Developer: nFusion Interactive
Release Date: March 25, 2005
War is hell. This is the impression conveyed by Apocalypse: Now, Platoon, and other Vietnam-era movies, which are reminders of the horrid things that should never be repeated again.
Then there's Elite Warriors: Vietnam.
It stands as a reminder of horrid and broken gameplay. Developer N-Fusion took a "one step forward, two steps back" approach with Elite Warriors when compared with its other war-themed FPS, Dirty Dozen.
Elite Warriors: Vietnam follows the exploits of the Studies and Observation Group, a joint military task force comprised of Army Special Forces, Marine Force Recon, and Navy SEALS. Think of them as the precursor to Delta Force. That's really all you need to know, story-wise, about Elite Warriors. The game boasts that it was based on the literary works of retired Major John L. Plaster U.S.A.R., but there's no semblance of a story here: the soldiers have no personality of their own, and short of knowing what your mission objectives are, the mission briefings are pure fluff.
Gameplay breaks down into two parts: the tactical map and the third-person shooting sections. Prior to each mission, you have the opportunity to look at the briefing again, outfit your soldiers with the appropriate gear and plot out waypoints for your squad to follow en route to your objective. When that's done, it's time to finally… wait patiently while the little square that represents your squad slowly moves closer to your objective.
Short of adjusting the pace they travel at, everything else is out of your hands. As they trudge through the jungle, messages will pop up, informing you that one of your soldiers sprained his ankle and the entire squad will now move slower as a result, or they'll hear something rustling in the bushes, whisking you away to one of the game's many loading screens so your squad can check it out. The tactical map is really an arbitrary feature that makes the game less about skill and more about luck, as you'll find yourself crossing your fingers, hoping that no one else sprains their ankles or hears something so you can just get to the blasted objective.
When the game finally drops you into the driver's seat, it can often be for short bursts. Remember those messages informing you about the noise coming from the bushes? Well, here's your chance to check it out. Of course, you don't really have to find anything and can just book it until you reach the exit zone, making the whole switch from tactical map to action a waste of time. Sometimes while either marching or resting at night, you'll be happened upon by an enemy patrol, forced to run or engage them. Unlike bush noises, enemy patrols are on top of your position pretty quick, making combat your only option. It's less of an option and more of a punishment, really.
The tutorial says that stealth kills are the most rewarding aspects of Elite Warriors: Vietnam, which sounds great until you realize that they seem to be using the shooting mechanics as a comparison. The shooting in this game is downright broken. Headshots? Ha! Good luck even landing shots to the body at anything but medium- to close-range. When you fire off a burst from your M16, little yellow sparks fly off of enemy soldiers, and they just shrug it off 90% of the time, as if they have invisible bullet shields. It's as if the game is punishing you for using guns at all. Grenades aren't much better, as there are two distances you can throw them: 300 feet from the enemy, or two feet in front of you. You won't be pleased with either outcome, although the latter rescues you from having to drag yourself through the rest of the mission with the promise of a swift death.
You have command over your squad and are able to switch between the individual soldiers as your player character. The three controlled by AI can be issued orders, either by way of hotkeys or a radial menu. The menu is actually quite accessible and intuitive; just point, click, and command. Pressing the spacebar changes the perspective to an overhead view, similar to the one in Brothers in Arms, except completely worthless. Aside from letting you see all of your squadmates within a very small radius, you can also see enemy soldiers that are near your position. However, since the game doesn't pause in this view, chances are good that said soldiers are already halfway done killing you because you can't fire in this mode, either.
The graphics are bland, at best. Every level looks like the same part of jungle, so you'll be crawling through the same two or three paper-like models of tall grass throughout the entire game. The same goes for trees, bushes, etc. Character models are just as diverse, with the NVA throwing seemingly the same soldier at you level after level, and the members of the SOG come in "hat" and "no hat" varieties. All of these graphics are a result of every detail setting maxed and played at 1024x768 resolution with a 256 MB GeForce 6800 graphics card, so you have to wonder where all of your graphics card's horsepower is going while you're busy navigating this flat, boring world.
Hope you like drums, because that's the predominant instrument in the Elite Warriors: Vietnam soundtrack. The urgency is often anti-climactic, getting you pumped for an encounter that's still about two minutes away. Sound effects are passable if you don't mind that the original Counterstrike did them better and all of the soldiers in your squad share one, unenthusiastic voice.
Multiplayer modes supposedly included deathmatch (in free-for-all and team flavors) and four-player cooperative play over the internet. I say "supposedly" because all of my attempts to access multiplayer over the internet resulted in a message saying that I failed to connect to the master server and should try again later. In a way, this can be counted as a blessing, since you won't have to suffer through the same ghastly shooting you do in the single player campaign. One neat feature that I would have liked to see was the profanity filter in action. My guess is that its purpose was to protect the innocent minds of others from the violent expletives that the gameplay would've caused you to type.
The game was pretty stable, with no crippling bugs (except for the hit detection of the bullets, as mentioned above). There weren't any instances where the game crashed to the desktop. However, the load times from the tactical map to the action portion were uncommonly long, and the trip back to the tactical menu looked as if it would cause the game to exit to the desktop.
Elite Warriors: Vietnam is just a bad game, and unless they patch it thoroughly, I can't recommend it to anyone in good conscience. Vietnam buffs are better off spending their $20 on books on the subject, and tactical shooter fans are better off with… well, take your pick of any other tactical shooter released over the past few years.
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