Genre : Action
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Release Date: October 26, 2004
2004 without a doubt was the year of the Vietnam War video game with a slew of games ranging from terrible to slightly above average hitting the store shelves. Historically speaking any game bearing any semblance to the Vietnam War has been cursed with sub-par quality and production values, though last year the curse was finally proven to be breakable. Shellshock: ‘Nam 67 was a pretty good third person Vietnam War title, and headlining the first-person shooter front is undoubtedly Men of Valor. It would be stretching the truth somewhat to say that Men of Valor is as good as other war-themed shooters on the market (See Call of Duty: United Offensive) but it is undoubtedly the best one that takes place in the Vietnam War. While Men of Valor has many rough points, it also has a bevy of impressive features to balance them out.
Men of Valor cats the player as Dean Shepard, a marine just starting his stint in Vietnam at the onset of the war. Where Shellshock made an example of the more inhumane acts and brutal tactics that took place in the Vietnam War Men of Valor is much more tame, though not without overtones of its own. Shepard happens to be African-American, fighting for his country alongside fellow marines while he himself isn’t even considered a citizen back home. The game often touches on this aspect, fleshing out some of the racism and discrimination that was par the course for the 1960s, but also does so in a way that doesn’t seem forced or overbearing.
During the course of the game Shepard and his fellow marines get sent to various operations all over Vietnam, securing hills after being inserted by helicopter, riding a patrol boat to capture an enemy commander under the cloak of nightfall, and patrolling through all sorts of dense jungle terrain where deadly boobytraps and enemy ambushes are considered normal things.
Men of Valor doesn’t innovate too far from Medal of Honor: Allied Assault in its gameplay which is usually totally comprised of either intricate scripted events or enemies remaining largely stationary or running back and forth from behind cover as they fire at you. The AI is probably the biggest sore spot of Men of Valor in that not only do enemies act fairly moronic at times but they also can impeccably see through most bushes to fire upon you, which is a fairly common problem in the genre. Enemies often spawn and rush at you from behind the forest “walls” that make up the boundaries, making parts of certain levels frustrating difficult as you can clear out the enemy presence and advance only to have one spawn right next to you. Another slightly glaring problem is that the player can sometimes accidentally find ways around the detailed scripted sequences and step behind the curtain to see the smoke and mirrors that make them up, such as bunkers that have machine guns firing away with no-one even in the bunker to man them.
The player can wield a fairly wide variety of Vietnam era weaponry such as M14s, hand grenades, AKs, Colt .45s, M74 grenade launchers, claymore mines, PRD and M60 machine guns, and a smattering of other weaponry on both sides of the conflict. All weapons can be either fired from the hip or held up to the shoulder for increased accuracy, the latter of which is almost a necessity.
While in aiming mode the guns are incredibly more accurate and the player has the ability to lean to the left or right to give them the ability to exchange fire with the enemy while exposing only a small part of themselves. Player health is represented by a medical symbol that depletes when the player takes damage and shows the amount lost in red, which slowly drops to the current health level. By bandaging the player can slowly regain their health back to the top of whatever the current red level is, but doing so leaves the player fairly vulnerable.
The graphics and audio found in Men of Valor is a mixed bag of both sub-par and excellent features. On the bad side of things, character animations often look fairly unnatural; sometimes lacking transitional animations entirely. Glitches in the character models can be seen that temporarily skews a characters head in cinemas, which seems to only happen when a character is speaking. On that subject, the sound mixing and positioning in Men of Valor is often a bit off, such as barely hearing a wounded marine scream who is literally inches away from you, even though no gunfire or explosions are going off that would dampen the noise.
On the positive side though, Men of Valor has to have some of the best representations of jungle terrain seen in a video game, beaten only by the likes of Far Cry. Characters passing under foliage will have its shadow cast onto them and their weaponry, dense underbrush obscures both fallen trees and enemy traps, and the innumerable trees that dot the landscapes make for excellent cover in a pinch.
The character models look pretty good, but the real star of the show is how good Men of Valor’s special effects look. As soon as you see the first time how awe-inspiring a napalm blast is you will be saying “Please, please make it a napalm attack” every time your CO mentions anything about an airstrike. Even fire on a smaller scale such as a burning hut or, even smaller, a burning bush looks not only beautiful in itself but distorts your vision of the immediate area around the fire as heat does.
When helicopters fly overhead they kick up dust on the ground below which is an effect that looks really good in action. Even subtle effects such as how your body makes undergrowth move and sway around you aren’t ignored, which really add to the overall look of the game. The only effect that Men of Valor could really benefit from is some sort of ragdoll engine for the characters, as enemies do tend to have “repetitive death” syndrome a bit often.
When not made inaudible by the occasional sound balance issue Men of Valor has a really impressive array to keep your ears entertained. Expectedly the weapon sounds all pack a punch and actually sound like you are in a war, but the real stars of Men of Valor’s audio repertoire is explosions, music, and voice-overs. Explosions in the game sound deliciously loud and vicious, and when coupled with the way they blur and shake your screen it really gets the point across that maybe, just maybe, you should get out of that particular area fast.
There is both original music in the game such as the main theme and the majority of the in-game music, but there are also a variety of tracks from real artists from the era to add a bit of authenticity to the feel and time period of the game.
Finally, the voice-overs run the gamut from above-average to really good, with only one or two lines here and there that sound a bit iffy. Each character has a fairly distinct voice from your CO to your fellow marines, from your character himself to his mother and father writing to him from back home. There is actually quite a bit of no-holds-barred cursing in the game, which is both entertaining but also not used to the point to make it sound gimmicky. Finally, if I’m not mistaken, this is the third war game within the last year (and sixteenth game in total) within the last year that fans of Steve Blum’s voice work will once again hear him contribute to in a fairly large quantity.
All things considered Men of Valor is at the very least worth a cursory glance. It does have its fair share of flaws and rough edges, but it also has quite a few areas where it absolutely shines. The title is definitely one of the better Vietnam War games currently out which in itself is a refreshing change of pace from the largely horrendous group of games that share the same theme that came before it. If you have been jonesing for a solid Vietnam War FPS Men of Valor fits the bill in most respects, hampered from being a fully recommendable title only by a somewhat lengthy list of bugs, glitches, and gameplay oversights. Men of Valor can be a fairly entertaining ride, as long as you simply take that entertainment for what its worth.
Score: 7.6 / 10