Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Pterodon Software
Release Date: October 25, 2005
Buy 'VIETCONG 2': PC
It’s been a long few months since I tried my hands at a first-person shooter. Between several intriguing adventure games and a few big-name MMOs, my time has been pretty full. Vietcong 2, a Vietnam War shooter from 2K Games and Pterodon Software, was a worthwhile reentry into the genre. Vietcong 2 recreates the Tet Offensive from both the side of the Americans occupying the city of Hue, and the North Vietnamese attacking the city. The game is touted as a highly realistic recreation of that operation, and according to the developer, a significant amount of real historical data, including interviews and newsreel footage, was used to give the game its genuine feel. Though I know almost nothing about the Vietnam War (that’s public schooling for you), I can’t help but agree that the game does a good job of simulating the chaos and confusion of wartime action. However, as a whole, Vietcong 2 comes off as a good title with a few issues in game mechanics and design, flaws that truly detract from the overall experience.
The story is told from two perspectives; first, we play as Lieutenant Daniel Boone of the American forces occupying Hue alongside the South Vietnamese. The game uses cut scenes, dialog, and even newsreel footage (not actual footage) to move the story along and even to convey objectives to the player for the next section into which they are moving, which I found quite creative. The American campaign is set completely in urban areas as you fight back to your base, and then through the city to capture key objectives. The design did a great job of creating the feeling of chaos and confusion that I must believe are a part of street-to-street and room-to-room fighting in city areas (as I have no direct experience, I can only imagine).
Following the American campaign, the North Vietnamese campaign is unlocked, in which players take on the role of Minh, a villager who is drafted into the service of the VC and who plays a major role in the activities that lead up to the assault and battle for Hue city. The VC story is tied nicely into the storyline of the game through “flashbacks” from the diary of Minh, who has a fatal run-in with Lieutenant Daniel Boone part of the way through the American storyline. The VC campaign is almost entirely fought in jungle environments, which do an even better job of conveying the reality of the battlefield. Comrades disappear a few feet ahead of you in thick underbrush, and enemies appear seemingly from nowhere. For as much chaos as the urban areas created, the jungle gave a real taste of what it could be like. More than anything else, I appreciated the fact that the North Vietnamese campaign was acted out entirely in actual Vietnamese, instead of insultingly bad accented English.
A major “selling point” of Vietcong 2 is that it is heavily based on historical fact, interviews, and official documentation of the Tet Offensive. Right from the start, it is obvious that this is not a game for children; hookers and strippers are numerous, and realistic violence and a plethora of obscenity are used throughout the game. In the American campaign, racial slurs are a part of nearly every sentence spoken by your squadmates; though this is no doubt a fairly realistic depiction of the behavior of the times, I thought that this particular aspect was taken too far. The epithets were laid on too thickly, and the sake of “realism” is no defense for taking the low road in game design.
Aside from this, the game conveys a host of adult themes in a moderately successful manner. The storyline and dialog help to present the struggles of both main characters as they face situations far beyond their control. Unfortunately, because both campaigns are relatively short, it is difficult to really connect with the characters or their situation, and much of the intended impact of Vietcong 2is lost because of this. Additionally, the title also seems to have lost much of its playability with Pterodon’s pursuit of realism, and several troublesome game mechanics become obvious.
I am a veteran of many FPS titles; I have played nearly all of the big titles, and many of the smaller ones, since Wolfenstein 3-D. I’m not the most skilled player, but I’ve beaten most single player campaigns on the “hard” mode, so I believe that I can hold my own against bots, and even most humans. Vietcong 2, quite simply, is hard, and not in the challenging, good way, but in the frustrating, spiritually defeating way. On even the normal settings, the game is too hard. Even with my experience, I had to restart the game at a lower difficulty setting, just for the sake of sanity and for the possibility of this review being posted this year. The enemy AI has a supernatural awareness of the location of the player. Their aim, and the accuracy of their weapons, is far superior on too many occasions. Worst of all, the game engine allows enemies to fire “through” their cover far too often, making it downright impossible to hit them, while providing them every opportunity to use their sniper’s aim on you.
It’s not that I’m looking for a cakewalk experience where I can kill everything on god mode, but I am looking to be the hero of the story, not cannon fodder or target practice for the computer. If I am forced to repeat the same section of the game over two dozen times because the enemy is tearing me apart, I consider that a flaw in the game design – it isn’t fun. Furthermore, the lack of ability to save the game at any point may seem to help convey the realities of war, but in the reality of computer games, it is downright annoying, and a serious killer of enjoyment. Of course, this is my preference when I play games. Many people might truly enjoy this level of realism, and find it challenging more than frustrating.
The other technical aspects of the game are pretty good. Graphically, the game is a bit behind the curve, but not to the point where it detracts from the experience. The audio is very good; the music, though not authentic, does a great job of fitting the era and giving it that extra flavor. Dialog was straightforward, and fairly well done, though nothing too spectacular (I’m not playing these games for the dialog).
Despite the shortfalls detailed above, many of the other game mechanics work very well. The command system is easy to learn, easy to use, and very effective. A multitude of commands were broken down into two basic actions that you convey to your squad; move to the designated safe spot while you lay down covering fire, or attack the designated target to provide suppressing fire. The title has a great variety of weapons, each with its own behaviors and great sounds to match. Cover is absolutely essential and must be used effectively. The gameplay overall is fast and hectic, with a good variety of types presented in the two campaigns. When it works as an FPS should, the game is quite fun.
As with any shooter, the multiplayer can go a long way towards extending the lifespan, and can keep players interested and coming back for more. The multiplayer of Vietcong 2 is fairly standard, with co-op and Deathmatch games. It also uses an “XP” system that rewards kills with experience, and players with higher experience are granted access to different character types and weapons for use in matches. The only real shortfall of Vietcong 2’s multiplayer was the lack of numbers in the community. The game uses GameSpy for multiplayer, and there were a good number of servers available, but only a handful of them had any sizable groups online.
All in all, Vietcong 2 is a solid first-person shooter; there is not much innovation, but it achieves many of the standard benchmarks of the genre. It does a good job of conveying the experience of actual combat (especially the dying), or at least as good a job as a game can do. The historical accuracy of the game lends it a unique flavor, but this flavor will, and should, definitely turn some parents off from the game. Vietcong 2 is a good title that suffers from some significant mechanics and design flaws that, unfortunately, prevent it from being great.
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