Reviewed: July 18, 2005
Released: March 25, 2004
WWII and Vietnam are easily the two most popular historic wars that videogames tend to revisit. With so much excessive coverage of these wars it only makes it that much harder for the designers to come up with something fresh to tempt new gamers into their ranks.
Elite Warriors: Vietnam is the latest action title to take you to the steamy jungles of Vietnam. This time we are enlisting under the guise of the SOG (Studies and Observation Group), a top-secret (at the time) group of specially trained soldiers who ran covert ops deep into enemy territory.
To lend some authenticity to the project, Major John Plaster was brought onboard as an invaluable source of material. Major Plaster is a personal hero of mine. His books weren’t exactly required reading during my military training, but I’ve read and have been inspired by them all; therefore, I was understandable excited about reviewing a game based on his exploits.
Unfortunately, the extent of Major Plaster’s involvement, other than as a consultant, is some verbose missions briefings that are probably more accurate than anything you have played in other games of this type and some excellent reproductions of some declassified photos from his books.
Elite Warriors puts you in command of a standard squad of up to four soldiers, each with unique RPG-like attributes that gives them various weapons skills and other abilities like stealth. This was a nice subtle touch that set the game apart from other squad-based Vietnam games like Conflict Vietnam.
You are free to control any member of your team at any time while the computer controls the remaining members based on commands you issue through a radial menu system not entirely unlike the one found in Rainbow Six. This has always been a great system for issuing orders quickly and it works well in this game.
There is also an awareness mode very similar to the one found in Brothers in Arms where the camera rises above the immediate area and you can see your men and the surrounding area. For some reason, in this mode, you cannot use the circular menu system and are forced to revert to the old hotkey system. But unlike BiA you’ll almost never need to plan any advanced tactics, so other than training you probably won’t even use this tactical tool.
Elite Warriors is rather short, about ten hours for the average gamer with eight distinct missions taking about an hour each, plus factoring in training and a few untimely deaths. These missions are spread out across a map that you will use between missions to plot your course between points of interest and mission objectives. While most missions have their own default waypoints you are free to plot your own and even control the speed of your squad’s movement.
In some ways the game plays out like an RPG-adventure game with random events and encounters as you move across the map. You might stumble on an enemy patrol and have to engage them, or you might locate an ammo drop. I even had one member of my team get injured, which ultimately affected my team’s movement speed.
While I enjoyed the concept of the map and the freedom to plot my own routes, the game is still rooted in scripted mission locations at set points on the map. This means that anything you do manage to do on your own is just superfluous to the flow of the gameplay.
Upon reflection, I found Elite Warriors to be almost like a board game where you roll a dice (not really) and move your piece across a board. You might get a card that says, “Your sniper broke his leg” or "You found a box of grenades", or you might land on a square that triggers an action event where you actually get to play the game proper. Be warned that the map sequences take up a significant portion of your playing time, so if you are going into Elite Warriors looking for an all-action game that looks like the pictures on the box you might be in for a disappointing surprise.
Elite Warriors suffers from several flaws that keep this game from ever achieving the same notoriety as its consultant. The first is a total lack of variety. I suppose there were a lot of soliders who never saw anything more than brown mud and green jungle, but that’s no reason why we should have to stare at it for 8-10 hours. Other games have done a fine job of mixing up the gameplay with underground levels, river levels, and even excursions into mountainous areas.
The mission design is just as boring as the level design. These are supposed to be historical missions based on actual events. I was always under the assumption that the pioneers of Special Forces had all the “excitement” in Vietnam, but I’ve had more fun on a two-day training hike than I did in this game.
The actual action in the game is also disappointing. The AI for your team is abysmal, not only for combat but for simple movement. I can’t even count the times where I had to assume manual control over a “stuck” soldier to get him off a rock or tree that was blocking his path finding. Enemy AI is also pretty bad starting with lousy awareness that allows you to sneak right up to pointblank range before you even have to worry about them detecting you. The enemy is also fairly stationary, at least until you trigger the encounter.
Elite Warriors offers some multiplayer modes including a four-player co-op game. This is a nice feature that helps to overcome at least the team AI problems. Online modes are painfully limited. Where are my objective, domination, and CTF modes? We are reduced to standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, which I can play in any of dozens of better engines and games.
Prepare for a lot of green mixed with some brown. Elite Warriors is loaded with some good foliage and jungle details that blur together in an earthy mix. You have several graphical options that you can use to tweak the settings, but be warned that this game taxed even my super-system and there is heavy pop-up throughout.
In addition to the pop-up are some clipping problems where some objects disappear leaving you to wonder why you can move forward, and other objects that you need to disappear so you can see, won’t. Fortunately, these camera problems are few, but they are a real pain when they do crop up.
Character modeling is decent with some nice uniform textures and fantastic lighting and shadows. The weapons look just about as good. Animation is above average but I’ve seen better, even on console games. There is a disturbing lack of blood, which keeps the game at a Teen rating, but certainly takes away from the brutality of war.
The jungle is alive with sound and Elite Warriors breathes life into their jungle with some excellent ambient noises, birds, insects, etc. mixed in with the footsteps of your men. I was hoping for some more subtle details like rustling equipment or the occasional twig snapping. When the combat finally kicks in the gunfire is most impressive, as is the yelling from both your men and the enemy in authentic Vietnamese.
There is some decent voice work in the game but nothing that compares to the other more story-driven games that are currently available. I never really got invested in any of the characters in this game, and when you don’t care about the characters it’s hard to care about the game.
Musically, the game is lacking in quantity but it makes up for it in quality with some authentic jungle beats using authentic instruments. Good stuff, but nothing to elevate the gameplay to anything I could recommend.
Elite Warriors will deliver about 10-12 hours of gameplay for the single player game who can tolerate the boring graphics, gameplay, and mission design, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to play the multiplayer modes.
The designers have stripped away all of the best multiplayer modes and left us with only the most basic of deathmatch and team deathmatch that you can get with any other game out there. Regrettably, most, if not all of those do it better.
There are probably a lot of historians and military buffs who will get suckered into this title simply for the fact that it has the John Plaster name associated with it. I know I was contemplating getting this game for that reason alone before I was given the chance to review it. Even our own GCM Q&A with Major Plaster had me psyched, but in the end, the final result just doesn’t live up to the hype.
If you are looking for a great military game set during the Vietnam War then I can rattle off a list of about four great games and three good games. Unfortunately, Elite Warriors: Vietnam will not appear on any list other than war games to avoid.