When we embarked on our current project 'In Country: Vietnam' I took it upon myself to attempt to play through every game set during the Vietnam War. I did this for a number of reasons but chiefly I wanted to see what was done well and what wasn't.
Where to start, well from this experience I have learnt there are far more bad games set during and about the Vietnam War than there are good games. Is this a surprise? probably not. We all know bad games exist, what was most surprising however were how few good Vietnam War games there are.
When I approached this challenge I had a certain list of expectations, a check list of various Vietnam War movie clichés. The things every gamer expects from the Vietnam War setting. This includes everything from the jungle setting, helicopters, over the top caricatures to classic 1960s rock music. I found all of this and more.
So here is a brief run through the jungle of (almost) every game set during the Vietnam War.
Vietcong (Fist Alpha)
Let's start with the good as there aren't many of them. In fact there's only one very good game set during the Vietnam War. In many ways it's the only game that you'll need to play, the rest don't even come close.
The game places you at Nui Pek camp on the border with Cambodia. From here you are given mission orders and you'll have the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere during this cool down period. You can read the fictional journal by the main character Hawkins that details the previous mission, further information on your team as well as historical information about the area, the VC and some of the combat tactics used in the Vietnam War. It's this attention to the small details that has the biggest pay off (and helps counterbalance some of the cheesy voice acting and story), from searching dead bodies to discover photographs and letters of your fallen enemy to finding enemy propaganda in VC tunnel systems.
Vietcong had it's flaws but with a superbly atmospheric single player campaign it's managed to stand the test of time. The flaws are a little more noticeable now but it has been over eight years since it was released. However the large variety of missions and great mechanics still make this the best game set during the Vietnam War.
Men of Valor
Call of Duty: Black Ops
The first game in this section is Men of Valor, a game that deserved more recognition and attention on it's release in 2004. That it has been forgotten is largely to due to the timing of it's release and the games that came the previous year noticeably both Call of Duty and Vietcong. Men of Valor was developed by 2015 Inc the team best know for their previous title 'Medal of Honour: Allied Assualt'.
One of the first things you'll notice apart from the dated graphics on the Unreal Engine 2 is the interaction between your squad and the expansive battle chatter. It's this element that really helps push the story along. Teamwork also plays a large part in the game and a lot relies on your ability to work as a unit by following orders, watching out for others and lending assistance when needed.
Unfortunately what lets the game down is that it's essentially a corridor shooter set in jungle environments. Add to this it's numerous rough edges and rather clunky and sluggish mechanics and it sadly doesn't play as well as it once did.
Vietcong 2 set during the Tet Offensive in 1968 offers a very different experience to that of Vietcong. Most noticeably it's urban setting of Hue City and it's split single player campaign between the VC and the US. It also appears to be a step backwards, gone is the attention to small detail to be replaced with frantic urban combat coupled with poor AI and scripting. It's not a terrible game but in comparison to the original it doesn't hold up well. Without the Jungle setting the game's flaws are far more apparent, eventually when the campaign switches to the VC it's a little too late.
Another game to tackle the urban setting of Hue City is Call of Duty: Black Ops. Whilst Vietnam plays only a small role in the overall story arch it has a big enough impact to be remembered. It plays out like a series of Vietnam War movie clichés turned all the way up to 11, over the top action coupled with ridiculous set pieces like most Call of Duty games. However that's what also makes Black Ops an enjoyable experience, it's the closet you'll come to playing a movie, it's not realistic or thought provoking but it's fun.
Lastly we have Battlefield: Vietnam, at first it may appear to be just another Battlefield title but Battlefield Vietnam offers something a little different. The biggest of these is the asymmetrical game play. The VC and US sides are given a very different selection of vehicles and weapons. This changes the whole game play dynamic and how each team decides to play. However this can at times lead to huge balancing problems along with strange choices in map design and the same issues that affected BF:1942.
Hell in Vietnam
Line of Sight: Vietnam
Shellshock: Nam '67
Shellshock 2: Blood Trails
There are numerous games set during the Vietnam War and sadly the majority of them are worth avoiding. There isn't much worth saying about the above titles other than some are obviously budget titles such as Hell in Vietnam and Line of Sight: Vietnam whilst others like Shellshock 2 just comes across as childish in their depiction of the Vietnam War.
I'll leave you with this quote from a review of Tunnel Rats.
"2.5 / 10 - Five buggy hours of tunnels, booby traps, and laughably bad dialogue"
Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam
Men of War: Vietnam
If you have any interest in trying these games for yourselves then it can be done cheaply. Most of these games can be bought cheaply from any good second hand shop or easily found on ebay. Vietcong 2 for example set me back £0.75 a couple of years ago.There are also demos or trials available for most of them from places like OnLive.
If there is enough interest I will write another feature but based on Vietnam War films and TV shows. Leave your thoughts below.