One of the greatest things about games is that no matter how closely you follow the news something is always going to slip under your radar and knock your socks off. As I sit and write this sans socks IÃ‚'m thinking IÃ‚'d rather be playing Vietcong, the most pleasant surprise to hit my computer since Battlefield 1942.
Vietcong was made by a small developer in the Czech Republic by the name of Pterodon in conjunction with Illusion Softworks, the guys behind the Hidden and Dangerous series and the other surprise hit, Mafia. With credentials like those you would think I would have followed development of the game a bit more closely. Instead, I skipped news items about it and decided it was another lame foreign attempt at the FPS.
Being wrong never felt so good.
You start the game as Steve R. Hawkins, a team leader joining a new assignment in South East Asia to fight in the Vietnam War. In a style pioneered by Half-Life, Vietcong starts you in a helicopter flying to your new base while a fellow soldier briefs you on whatÃ‚'s been happening lately, whoÃ‚'s been killed and what to expect. When you land youÃ‚'re shown around the base and introduced to a few of the guys you will be fighting through the jungle with. YouÃ‚'ve got everyone from the rough and gruff heavy machine gunner to the spectacled medic who will keep you alive during missions.
It all sounds a bit clichÃƒÂ© but they pull it off believably without making you roll your eyes or snort in disgust. In fact, I would say the whole game is about making everything as believable and atmospheric as possible. The layout of the bunker you live in, the way soldiers curse and swear at each other and the fact that everyone treats death lightly since it happens so often all come together to bring you into a world that feels somewhere between reality and the movie Platoon.
Once you embark on your first mission it becomes apparent that youÃ‚'re probably going to have a heart attack or possibly develop an ulcer as you play. These jungles are thick with trees, bushes, foliage, flora AND fauna. Everything is lush and well rendered with trees swaying in the wind, frogs jumping about and even the occasional monkey. Complimenting the graphics are some excellent 3D sounds which soon become essential to survival since your enemies can be coming at you from any direction and well hidden from the naked eye.
The in-game hud has a few different options. With everything enabled you would have a radar that tracks both friends and enemies in the area, a health gauge, your current weapon, ammo levels and a crosshair. You can disable the radar on its own, remove the crosshair or if youÃ‚'re a real man like me you can turn it all off and have nothing on the screen but your gun. Like Operation Flashpoint before it, aiming with the gunÃ‚'s sights is critical to being accurate if you donÃ‚'t use an on-screen crosshair.
It can be overwhelming at first, pushing through the jungle and trying to look everywhere at once. Lucky for you there are some squad mates along for the trip who are actually useful and dare I say, smart. Each member of your crew has a different function, letÃ‚'s have a little run down:
Point Man Ã‚– Le Duy Nhut is a local who joined your forces to fight the Ã‚"filthy commiesÃ‚" for his people. Nhut is your point man, you follow him and pay very close attention to his body language and instructions when he spots a trap. You learn early in the game that not sticking fairly close to the trail Nhut blazes can quickly lead to hidden pit traps and other unpleasant surprises the VC (Vietcong) leave behind. After a firefight or locations of interest you approach Nhut and tell him to keep pressing forward, which keeps things firmly in your control as team leader.
Radio Man Ã‚– PJ Defort is your connection to the field commanders with his trusty radio backpack. When you get a call from HQ PJ will let you know and hand you the phone. This is usually great because the game auto-saves after most conversations. Otherwise, you only get 5 saves per mission. Which to be honest, is more than enough so far.
The Doc Ã‚– J Crocker is your field medic, he keeps you and your crew alive when things get ugly. This is what we call Ã‚"a good thingÃ‚" since the mission fails if one of your crew dies.
Machine Gunner Ã‚– C.J Hornster is your machine gunner, he guns the Vietcong down like theyÃ‚'re trying to kill him.
Engineer Ã‚– Honestly, I havenÃ‚'t found much use for T Bronson so far in the game. I expect he can blow stuff up and do a good job at it.
So thatÃ‚'s your crew, they are more or less self-sufficient out on the field. They spot enemies, take cover and return fire with no help or commands from you. In fact, the extent of your control is calling them to you if you need something and prompting Nhut to lead on. IÃ‚'m usually pretty ambivalent towards friendly AI but so far I have no complaints. They have yet to get stuck anywhere, they donÃ‚'t die stupidly and they hop over logs, in bunkers and through tunnels without any difficulty. In fact, at the end of my last mission PJ Defort tied me for kills.
The actual game plays kind of like SOF2. ItÃ‚'s realistic but not overly so. You can take a few shots and be good as new when your medic fixes you up again. On the other hand, you cannot run and gun if you want to live. Taking cover is the key to survival which makes for some explosive and drawn out firefights as each side tries to catch the other off guard. This works especially well when hiding behind a rock or a log and using your aiming function. By aiming with your gun sights, you poke your view just above your cover so you can snap a few shots. It works well and feels much more natural than standing and crouching constantly.
So thatÃ‚'s the single player so far. Tense, exciting, varied and propelled by solid AI throughout. I havenÃ‚'t spent as much time with the multiplayer yet but what I did play shows great promise. A ton of game options include coop, CTF, deathmatch and more. The net code seems solid so far and browsing the comments of others who have played the game seems to confirm that.
There is one sore spot in Vietcong that frustrates the hell out of me and countless others. The safe disk protection kills performance for a lot of people, sometimes cutting their frame rates in half. Thankfully, a no-cd crack takes care of that problem so be sure to grab it when you buy the game.
ThatÃ‚'s right, when you buy the game. ItÃ‚'s not really your decision to make anymore. Vietcong is tense, exciting and polished with a ton of atmosphere and large, expansive environments. What more could you ask for?