Reviewed: November 7, 2005
Released: October 25, 2005
The Vietnam War, perhaps one of the most infamous and controversial “wars” in our nation’s history, aside from the one going on right now in Iraq, is the source material for a lot of books, movies, and more recently video games. There were at least four major titles released in 2004 dealing with the subject matter.
Vietcong 2 is the first full sequel to the original 2003 release, which spawned a prequel expansion pack in 2004. At the time the games appeared to be state-of-the-art, meaning that most people’s computers couldn’t even play them, when in reality, it was more shoddy programming than next-gen graphics. In fact, it was only last year that I sat down to play the two previous releases, and thankfully with two years of hardware upgrades I was able to muscle my way through both titles and appreciate both games in all their visual glory.
Vietcong 2 takes a new approach to the traditional jungle warfare by taking you out of nature’s jungle and putting you into the “urban jungle” during the Tet Offensive in 1968. America was winning the war, or so we thought, and the NVA was making their big offensive toward the south. The missions and story are rooted in factual first-hand accounts so you can expect some realistic gameplay.
You are also allowed to play and experience the war from both sides. I must admit that after serving nearly 30 years in our Armed Forces it was an interesting experience playing as a VC soldier, even if I was only ten years old when all of this really went down. There are more than 50 authentic weapons and now that the fight has moved into population zones you have the opportunity to commandeer both military and civilian vehicles.
I’m a big fan of the “one-hit kill” system featured in most of the Rainbow Six games, but if you aren’t prepared for that level of realism then you might find Vietcong 2 to be nearly unplayable. The damage model is probably the most morally devastating system I have played on the PC. The only way they could make it worse is by uninstalling the game each time you die. The good news is that the enemy is just as susceptible to bullet damage as you are, so it only takes a few well-aimed shots to take down most VC.
Each time you take significant damage your maximum health level decreases so when you heal you can never quite get as healthy as you were when you started the mission. It certainly encourages cautious gameplay tactics, but there are numerous cheap shots the game manages to sneak in on you, mostly from VC who hide and are able to shoot “through walls” without revealing their position. You’ll be getting peppered with bullets and have no idea where to take cover or return fire.
To magnify the difficulty, Vietcong 2 uses a checkpoint system for saving, so if you die before reaching the next save spot you get to replay what is often a significant portion of the current mission. Just be wary going into this game – it is not for rookies or action-seekers.
The single player campaign puts you in command of a small squad of specialized soldiers like a medic who can heal you (if you have a med kit) and another who can supply you with fresh ammo for whatever gun you might have, even enemy weapons – how resourceful, put that man in for a commendation.
Sadly, the game script only controls your men during specific events and the rest of the time you are left to micromanage the squad to almost to infantile levels. It’s like painting an X on the ground and saying, “okay, you stand here and don’t move until I tell you”. After playing games like Full Spectrum Warrior with intelligent AI, this game just seems flawed.
In the other hand, the enemy AI is quite good and the VC will seek cover and fire from relatively secure positions while you order your team into a hailstorm of bullets, or at least that was the tactic I ended up using. Your men aren’t the best shots, but they do survive more damage than you and they have unlimited ammo making them the perfect decoys. Just hold back and watch them reveal the enemy positions then go in for the precise wet work.
Close-quarters combat (CQC) is much different than fighting in wide open jungle spaces and the programmers have adapted the enemy AI to be very good and very aggressive, so much in fact that your biggest challenges in the game are usually indoors. If the game had offered me more control over my men or even given me access to some of their fancy moves than I can’t seem to do, it would have been a more balanced.
The scripting is also a bit off, or should I say linear. The game doesn’t allow for a lot of creative thinking in how your approach encounters or even travel between waypoints. If you fail to do something or go somewhere the designers intended the game “breaks”, leaving you to find out where you went wrong and set the script (and game) back in motion.
There is a nice selection of weaponry although I seldom found the need to use anything other than my combo of AK-47 for action encounters and the M-14 for more precise scoped combat. And I really liked what they did with the scope, both the built-in drift while targeting and the motion-blur when you fire so you can’t immediately shoot again.
To wrap up this section of the review, one question for 2K Games. Is it really cheaper to publish a game with 5 CD’s versus a single DVD? And even if it is, the goodwill you will earn from gamers – and I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have a DVD-ROM in their game system these days – would be great.
Sadly, Vietcong 2 doesn’t look that much better than the previous versions. Obviously, it’s using the same engine, possibly enhanced, but the densely detailed levels and graphics from 2003 look as dated as the subject matter in 2005. Even worse, I just recently upgraded my computer (again) to what is probably one of the fastest gaming rigs you can build and Vietcong 2 chugs to a nearly unplayable state in some of the larger firefights. Trying to play this game online is an exercise in futility and frustration.
I can’t really explain it other than just poor programming. Special effects are simple and not that impressive, the particle effects and lighting are extremely dated, and the detail level is merely adequate. Textures are simple, perhaps to help the framerate issues, but they don’t. The animation is still really good with realistic solider movements and posturing.
Taking the war into the streets gives this sequel a whole new flavor. No longer are you sneaking through swamps and crawling through the dense jungle foliage. The urban environments definitely bring something new to the gameplay and the visuals, but for some reason it just doesn’t seem like Vietnam without the jungle.
Vietcong 2 is packed with audio – I supposed they had to put something on all those discs. All of the cutscenes have excellent dialogue, both in performance quality and content. There is quite a bit of chatter during combat missions, and while it is varied it also gets repetitive about halfway through the game, and it’s not nearly as useful or engaging as the “battle chatter” in Call of Duty 2.
The soundtrack is solid with plenty of authentic period music, especially in the menus, and an engaging score that cues to the combat. It really helps put you in that 60’s kind of mood.
The sound effects are excellent with realistic weapons fire, engine noises, explosions, and environmental audio, all positioned in 3D space making the most of your sound system, especially if you have one of the new X-Fi sound cards.
The single player campaign is good for a dozen or more hours of gameplay but that figure is exaggerated with excessive deaths and lots of replaying of levels due to distance checkpoints, so you can turn your 12 hours into more than 20 most likely.
There is an online multiplayer component that I did try but with little luck. Vietcong 2 supports matches up to 64 players but the most I ever saw on GameSpy playing this game was 16 and they weren’t all playing the same game. I did hook up for a 4-on-4 match and the framerate issues that plague the solo game are only magnified online, and that was with only 8 total players. I can’t imagine a 64-player game.
There most likely will be a forthcoming patch to smooth over these rough spots, but I have to wonder if anybody will still be playing this game when it arrives.
There are so many Vietnam games out there for both PC and console that it really is hard for me to recommend Vietcong 2. As much fun as I had with the first two, this one just doesn’t live up to what has been more than two-years of development. The graphics are dated, the gameplay is buggy, and the online mode is virtually unplayable.
On the plus side, this is a rare look into the urban warfare side of Vietnam, and the authentic music and dialogue really puts you into the events covered by this story. For the undiscriminating gamer and those who like almost unbearable challenges in their gameplay, Vietcong 2 is worth a look.