The Vietnam War inspired some of the most memorable war films from recent years. It was a vicious and brutal conflict in which the North Vietnamese, despite a major lack of resources, were able to humble the largest military nation on the planet. This was achieved largely because of the difficulty of jungle warfare. Booby traps, tunnels and thick vegetation made for a truly nasty experience for both sides. Although it seems slightly distasteful these same factors provide the basis for an excellent first person shooter in the shape of Vietcong.
The game is set in Vietnam in 1967 and draws widely from a variety of films like Platoon and Hamburger Hill. The single player game sees you lead a small squad on a variety of missions through the jungle, fields, villages and mountains of Vietnam. The multi-player is where the real fun lies, featuring epic battles with up to 64 players pitted against each other in combat.
The look of the game is absolutely fantastic, they have done an excellent job of recreating a jungle setting full of noise and movement. The vegetation looks great and often distracts you, tricking your eyes. Many times I´ve found myself aiming at a tree stump trying to figure out whether it is an enemy or not. This constant scanning of the horizon and vegetation is further complicated by the fogging effects when you are at a distance, a misty haze which can give way at any moment to a group of enemy soldiers coming straight for you.
The sound in this game is also extremely good. Birds, monkeys and insects combine with babbling water and wind to create a background hubbub which is frequently penetrated by the staccato sound of gunfire or a distant explosion. The tinnitus effect which makes your ears ring when there is an explosion nearby drowns out everything else and the sound of your heart thumping is amplified when you get injured, these are both prime examples of excellent use of sound, they disorientate you, get the adrenaline flowing and yet they still make logical sense in the game world - this is not often achieved.
The weapon set is exactly what you would expect, this game is modelled quite closely on reality and so you have the main weapons of choice as the M16 and the AK47. Personally I think the AK cannot be beat for lethal force although the fire rate of the M16 is pretty sweet. Nice touches with the weapons include homemade looking Vietnamese grenades and the ability to set booby traps with trip wires.
As a player you choose from a variety of classes, Soldier, Medic, Sniper, Engineer, Radioman and Machine-Gunner. They are all pretty self explanatory, medics can heal, engineers have extra ammo and radiomen can request air-strikes to specific positions on the map. The trade off with the extra skills is generally that your choice of gun is poorer but you can always pick one up off a dead comrade or enemy.
In the single player mode you can only go an American which is a bit disappointing but then that´s the target audience I suppose. The single player game starts out slowly with a series of badly scripted tutorial style scenes before moving into the missions proper. The enemy AI is very good, they duck behind cover, avoid grenades and generally creep about in a sneaky fashion. Upon encountering a group often one or two of them will try to flank you while the others distract you with constant fire and grenades.
I enjoyed the single player up to a point, basically up the point at which I got stuck in a pitch black tunnel with no light sticks. Some of the missions are a lot of fun and there are some very nice touches, searching bodies to discover sepia tone photos, or hand scrawled plans and maps is a great idea. However the rest of my squad was annoying at times, they´d either rush in and kill everyone, running in front of you and blocking shots or they´d be stuck on a jaggy rock miles back leaving you to cope on your own.
The multiplayer is brilliant but it´s not perfect either. They claim that 64 players can play on the box and I´m sure that is probably true but I've never seen more than 50 and it was a laggy experience. I also think there are a lot of cheats with speed and aiming hacks which can ruin the fun. There is a nasty bug which causes you to spawn on a blue background and die but this is fixed by the patch which you can download from http://www.vietcong-game.com. Multiplayer features the usual batch of options - Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Last Man Standing etc. Capture the Flag is best but the quality of the game often depends on how co-operative other people are feeling. If you can gather a group and advance carefully you will have loads more success. Sometimes you´ll want to just go for it and you can get success this way too if you´re good enough, but remember that one bullet in the head will stop your advance dead.
Most of the maps are really fun to play. My favourite is the NVA Base which offers you a variety of routes to the enemy flag without being too huge. Storm is also a great map, a sprawling mass of mud and vegetation with constant rain streaming down. There are some nasty walls of collision with vegetation to block your way in some areas but you can forgive that and its much more common in the single player mode.
This is a great game which has had me sitting in front of the computer for hours mentally running through the jungle in fear of my life. It is very immersive, exciting to play and well-designed though not always well executed. If you are a fan of the FPS genre then you should definitely buy this game, it offers a different style of game-play and provides a satisfying thrill.