Nam...1967...a place in history and a hotbed of danger, bloody skirmishes and the setting for Take 2's published game: Vietcong. The game is set around 67 and you take on the role of Sgt 1st class - Steve Hawkins, who's assigned to Nui Pek Camp as an Intel Sgt. I've heard and seen a lot of varied reviews for Vietcong over the past few weeks and I have to admit, I'm fond of the game, it has some bugs and some glaring annoyances that leap out and bite you when you least expect it. But on the whole, it's a very solid and enjoyable game.
There are two components to VC - Singleplayer and Multiplayer that features Co-op against the game's lethal AI. By far the most impressive thing about the SP game is the intense atmosphere, but before I go into depth about that, let's briefly give you an overview of the various core elements of the game.
Graphics: Nothing stunning here to be honest, but wait a moment, this is a bugbear of mine. Let's look at the gfx again for a moment, lush jungle and environmental effects galore. Sure, they're not the all singing all dancing pixel perfect polygons and textures that we've come to expect from games like Unreal 2 and Splinter Cell - they might pixelate when they're up close but what they are is realistic enough to set the scene and create the right atmosphere.
Leaves fall from small trees as you disturb the foliage and that kind of detail is something that I like. Nothing is static and the environment is brought to vivid life and colour really well, regardless of the lower polys and the less than brilliant textures (By today's standards). The attention to character detail might not be up there with Raven Shield or other games, but what there is...is pretty darn good, there's lip synched vocalisation and the characters have facial expressions - it gives them depth and adds to the game even more.
Animation: Now here is where the game really does shine, from the walking and crawling animations, to the leaning and standing ones. There are a lot of frames, none of it looks false and they characters (both enemy and friendly) react to their environment unlike any I have ever seen. They encounter a low wall or a fallen tree, they will step over it, dive over it or crouch behind cover. The VC are deadly soldiers, they use the jungle at will and sometimes their AI is just way too good, but thankfully most of the time your team members are also pretty hot, it's amazing just to watch them slug away in a skirmish and see their reactions to the world around them.
One of the more mesmerising things to watch is after a dangerous battle; they will go from VC body to VC body and check them. Sometimes they'll scavenge ammo and occasionally they'll shoot the body to make sure. And as they search the body, they'll often perform a motion (throat cut motion) with their hand, to indicate the status. This can be combined with a vocal comment or a smart-ass remark. Again all of it comes together with the desired effect. Immersion.
They dive to safety, they duck and they just move with a pretty good degree of realism. Walking, running, crouching and crawling animations are all carried out with a realistic posture and it's good to see that when you do give a command in MP often or not the character actually makes the appropriate hand-signal too. While I'm not sure it has ragdoll, it has decently falling bodies and a reasonable death animation set. Plus most of the time there are no clipping errors with walls and things. There's also a fair amount of gore, while not in the Mortal Kombat genre of flowing buckets of claret - some of the more gore-ridden moments are when you see the result of an Air Strike on a VC position and the dead lie like broken bloody dolls.
All in all, the Animation is top notch.
Sounds: Vietcong thrums with the gorgeous audio of many a gun battle, screams and shouts from both the VC and your comrades as the lead flies. The taunts and vocals are mature and can be toggled, but I find the more mature ones give depth to the game. I'm sorry but no way in Hades would a soldier in Nam shout: Hey you naughty gook, just die will you? Thankfully they don't they let rip with various typical soldier-like quotes.
But the game really bustles with the environmental audio of the jungle, not to mention the crunch of bracken and undergrowth. Birds caw-caw in the trees, the jungle is brought alive with more effects and spot effects than most movies and it's pretty breathtaking when combined with the graphics as well. So it's got some of the best audio support I've heard in a game yet.
VC doesn't require a super PC to run either, the whole thing moves at a fair rate on most set-ups and provides a good balance between looks and gameplay.
AI: Oh boy, now here's where I really can get my teeth bloodied. VC's AI varies between stupidly dumb at times (Often a quick reload can clear that problem, so always remember, save often and check the controls list in the game for the quick-save key) to brilliantly accurate, both for the VC and for your AI teammates. But this is a minor niggle; you have to learn to play VC unlike a Quake Style action shooter and be more cautious. In the end I was actually glad that the Vietcong are at times, wickedly accurate, it taught me new strategies and new tricks. In MP Co-op though the super VC AI can kill you from miles away with a .38 revolver, not good.
Gameplay: VC's gameplay is excellent, the missions are varied and the tunnel sections are nightmarish and dangerous. The inclusion of your base camp bunker and various files and documents to read inside it, while you're waiting to move to the next level - is to be honest, excellent, it provides even more immersion. Plus the radio has several licence tunes that brought back memories for me of movies like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. There are several nice touches when you're on a mission, on some missions you're on your own but most of the time you have your whole squad with you and they each fulfil a specific task. Clicking on one of them while you're up close can often elicit the correct response. The team is broken up into several classes, which go along the lines of.
Medic: Crocker is the Medic and he listens out for cries of injured comrades and yourself, he can also be summoned to you by pressing the number pad key that is associated with his character (That's in the manual) - If you click on him while you're wounded he will patch you up. Otherwise he does his own thing, running, providing covering fire and healing everyone who needs it.
Engineer: Bronson is the man who blows things to bits with explosives and also gives you ammo when you need it, like Crocker, he's seen leaping around and cussing you if you ask for ammo too often. He will also give ammo to the team as the battles rage on.
Radioman: Defort is your lifeline, if he gets killed, you're in serious trouble. He calls for extraction, allows you to save the game at important parts and also provides the all-important 'Airstrike' and 'Arty' support.
Machine gunner: Hornster is a loud-mouthed, wisecracking adrenaline psycho junkie, who uses his m60 to great effect. Most often seen bitching about gooks and how bored he is, but he's also excellent backup to have on your team.
Pointman: Nhut, he's the guy who goes first, you can get him (by clicking on him when close) to lead you through the jungle, spot for traps and generally make sure you get through in one piece. He's a vital man to the team and lethal most times with his shotgun.
Anyone of your team can be called to you via the number pad key that corresponds to them in the game. The only time they can't be called is if the mission dictates so.
Not only that but you also have a detailed 'orders' menu which can be called up by pressing X or End in the game. This has a good few options and gives you more depending on the circumstances, such as VC in the vicinity but not aware of you.
I could spend all day talking about the depth of control you have over your main character, and the various other members who react to you in a realistic way. It really is refreshing to see this kind of teamwork and AI brought into games, it's even better than Operation Flashpoint if you ask me. Another similarity is in aiming; when you hit the Rmb you bring up your weapon before you, looking down the iron-sight or through the sniper's scope.
For a real challenge, play in 'Vietnam' mode where all indicators and HUD elements are removed. You're left with your wits, and map. The map is wonderfully implemented and actually appears in game, you right click to zoom in and sometimes you have to find a lit spot to read it. The map is also used for you to call in Arty on targets, so you have to learn how to read it properly, or you might end up blowing yourself and team to Kingdom Come.
The VC missions and story are both diverse and entertaining, they have to be some of the hardest and varied missions I've seen in a game to date, with a variety of objectives - and while you can't fly Hueys in the game you can however man various machine guns and drive the jeep at one point. But that's not all, if you go to the shooting range prior to a mission you can change Hawkin's weapons Loadout by keeping the guns you were practising with. I must point out that you can only carry 1 pistol and 1 rifle - but you always have a knife.
You also (at times) get explosives, and usually a few grenades; anything else can be scavenged from the dead. And in some of the missions there's a lot of dead, the VC are a great source for guns that you normally wouldn't have access to. Grenades are different in VC as well, LMB cooks the grenade, then LMB again throws it varied on the amount of time it's held, but if you pop the RMB after the LMB the first time - Hawkins tosses the Grenade under-arm, with some practise you can roll them in through doors.
Before I move on to Multiplay for the last part of my review, I'll mention that the weapons all have varied firing statistics and the game implements them pretty well, I was a bit shocked to find no M14 in the enormous list of guns but perhaps that can be added in a patch by the developers. Guns can also be unlocked along with maps for the SP quick-fight skirmish modes, where you can play as VC or US and attempt to kill the opposition. This adds even more replayability and gives the game a better shelf life.
VC is also packed with MP gaming too. Let's hear it for the inclusion of this because to be honest, most games need MP now days. So what do you get in the way of MP gaming, well, the same attention to detail and quality with the various character classes you can choose and massive amounts of fun over LAN or Internet.
Deathmatch: Usually fare here, all for one and one for everyone else.
Team Deathmatch: Well, at least we can work together to rip the other team and new one.
Capture the Flag: A staple diet of your usual MP gamemodes.
Assault Team Game: Ooh, each team has a specific objective and the other team must prevent this. For example: Protect the Pilot. Get your US Pilot to the LZ while the VC try to take him down.
Last Man Standing: No respawns, last man alive wins...flawless victory!
Real War: Capture all the flags on the map and you win! Well, your team wins!
Co-op: Woah, did I just see that? YES! But it's also got some flaws. For one, not enough Co-op maps and no SP Co-op game! The VC in Co-op have lethal AI and it can often kill you dead from 400 meters away with a single shot to the head, with an AK. They have eagle eyesight and senses, sneaking up on them is damn near impossible at times. But it's still fun...lots of fun.
You also take on roles and fill out up to 6 members of your squad, the usual roles are there for the taking and they act like their SP counterparts. Radioman, Medic, Engineer and of course they had to add the Sniper - yeah, M1 Garand bay-bee...
Team talk, talk and the Command Menu can all be combined to make an effective strategy work in MP. As an added bonus on a LAN you can also use the inbuilt voice-comms that comes with the game.
There's also a number of options for the server, that are just too numerous to mention, some of the best include the option to auto-kick/ban a teamkiller past a number of kills, 5 or so etc. Again it's nice to see that all these features are in place, and they work reasonably well. You can choose how long to ban the offender for and other options.
All in all VC is a step in the right direction for immersive and enthralling SP games, with additional MP goodness. It looses out for the Co-op VC evil Ninja-eyesight cheating AI - but also gains for the fact that at least you can play with your friends. It's excellent fun and it's one of my favourite past-times now. I urge anyone who loves this kind of thing, give it a spin and from the moment you watch the VC outflank you in SP or MP Co-op you'll be enthralled. It needs more MP Co-op maps and it'll be a better game and get a better score, but for now...I hear the strains of Ride of the Valkyries and I have the urge to rumble in the jungle.
* wanders off chanting * Patch the game...I want a patch...Co-op and AI patch!!!