In 2004, Vietnam was the new World War II in the gaming industry. It seemed everyone wanted a piece of the action and with the sales going up and up on war simulations, why not. Aside from the controversial setting of the game, most turned out to be fairly decent shooters and offered a great atmosphere for people to move onto once they had done and dusted World War II. Men of Valor was one of the first games to be announced for the Vietnam theatre of war, but then turned out to be one of the last released in 2004. However, Vivendi just may have saved the best for last.
In Men of Valor, you take the role of a young African-American soldier, sent into battle during the early stages of the war. The storyline itself is very reminiscent of other Vietnam games where you lose soldiers but fight on to finish the war off but the game also shows the other side of the war, the people back home and does it a lot more successfully than what EA managed in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. Between levels either our main character writes a letter or receives one, and it explains about what is going on back home. While it is a very small touch to the game, it gives it a unique side which no other Vietnam game has explored thus far and perhaps shows a little bit what it was like to be away during the Vietnam war.
As you would expect Men of Valor is a first person shooter but this is very much an arcade console shooter. That's not to say there is no realism in the game because there is no doubt that the developers have really put an effort into researching the battles but there are aspects which destroy this notion. One example is your team mates who you really don't have much interaction with other than having to find them to continue a mission at certain waypoints. If they are hit, they fall to the ground, clutching wounds before getting up to continue the fight. Should you fall down and die, you... die, as you would expect. What this does however is put a huge focus on the action which occurs in the game and this is not your typical Vietnam game.
From what we've seen in titles such as Conflict: Vietnam the action, according to most developers, should be in short spurts and nearly always ambushes. Men of Valor is the closest to a World War II game in the Vietnam theatre of war that has been released thus far, and that means the focus is very much on the action of the game. Whereas in a normal style Vietnam game you would be crawling around disabling traps picking Vietcong off, in MOV you're avoiding traps while shooting multiple enemies and taking flak fire. It's much more intense and this is why it is the best Vietnam game thus far despite the lack of realism.
The game is made up of a number of missions, categorized into campaigns with one common goal but there are sub-missions such as clearing out enemy camps or rescuing wounded soldiers on the battlefield. While the focus is very much on the action, a few things have been added by the developers to give it a more simulation feel. Checkpoints are used to save progress, but you only have a set number of lives before that checkpoint is removed and the level must be started again. For once we don't have a problem with this as it seems to add to the game rather then artificially extend the life. This really is not required because the game is fairly lengthy and on top of that there is multiplayer gameplay on offer for those with Xbox Live including co-operative online play.
Another aspect of the game which is great is the varying level design. It again may not offer the most realistic take on the war, but playing through many different levels rather thsn repetitive textures makes for better gameplay. The level design also allows for multiple paths to be taken during a mission. For instance during a shelling attack do you take the tunnels and encounter the enemies, or do you run across the target zone, quicker, no enemy resistance but the risk of being hit exists. Also there is destructible scenery as well as gun emplacements to use. To back up the level design the graphics are also very impressive. Each of the American soldiers have individual animations as well as traits and personality which really adds to the game. While the game is heavily scripted, the storyline in the games engine plays out well but with the lack of babysitting required it still can become frustrating when a script takes out one of your soldiers and your covering fire is less. The voice acting is also very well done and one of the more interesting features of the game is the media character who reports back to home in a very controversial manner.
Men of Valor as mentioned at the top of the review is probably the best Vietnam game on the market but still has a few problems that it could use some attention if a sequel is made. It may not offer the best view of the war in terms of realism, but the action flows thick and fast in this hybrid World War II/Vietnam shooter.