Vietnam is getting extremely crowded these days. There are now so many shooters based on that famous US conflict of the 1960s and 1970s that we wouldn't be surprised to find out that the figures lurking in the dense jungle aren't enemy VC, but simply other developers researching the fauna and plant life for their own Vietnam game.
However, a recent thrash of Men Of Valor: Vietnam, from thecreators of Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault, has given us hope that the flood of 'Nam-based titles (check out the Conflict: Vietnam review on page 74) won't all leave us shell-shocked and gibbering like Colonel Kurtz on one of his bad days.
You play through the game as Dean Shepard, an African-American marine thrown into the conflict in 1965, with each mission preceded by Dean's emotional letters home to his mum and gritty documentary footage (see 'TV War' right).
It's Real, Man
Developer 2015 has done its research and according to level designer Cayle George, Men Of Valor will be one of the most accurate portrayals of the Vietnam war. "Almost every mission in the game has elements that are drawn from history," he told us. "There are real missions that US marines took part in, such as defending the Mach 3 compound during a heavy NVA assault. The same applies to weaponry, so you won't find a gun that wasn't actually in the timeline you're playing. You progress from the start of the war towards the end when the M16 was introduced - things like that."
In one of the first missions we witnessed, Dean and his squad have to clear out VC villages when his unit's APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers) get bogged down in a rice paddy field. In a scripted, but beautifully cinematic sequence, soldiers who had been chatting casually suddenly pour out of the vehicles as an enemy mortar makes a direct hit, exploding and scattering a horrific mix of limbs and metal into the air.
Later on we see a barrage of machine-gun fire mow down a fellow squad-mate, who just lies there bleeding on the muddy ground screaming "No! I'm not ready!" Dean has to use covering fire to distract the VC as another soldier desperately picks up the wounded soldier and drags him behind the tanks. The injured man dies moments later, just as napalm strikes from US aircraft ignites the enemy hills and trees in a blaze of fiery destruction.
Is That A Real Dead Person?
Men Of Valor is peppered with disturbing images of war, but George insists that it was done with the best intentions. "I don't think our intent was to shock the player. I mean we're not out to make a political statement about the Vietnam War; you can draw your own conclusions about that. I think our goal is to portray the war accurately and we've tried to leave things out which are tasteless."
Unlike many other cross-platform Vietnam games, 2015 is completely overhauling the PC version, so players will experience extra missions and more soldiers involved in the battles. Rather like Medal Of Honor or Call Of Duty, you don't control your squad in the game, relying instead on the AI to send around half a dozen soldiers scurrying into firefights with you. "However, your squad-mates are not so beefed up that they're just going to wipe everybody out so you don't have to play the game," adds George, "but if you work with them and you fight alongside them, you will have a much easier time playing rather than being a loner."
As you can see from these exclusive screenshots, Men Of Valor also has graphics that are far superior to its console equivalent. The water effects are stunning, rippling and splashing if disturbed by soldiers or gunfire. The explosions are also terrific, tossing earth, brick and wood into the air, and creating realistic plumes of smoke. "We have an awesome amount of foliage, canopy and jungle," continues George. "There's full ground coverage with grass everywhere that you can hide in or explore with your squad. It's pretty cool the way the grass actually moves as you walk through it."