World War II. Desert Storm. And now Vietnam. Action games have traversed many battlefields but it would appear in the past year or two, Vietnam is the latest destination du jour for most developers. Conflict: Vietnam follows the steps of other SCi Conflict titles. They were the ones who did an opportune game on Desert Storm right around the actual invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush. Needless to say, the game was popular and sold well enough to warrant a sequel.
Conflict: Vietnam uses the same formula of the four man squad. Each man in the squad is more adept at a certain aspect of combat: heavy weapons support, sniping, shock/assault and medic. You aren’t locked into that role of course. This comes in handy when your medic is the one who suffers a fatal wound and you have to rush to revive him with whoever is available. In fact, you begin the game by controlling the medic and going through a series of impromptu tutorials that will teach you the basic controls and squad maneuvers of the game.
Squad commands have been upgraded since the Desert Storm release. There’s less of a need to take command of individual soldiers to perform basic tasks. Using a command view, you can use something like a reticule-equipped binocular to assign actions to different objects on the battlefield. Aim at a fixed machine gun in that view and choosing one of your soldiers, for example, will make that member man the machine gun. This is far more effective than before. You can also give team orders like hold position, fire or do not fire at will and follow me.
When it comes to adjusting kneeling/prone positions and setting up your sniper in cover locations, it becomes a little cumbersome. The nature of the combat in Conflict: Vietnam doesn’t encourage the use of this expanded command and control system. You’ll easily come up in one outing against - let’s see - my latest mission says 66 confirmed infantry kills. Yes, this is an arcade type of game with a damage model that is about a hundred times more lenient than a game like Novalogic’s Joint Operations.
The action, though, is still fulfilling. SCi has tried to create the illusion of overwhelming waves of VC troops. You’ll find in some cases, you’ll just have to fight your way away from spawn points. Backtracking will be a dangerous proposition sometimes as troops may randomly appear to give the appearance of a live battlefield. Your teammates’ tendency to light up the jungle nights will contribute to that Alamo feel of the game.
A lot of the missions have a great setup to them. You’re going over the jungle by helicopter and you’re shot down. There’s an intense scenario where you’re manning a strong point at the eve of the Tet Offensive. As I retreated under a hail of small arms and mortar fire back to the center of the base, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Custard’s last stand. Luckily, the mission ends on a more positive note than what happened to the French colonial forces in Vietnam.
With good backdrops, it’s rather unfortunate that the actual missions themselves consist of mundane and sometimes downright frustrating objectives. If you recall Donald Rumsfeld saying how precise American weapons and target selections are in Iraq, and the fact that civilian buildings were still leveled in the war, you won’t want to know why your missions consists of traversing vast swaths of jungle under the very generic order to search and destroy. Just how much searching and destroying are you supposed to do? Luckily, this jungle takes the customary gaming approach by filling it in with lots of vegetation but you’re only given a narrow path to go forward. Finding that path, however, can be of trouble sometimes, especially during night missions.
Speaking of vegetation, there are plenty of shades of green employed at work here. The whole jungle has a wet type of feeling to it. Most levels don’t exude a claustrophobic feeling except when you get lost and you find yourself bumping up logs and impassable plants. While the characters aren’t modeled top notch, they’re still capable of interacting with plenty of objects (vehicles, guns, etc.) in the game.
Dripping visuals and sound put together, Conflict: Vietnam reminded me a lot of recent film Tears of the Sun. It’s not so much the presentation but the camaraderie felt between the characters in the game. You feel like they’re a team - most of the time they’re lost behind enemy lines. The funniest moment came when I shot a villager by accident my character blurted out, “Don’t shoot the villagers! Do as I say not as I do.” The pre-mission briefing sequences best illustrate the camaraderie. But it also means there’s a downside to the game. Characters can’t die, since if Ragman refers to Junior in mission six, he better be alive by then.
That’s when you encounter one of the hallmarks of the Conflict series. When someone loses all of their health, they fall incapacitated by their wounds. Someone in the squad will have to move over to heal them with medical dressings. If you run out, you can still get some from the wounded character. Afterwards, they magically get up and get back into the fight. It’s a gimmick to the make the game easier but it also makes it frustrating when someone is insignificant to the mission and they die, and you’re not allowed to move on unless you save everyone.
Conflict: Vietnam doesn’t save your game automatically at specific milestones in the game. Instead, you’re allowed two saves in the whole mission. Rainbow Six also took the same approach on console machines. The problem is these missions are far longer than what the Rainbow team had to go through. And you’re facing three or four times the opposition. Needless to say, this will have two effects on your gameplay. Either you’re crawling at a ridiculously slow pace to avoid death or you’re going quickly to your death and having to replay large chunks of the game.
SCi has put in a co-operative multiplayer component into the game. This, besides the Vietnam setting, is also du jour with action games these days. You’ll find four human comrades on the Xbox. Two on the PS2. And none on the PC. Yes, you heard it, there’s no multiplayer whatsoever on the PC version. Why? I have no idea. But Conflict games have never been strong in the multiplayer department on the PC.
Like Battlefield: Vietnam, there are some licensed tunes from the Vietnam era in this game. While I never really got attached to any of the music in that multiplayer shooter, I did in this game simply because it was played in places outside of the load screens. There’s a pseudo DJ at the base too but then you’re spending most the time in the jungle where there is no radio so it’s a pity you can’t hear them more often.
This experience summarizes most of the game too. There are some great elements and firefight sequences in Conflict: Vietnam but you just don’t see them enough. And when you do, it’s sometimes offset by other factors that ultimately mire Conflict: Vietnam’s better traits into gameplay quagmire. Instead of an exciting battle, you find yourself slogging through the game. Come to think of it, that’s what the Americans did to get themselves out of Vietnam.