cover in this game. Men of Valor subscribes to a “realistic” approach to damage; a single grenade will kill you, and one soldier with an automatic weapon will probably drop you in your tracks. Even a glancing blow can kill if you aren’t paying attention, because nonfatal wounds will start bleeding, forcing you to hold down B to bandage them up. If you don’t, Shepherd will continue to take damage from blood loss and eventually die.
The Vietnamese in Men of Valor are a nearly invisible presence, only rarely coming out from deep cover. All you can usually see are their tracer rounds; all you can usually hear are their rifles and their profanities, barely-understood epithets which they scream as they die. Some of them are women, which is startling, and all of them are nuts. You get the feeling here that enemy soldiers aren’t rushing your position because of bad AI, but because they’re balls crazy.
(That’s one of the problems with taking screenshots of the game. You spend a lot of time firing wildly into the underbrush where you think a Vietcong soldier is, because if you go and check, they’ll chop you into jambalaya somewhere between your second and third step. While this may be an accurate representation of combat, it’s merry hell if you’re at a capture station.)
The further you go in the game, the more complicated the missions and the dangers become. You start off dealing with booby traps and entrenched positions, but you’ll also have to fight your way across a rice paddy, delve into the Cong’s tunnels, and live through full-on assaults. If you can survive to the later missions of the game, Shepherd will take part in the Tet Offensive, the attacks on Khe Sanh in January of 1968.
What separates Men of Valor from all the other well-researched horrifically difficult first-person shooters out there, aside from its subject material, is the sense of personal impact it has. You spend a lot of time with your CPU squadmates listening to them bitch or reading Shepherd’s letters home between levels, but more than that, the game does its best to recapture the crazed feel of the best Vietnam movies. You may have to cope with racist squadmates, botched orders, communication breakdowns, or in one memorable instance, complete your mission despite your lieutenant going completely nuts.
Because you’ve spent time getting to know Shepherd beforehand, Men of Valor manages to feel more immersive than other recent games such as Shellshock ‘67; you’re not playing some mute stand-in, but an actual character. Excellent character models and voice acting also combine to perpetuate that illusion.
Men of Valor comes out in October of this year, and will feature Xbox Live multiplayer capabilities straight out of the gate. The singleplayer mode is actually worth playing, though, which is no mean feat.