Vietcong

Vietcong

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 4/21/2003 for PC  

It’s about damn time someone made a first person shooter based on America’s most unpopular conflict. While the majority of the history books tend to focus on what happened here in the ‘States, they often neglect to mention that danger and peril that our servicemen were placed in overseas. It wasn’t a war that was ugly based on its political innuendos, but was marred by the thousands of servicemen who gave their lives for a seemingly pointless cause. The brave young men who risked life and limb in the treacherous jungles of Vietnam; where ambushes, traps and gunfights awaited them behind every bush. Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is Vietcong.

As its namesake implies you’re a member of the United States armed forces stationed in Vietnam to do combat against the Vietcong. When you begin you’ll start off on boring medical supply missions to underprivileged villages but eventually you’ll work your way up to bombing the tunnels of the VC, kicking some major VC ass in the jungles and of course, kicking major VC ass in the jungles. If you’re in the mood for killing Nazis or strange alien creatures then look elsewhere, this is all about exacting some hardcore justice upon endless hordes of the Vietcong after endless horde of the Vietcong. I’m not usually one up for brainless straightforward shooters but there’s just something about Vietcong that keeps me coming back for more, regardless of its numerous flaws.

The game is broken up into a wide variety of missions ranging from your general run-and-gun jungle missions, claustrophobic indoor missions that take place in tunnels and steal-like missions where you must dispatch of your foes without making a peep. Without a doubt the straightforward action scenes are the highlight of this title. One moment you’re traversing through the jungle with your squad mates, the sound of birds are chirping all around you and all sun peers brilliantly through the trees. Then suddenly a few gunshots are heard and the sounds of chaos erupt all around you. You hit the dirt as you’re ambushed by a group of VCs, trying desperately to avoid the bullets that are whizzing over your head.

Sitting in the center of your surround speaker setup you’ll hear the sounds of gunfire emerging from all over, the VC have you and your squad surrounded, you’re going to have to fight your way out. So you crawl over to a fallen log and lean against it for cover as you try to gather your bearings. Out of the corner of your eye you see a muzzle flash spark from behind a bush, you’ve got a bead on a target and you raise the gun to your eye. You hit pop up from behind your cover and take a few shots, and then you return to your cover to reload. After nailing your target you notice a few more targets off in the distance so you pull out your map. Checking out the map for a bit you yell out to your radioman the coordinates of your enemies and call in an air strike, seconds later choppers enter the area and unleash hell upon your opponents. Finally a wave of silence cascades over the jungle and all is quiet again. You arise from your cover to search the bodies of your enemies, taking extra care to wipe the sweat from your palms.

That’s a typical scene from the outdoor levels of Vietcong, it’s just a shame that the same level of excellence wasn’t carried over to the game’s other missions. As you progress through the game you’ll soon come to the realization that the game is at its best when it’s a strategic shooter. Utilizing cover, popping out to lay cover fire so that your squad mates can flank the enemy and then hiding to reload is a real tense experience. Creeping around in underground tunnels, wandering around aimlessly in mile after mile of bland and repetitive scenery isn’t. The fact that the enemy will almost always get the drop on you and pop you for a few shots before you even spot them will prove to be agitating as well. Add in some really unnecessary stealth-missions that require patience and silence and you have your textbook momentum killer.

Not to say that all of the missions are bad, just the ones that serve as the meat between the slices of bread that are the outdoor missions. The outdoor missions will get your heart pounding, your pulse throbbing and your palms sweating due to their intense level of action. Then suddenly you’re thrust into an insanely boring level that takes place in the tunnels of the VC, talk about your mood killer. These levels are just absolutely atrocious as they detract from the action and excitement that the game tries so hard to build.

In addition to the single-player campaign, which has a very cinematic feel to it, the gameplay is extended via the instant battle mode. It’s a nice little mode where you can tackle on a number of enemy troops in one of the game’s environments. It’s essentially a botmatch for those whose connections are too slow to take their games online. Then there’s the online modes which add another layer of depth to the game and help round out the package. Some strange stability issues aside, the multiplayer is a definite must-try for anyone who purchases the game.

Visually the game runs the gamut from excellent to absolutely horrid. Some of the models are exceptional, featuring characters who expand and contract as they breathe, who have eyes that shift and blink and animate with excellent fluidity. Then on the other end of the spectrum are characters that look very simian-like, featuring very little detail and structure. I found it a little strange that the game’s main character and the commander were some of the worst look characters in the game while secondary characters, like the medic, just look superb.

The range and variety of animations make up for the sub-par player models. You’ll see enemies and teammates run and dive as they go into the prone position. Squad mates won’t just magically warp over logs and foliage but instead will swing their legs over and bring their body over them, just exactly what you would expect in real life. These are the types of little animations that I would expect to see in a highly polished third person shooter but they’re here and they’re beautiful.
Some of the special effects will really take you by surprise. Muzzle flashes are rendered quite nicely and serve as your main means for spotting the enemy. Sure I’ve seen muzzle flashes in other games and with the exception of Unreal II, I’d say these are some of the best muzzle flashes in the business. The nice touches don’t stop there though, when helicopters land in the jungle the powerful rotors cause the nearby trees and shrubbery to sway in its wake. You’ll even see butterflies and other insects making their way around the jungles. Yes the visual quality of the game is a bit sub-par, but small all of the small touches will make you forget about the horrendous textures and weak player models.

If you own a decent audio set-up then this is the game for you. All of the game’s audio, from the gunfire, to the screams of your squad mates to the amazing ambiance, really engulf you in the experience. The jungle is alive and teeming with insects, creatures and other weird jungle noises that will have you on edge. I especially love the sounds of firefights, they don’t sound scripted and really have a sense of frenzy and chaos. Turn up your speakers loud enough and you’ll really begin to feel the fear and tension that our boys felt overseas during the conflict. It doesn’t end with the sound effects though, the music in the game is superb as well.

The soundtrack, which plays in the menus and at the end of the missions, is filled with hand-plucked guitar tracks that send that tingle up your spine. You know, that sort of hippie protest music but instead of being ruined by some pointless words, you get the coolest part, the guitar. Overall the audio is definitely one of the game’s strongest points as it is consistently above-par, it’s just a shame that the rest of the game wasn’t this solid.
Like Illusion Softworks’ earlier entry, Hidden and Dangerous, the game has an overall jerky feeling to it. The screen never does quite scroll smoothly and it causes many more problems than it should. It’s an issue with the engine itself that causes the game’s frame rates to chug, regardless of the horsepower. Imagine trying to pick off moving targets while the game is running at 15 frames per second and you begin to understand the game’s troubles. Close-quarter combat becomes significantly harder due to the difficulty that comes from having to hit a moving target. I even had a hard time trying to pick off enemies who were running straight at me. Strangely enough ranged combat is much easier and is without a doubt, the game’s strongest aspect.

In addition to the frame rate issues, the game is far too systematic. Basically the game is a big gunfight followed by a few minutes of methodically traversing through the forest en route to the next gunfight. To make matters worse it’s very easy to tell when a designated “kill zone” is upon you because the rest of the jungle is so plain and barren. When you see an enclave of trees and fallen logs in the middle of the jungle you can expect a firefight to be nearby.

There are a number of bugs that plague the game and really ruin the experience. For starters it’s far too easy to become stuck in the game’s environment. Sometimes I’d get stuck underwater, get stuck in walls and ever get stuck on rocks. It’s just horrible and the only means of escape is via death. The AI squad mates are also relatively brain dead, especially when it comes to progressing through the mission. They have a huge tendency to become stuck in the environment and your point man, who essentially serves as your guide, will refuse to advance until your whole team catches up. You will literally have to go back through the level and find out what piece of environment he got stuck on, and then run into him until he gets back on the track. It becomes pretty annoying after awhile and adds to the game’s already slow and trudging pace.

Perhaps that’s just is, the game’s commitment to realism is the game’s Achilles’ heel. As a straight-up shooter Vietcong is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride that you never want to stop riding, but as a historically accurate first person shooter, the game falters a bit and may cause more fits of boredom than you’d probably like. Again there’s plenty to love about Vietcong, it’s just a shame that there’s almost as much to hate as well.
Most of the game is good, if not teetering on excellence but the slow trudging pace and quirky gameplay issues really hurt this game. Even with its problems I'd still choose it over Unreal II any day of the week.

Rating: 8.1 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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