Many of you know Battlefield 1942
as the insanely addictive juggernaut that it is today, but how many of you remember just how flawed and cumbersome the game was at the time of its launch? Although the premise was neat, the execution was sloppy, the ping was god awful and the framerate was unbearable on a number of systems. In short, Electronic Arts released an unfinished game and charged an unsuspecting public $40 a pop to beta test it. About a full year later the Swedes at DICE finally brought the game around and the version 1.6 patch offers us the addictive experience that we remember today. Funny thing here, you know that old saying “those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it” that your teachers pummeled you with during high school? Any guesses as to which group of Swedes and Canadians slept through that lesson during their youth?
In addition to feeling like a thinly veiled expansion pack Battlefield Vietnam is also unplayable on a number of systems. First and foremost is the fact that a number of people who bought the game from popular retailers, such as EBGames, GameStop and CompUSA, are getting invalid CD KEY errors. It’s not all bad though because at least it gives those poor saps enough time to read the reviews and realize the plethora of issues that plague this title. Unless they’re the most hardheaded fanboy on the face of the planet I’d assume that they’d be wise enough to take the refund and purchase a more polished and complete title. But let’s say he’s adamant about playing the game, exactly what will he be faced with?
How about an unserviceable interface that unnecessarily complicates matters? How about an inane mini-map system that’s been placed into a diamond formation so that it obscures more of your view? Not enough? How about an amazingly unbalanced game where the Americans have a walking tank and the NVAs have to rely on the Vietnamese equivalent of sticks and stones? And that’s barring that they can actually get the game to start up in the first place. Amateur is a great word to describe Battlefield Vietnam as is “thinly-veiled expansion pack.”
Instead of utilizing the clean and easy to read interface that we’ve grown accustomed to in BF1942 the designers opted for a more modern look that really detracts from the game. It’s not exactly the most distracting interface on the face of the planet by why further complicate matters? My most hated change is that the kill tallies are placed on the bottom left of the screen as opposed to the top right. It’s hard enough to tell when you’ve actually disposed of an enemy but having to direct your eyes down and completely away from the field of view is just deadly. It was a problem that plagued BF1942 too but at least it was in a good location that was generally easy to read (due mainly to it being set against the sky) and didn’t require too much concentration. What the game really needs is some sort of indicator to let you know that you’ve racked up a kill. Not necessarily a pinging sound but maybe just a little icon that flashes on the screen momentarily to let you know that you’ve mowed that bastard down and it’s safe to move on.
A minor annoyance comes from the fact that the minimap on the top of the screen has been formatted to a diamond shape. It’s pointless and cuts off a pretty large portion of the playing field. I would have rather it been a square, that way I’d have more of an indication of where I was headed. As a result I found myself having to zoom out much more often than usual or just pressing m and consulting the full-screen map.
Probably the most annoying part of the interface is the unnecessary clutter that fills the spawn and map interfaces. Pressing enter used to bring up an overview of the map and a selection of kits on the side. Now you’re getting a cavalcade of icons, numbers and other pointless inclusions such as a larger representation of the scoreboard. Guys, the score tallies already pop up each time I die and if I’m not paying attention I can always press tab to check it out. Why did you feel the need to plaster it all over my screen when I’m trying to select my spawn point? All it does is makes things complicated; the designers keep telling us that this is an arcade game at heart so why do they keep throwing more ingredients into the soup? As a strange oddity this game actually takes a step back from the version 1.6 release of BF1942 and lacks the map vote and player kick vote functions. Something's telling me that they just coded this game and decided that they could get away with releasing a patch at a later date.
If you can get past these annoyances you’ll find that the interface isn’t all bad. A new timer takes the guesswork out of capturing spawn points. Now when you attack a spawn point you’ll know exactly how long it’ll take before you can claim it as your own. As a nice touch, the more people who are in the capturing halo, the quicker the timer goes down. This is an excellent way to encourage teamwork and group tactics. Probably my favorite addition is what the game calls a 3D map. Pushing Q gives you on-screen indicators of where your friendlies are and where the spawn points are. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of where the fights are and where your comrades are hiding. I wish that it would have shown enemy positions that were in your line of sight as well but perhaps it would have made the combat too easy.
When you finally get into the game you’ll be treated to a game that feels like nothing more than an addendum to BF1942. The game might have jungles, the language might be Vietnamese but all I’m seeing is World War II. I’ve been told on numerous occasions that the engine was rebuilt from the ground up but I find that hard to believe, especially since the crude architecture and relatively sparse terrain still remains. The only true addition to the engine is the underbrush which acts as cover for your troops. It’s pretty well done although it too is pretty basic and rudimentary. It’s thick but not too thick and it’s just too short. It properly conceals you if you’ve gone prone but anyone walking through it will still be exposed. Strangely enough, lying prone in the foliage will give you the ability to see through it while those who are looking from the outside won’t have the same advantage.
It appears that most of the emphasis has been taken off of the vehicles and has been placed on the ground infantry. While this is a more realistic way of attacking this conflict it’s also detrimental to the nature of the engine. DICE’s engine isn't exactly competent when it comes to handling intense foot-based combat. Those who played BF1942 have complained that the combat is sluggish and that the vehicles are the true wildcard that really sets the game apart. Well now you don’t have that luxury because vehicles are surprisingly underpowered. Sometimes troops can withstand direct hits from tanks, full speed collisions with jeeps and even mortar shells. This makes the vehicles far less imposing than they used to be. Back in my ’42 days my teammates and I used to scramble whenever a tank entered the vicinity. We’d have to scramble to scrounge up enough firepower to take the beast down and in the end it felt like an accomplishment. Now in ‘Nam I just disregard it because I know that one person can easily take it out and move on their merry way. Take into account that one of the Americans’ character classes is essentially a walking tank and you begin to realize just how pointless and useless these hunks of metal have become.
There’s inequality, there’s imbalance and then there’s what BFVietnam likes to call balance, well if you call giving one side of the conflict a walking death dealer balance. While the NVAs are playing with their caltrops and clunky rifles the Americans sport a character class that carries an M60 and a LAW anti-tank weapon at the same time. That’s right, you can carry a hulking 100 round machinegun and
a rocket launcher at the same time. Best of all? There’s absolutely no speed or maneuverability penalty that comes with this at all. Apparently no one on the QA noticed just how absolutely inane this was. To be honest this could have worked out well had the designers required you to be stationary and prone (with a hefty time delay between moving into the prone and standing position of course) in order to fire either of the weapons. Instead they opted to turn you into some sort of mega soldier who wields both of the weapons as if they were pistols. They didn’t even have the hindsight to limit the capacity of the rifle like the smart chaps behind the insanely popular Desert Combat
mod did. This means that you can fire off a full 100 round clip (read: murder an entire army) without any sort of stoppage.
There are other kits on the American side but this lethal combination essentially renders them useless. You have a rifle with a grenade launcher, an M16, an M16 with a scope, a sniper rifle, a shotgun and a few variations of the engineer kit. I can't help but feel that they missed out on a lot of prime opportunies. Who here has ever seen a 'Nam movie that didn't have some type of flamethrower in it? Some interesting new additions come in the form of a blowtorch that can be used to sabotage vehicles and the static mortar position, but when everyone on your side can be Rambo why bother with anything else?
Is there napalm? Yes. Is it any good? Not really. It’s probably the most overhyped and underwhelming facet of the game. Americans have access to it via fighter jet and launch it like its normal payload. While it’s kind of neat to see it streak across the landscape it’s pretty disappointing to see that it goes in a paper-thin line and lasts for all of about two seconds. Probably even more frustrating is the fact that it does absolutely nothing to scar or tarnish the landscape. Trees that were set ablaze seconds before magically heal themselves as everyone ignores the minor pyrotechnics display and gets back to their lives.Assuming that you’re one of the poor souls who gets saddled with the underpowered NVAs you can expect an arsenal of inaccurate weapons and low-tech gadgets. There are some interesting additions such as punji sticks and the bouncing betty but I have yet to really see anyone use them properly. For those who like to be sneaky you can sabotage vehicles with car bombs that detonate whenever anyone tries to start one up. I thought this was a pretty ingenious idea except that it’s really rare to encounter an unused vehicle in an enemy base. Besides, if you’ve made it that far chances are that you’re going to take it or will be too busy combating with your foes to stop and sabotage the vehicles. I suppose you could trick the enemy by sabotaging your own vehicle but you’d probably just end up killing your own guys in the long run.
There are a few other touted features and those too are rather poorly executed. You can airlift vehicles with one of the helicopters but the task is much more frustrating than it needs to be. It’ll take a skilled chopper pilot and driver working in tandem before you can even get the vehicle into the support. Then you have to lift the vehicle and hope to make it past enemy lines where you can then ease it down. It’s too much work without the reward; in the end you’ll choose to just drive the vehicle across the terrain as opposed to working with the absurd mechanism. The NVAs have the ability to dig tunnels to create mobile spawn points. While this is actually another good idea that leads to a bit of tomfoolery it never quite pans out properly. It takes too long and most of the players on the servers would rather engage in straight-up combat instead of wasting their time digging holes. Besides, in the end it’s the guy with the points who gets all the props right?
Both sides have access to choppers and I’m glad to say that they’re easier to control here than they were in Desert Combat or Eve of Destruction
. They work well as transports but I’m not too keen on the idea of using it as an assault vehicle. With a bit of practice you can hover pretty well but it’s difficult to get people to jump into the boat and work as a team.
And that leads us to another frustrating aspect in the game. Except for reduced spawn point capturing times, there’s very little motivation to work as a team. Everyone I’ve played with is motivated by points and kills. What good will it do them to pilot a helicopter while another person racks up the points? There’s very little incentive to work in the secondary roles like as the driver of the APC. An easy way to solve this would be to reward both the driver and the gunner with a point for each kill that is racked up from the vehicle. That way it would provide the necessary incentive needed to get the fellas working as a team.
You have some new gameplay modes at your disposal of which most notable is the evolution mode. It allows you to participate in two historically linked maps where the tickets carry over from battle-to-battle. It’s not revolutionary but it’s pretty nice because it makes you feel like you’re engaging in your own mini-war. There’s a custom mode which allows you to dictate the settings for each map. You can limit certain vehicles, weapons or aircraft from the playing field. Aside from that you’re stuck with all of the same previous game modes as before and with that comes the exact same problems, albeit on an even larger level.
Vietnam’s maps have far less choke points so the combat is really spread out. This allows one or two people to wander around and just capture all of the points while action is unfolding on the other side of the map. While this was a problem with BF1942 most of the maps had choke points that you had to get past before you could capture the latter points, meaning that you couldn’t sneak around and steal the points out from under the opposition. In seems that this is the nature of the combat in Vietnam and it makes for a frustrating experience. Just as you a bunch of your comrades steal a point back after a long fought battle you can expect to lose another point clear across the map. This hearkens back to the design flaws in BF1942 but those maps did a good job of compensating it with their layouts. Vietnam just isn’t right for this type of gaming and it proves to be highly frustrating.
I don’t think that the guys at DICE learned anything from their tumultuous BF1942 launch because the network code here is as (pardon the pun) dicey as ever. It varies from person to person but I’m having trouble finding a stable experience in games, even when my ping is below 50mls. I decided to hold a LAN over my network to test the game’s network code and that’s when I realized that it’s nearly impossible to have a smooth experience, no matter the circumstances. I even directly connected two computers to each other for a multiplayer co-op bot match and the lag still persisted. Eventually the gameplay would come to a screeching halt when the screen would freeze but the fight would continue on, complete with up-to-date sound effects and battle calls. It’s pretty frustrating to see your screen stuck yet you can still fire your weapon and maneuver in the background.Some of the designers have been touting the new and improved single-player element but it’s just as bad, if not worse, than ever before. Contrary to what you may have read your idiot teammates don’t respond to your commands nor do they ever try to work as a cohesive unit. They’re stupid, braindead, retarded, idiotic, moronic and downright annoying. It’s quite often that you’ll find them cluttered on one distant end of the map as you’re getting your ass handed to you by another congregation on the opposite end of the map. They’re also pacifists at heart too seeing as how they won’t attack you unless you attack them first. Most of the time you can simply run around them and then camp out at a spawn point as they actually move away from it instead of running around and trying to hunt you down. There’s little if any AI coding in here and nothing that shows me that these guys made a concerted effort to cater to the legions of fans who adore the co-op style of play. What’s that? You can’t get smart bots in a team-based FPS? What’s that other game that came out this week? Un-something I think it’s called.
You may have heard some good things about the graphics engine but it’s much-ado about nothing. If I had been living under a rock for the past year or so I might be impressed with the game’s artistic direction but as it stands, it does absolutely nothing for me. First Person Shooters are known as the trailblazers of technology, not the keepers of the status quo. BFVietnam looks pretty decent but it doesn’t exactly strike me as a game released in 2004. Unreal Tournament 2004
looks great while FarCry
, a first person shooter put into the same setting, simply blows it away. Aside from the underbrush there’s nothing here that looks remotely impressive when stacked against today’s shooters. All of the models are still relatively simple and though they feature nice textures they animate and maneuver quite poorly. I’m pretty satisfied with some of the explosions and the chunks that fly off of vehicles that are hit but it’s nothing amazing. What the game really needs is deformable terrain that reflects the chaos of the battle. By the end of the fight the rainforest should look like a parking lot that’s primed and ready to host a new Wal-Mart.
Probably the only thing that BFVietnam got right was its soundtrack. Not the audio portions of the game but the actual licensed music featured within it. Electronic Arts has done an excellent job of incorporating the day’s best music into its title and Vietnam is no exception. While each level loads you’re treated to a popular ‘60s song from the likes of Rare Earth, the Bobby Fuller Four and Edwin Starr. You might not know the names but you definitely know the music. My favorite feature is the ability to blast these tunes from any of the game’s vehicles. As you drive along anyone in the near vicinity will be able to hear the same song. Sure it’s not great for stealth scouting missions but there’s something undeniably awesome about playing ‘Ride of the Valkyrie’ just as your chopper appears over the horizon.
This is deceiving because the rest of the game’s audio is surprisingly underwhelming and generic. I’ve read some reports that state that the audio is eons better than in ’42 but I’m going to have to disagree. All of the effects here lack the proper oomph exhibited by the ones in ’42 and the sounds of war around me around less than convincing. Most of the voices are insanely annoying (especially the death groans) and do very little to engulf me in the atmosphere. The only well done effect here is the sound of bullets ripping through the foliage but it’s nothing really to get excited about.You want bugs? Well you’ve come to the right place. There’s an especially annoying bug on the Operation Flaming Dart where the sound of napalm being dropped plays on an endless loop. It’s so bad that it even keeps repeating as I entered the menu to change the map. Only after I disconnected from the server did that insipid sound finally disappear. Some maps have buildings where extremities can clip through the structure and are prone to enemy attack while running down stairs results in health loss or death. Then there are major problems with the visuals where the muzzle flashes appear sporadically while some sound effects are just dropped entirely and you die without so much as hearing a gunshot.
Unplayable is the best word to describe this debacle. Regarded, PC reviews can be quite subjective due to the constraints of the reviewer’s rig but I’m running the game on a P4 2.4Ghz with 512MB DDR and a Radeon 9700 All-in-Wonder Pro, well beyond the game’s recommended PIII 900Mhz settings. So why does the game run so choppy? Apparently no one really knows but a number of the people on the official Battlefield Message Boards
are extremely frustrated by it. I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly what is the source behind the horrendous stuttering but a number of people have indicated that the sound engineering might be behind my troubles. If I remember correctly the culprit behind the staggering frame rates in Battlefield 1942
was the audio coding and I have no doubts that the very same devil has reared its ugly head. Not to worry though, I’m sure that a patch will be out within the coming weeks. Pretty satisfying to realize that you paid $40 for an incomplete game huh?
About two months from now I can see Battlefield Vietnam
as a worthy gaming experience. There are a lot of great ideas here but there are even more obstacles that prevent them from coming into fruition. The foundation is there but DICE and EA really need to work hard to iron out the kinks to bring the game up to snuff. If you’re wise you’ll wait a few weeks for the initial patches to be released so that you can actually play the game as opposed to letting it sit idly by on your shelf. In the meantime, why don’t you pick up a game that actually works? Hey, didn't Epic just release a game on the same day?