This year we have seen a multitude of Vietnam games released. There is no doubt that this year, the Lens Flare award goes to the next theatre of war which developers have focused on. Aside from the contreversial political aspect, it really does represent an interesting time in history to set a game. The jungles are really tense and offer developers the chance to create some fantastic atmosphere, place booby traps and create ambush situations. This is why its not hard to see why it has become such a popular setting.
The console versions of Vietcong mix the original PC game with the expansion pack and while it's a fairly decent game, there is indications that the PC game just was not going to work on the console no matter how much they tried to improve it.
Vietcong is set in the year 1967 (which for some reason, almost every Vietnam game seems to be set in). Of course the war was based around the Communists trying to take over Southern Vietnam in America's eyes and they didn't want this to occur so a war began. In a more specific scope, Vietcong has fictional missions but you do encounter many famous areas from the war such as the Ho Minh Chin trail and the tasks you perform are very much what you would expect from a war game set in the era.
Vietcong is a first person shooter but with a difference. You take command of a squadron of four characters and much like Rainbow Six only take control of your actual character. Throughout the game you will see soldiers come and go as they are killed during the story sequences and they become your life blood in the jungle with medics and engineers (ammunition) becoming your most trusted allies. This situation with the squadron causes problems in the game and in many ways makes it too easy. You know if you get hit, you can just run to the medic and get fixed, you know if you run out of ammo, you can get more, so it leads to a very laid back attitude towards the events in the game and perhaps does not offer the realism the developers were aiming for.
One thing that the game gets right are the missions which are doled out to you on the front line. The most impressive aspect of how this plays out is the detail the artists and developers have put into the game. When a helicopter is called in, you see the helicopter land and take off in the game engine rather than in a cut scene, or it not happening at all with "mission complete" stamped on the screen. The tasks range from rescuing wounded soldiers, clearing out enemy camps, destroying enemy artillery or just reaching an area on the map.
The game is extremely linear and at any one time there is only one way in which a mission can be completed. What makes the game even more linear is the point man. You can use this character to lead you through the level finding traps and enemies but this leads to another problem.
It is unfair to blame this problem completely on the point man abilities but it is more a problem of the whole structure of the overall game. The game is much too slow for a console audience. In the lounge room people are used to continuous action in games such as Men of Valor, where as Vietcong is very much a PC oriented game with short bursts of action followed by slow movement through the jungle. When the action occurs the game is great and it really shows how good the AI is, ducking behind rocks, running away when you get close etc. It offers a decent challenge, but the slow pacing of the title really is a major factor in why the game is not as good as it could have been.
Another problem with the game is the level design. Being set in the jungle it is hard to have vastly different levels but the linear style of the game is not helped by the re-use of painted textures over and over again. There are some impressive details with the visuals of the game but overall it looks like a very well done Unreal mod more than a game which stands on its own in terms of engine design and graphics.
The sound effects and style of the game truly captured the essence of the 60's era extremely well. From the introduction, which gives a detailed background on what was happening at the time in terms of music and fashion right through to the fantastic voice acting during the detailed cut scenes, the game sure knows how to show itself off well.
One thing the Xbox version has over the PS2 version is the online play. Other than this the longevity of the game is extended by a skirmish style mode where you can replay missions you have already completed in a number of different ways. Alone, with a squad, different numbers of random enemies etc and this extends the life of the game once the 22 missions are completed.
Vietcong Purple Haze is not a bad game overall but some design decisions have really limited it from becoming a great console game. People who can deal with the slow pace of the game and the extreme linear style will find a fairly decent title, but while it's worth a play, it's not worth the full asking price.