Reviewed: October 7, 2011
Released: September 8, 2011
I’ve played my fair share of Vietnam games over the past decade; games like ShellShock: Nam '67, Elite Warriors: Vietnam, Conflict: Vietnam, and my favorite series, Vietcong, but this is the first time I have ever played an RTS game based on this controversial “police action”. I’ve never been a fan of the RTS genre, what, with all its base building and resource grinding, but Men of War: Vietnam is more of a real-time action game loaded with strategy and tactics, leaving out all those menial tasks you find in other RTS titles.|
I rather enjoyed the unique twist that Russian developer 1C put into the game by having two campaigns; the expected US tour that follows an elite team of spec ops on a variety of missions, and more interestingly, the North Vietnam campaign that deals with two Soviet military consultants who team up with two North Vietnam soldiers who survive an American ambush and must cautiously make their way back to North Vietnam territory with no radios, vehicles, and who inadvertently end up smack in the middle of the Tet offensive.
All too often in these types of games your men are disposable units. If they die they are replaced after a few turns by a barracks churning out fresh troops, but in Men of War: Vietnam the men you get at the start of each mission are pretty much the ones you have to keep alive until the end, and the designers have taken extra steps to make sure you care enough about each solider to do just that. Each man has a unique personality and history, so once you start to learn about Sergeant John Merrill, machinegunner Jim Walsh, sniper Sonny Armstrong, grenade launcher operator Carl Dillan and combat engineer Bill Kirby, you do your best to work as a team and stay alive. Even when you take on the role of the “enemy” you still manage to care about these men and their story of survival.
Men of War: Vietnam is extremely difficult, both in the level of challenge in the gameplay as well as the lack of any tutorial and controls that don’t always make sense. Perhaps there is a command card in the retail product but my copy arrived via Steam, so I was trying to figure things out in the middle of a chopper ambush and multiple search parties of enemy troops, all within the first two minutes of gameplay. And then you have all sorts of subtle game mechanics like individual unit inventories, so you have to micromanage weapons, ammo, and health items, as well as meticulously position your men in the 3D world presented in an isometric view. Issues like cover and stance all come into play when trying to skirt, engage, or escape the enemy.
As with most of these games, you can select one or multiple soldiers or even drag across the entire team. Many of the ambush engagements are interesting in that you can set up clever crossfire strategies or have several men lay down suppressive fire while you send one or two guys around to flank their exposed side. The AI is pretty damn impressive most of the time, but there were a few odd occasions where the computer would “break the rules” or I was able to exploit the rules for a cheap victory.
There is a nice variety in the scope of each mission ranging from smaller squad-based incursions to some of my favorite moments where you get to split up and control each man individually, and then you have some full-scale battles with dozens, perhaps hundreds of soldiers engaged in righteous combat. The combat rules are realistically brutal with snipers than can one-shot-kill you before you know what happened and grenades that pack a realistic punch.
Men of War: Vietnam is relatively short with only five missions in each of the two campaigns. Difficult as they may be, most gamers familiar with the genre will make their way through the game in 10-12 hours. There is no competitive multiplayer but you can head online for some co-op versions of the campaign levels. Playing cooperatively really didn’t add much to the experience, and it was extremely hard to find and connect with a willing and competent partner.
I enjoyed Men of War: Vietnam a lot more than I initially thought I would. The game design favors action and strategy over resource management, and the level of difficulty, while daunting for most, was a refreshing change from the more casual military offerings out there these days. What few problems do exist can likely be fixed in a patch, and I wouldn’t mind seeing some competitive multiplayer thrown in somewhere down the road. Until then, I can certainly recommend this game if you enjoy jungles tactics and solid strategy, all under the canopy of one of America's most controversial wars.