Reviewed: October 10, 2004
Released: September 15, 2004
There’s one thing that can be said for the Xbox, if you’re a fan of first person shooters: you won’t find any shortage of them here. The shear number of shooters to be found on our beloved game system, today and in the very near future, is second only to the PC. Between Halo, Rainbow Six 3, Ghost Recon, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and several others high quality titles, the Xbox has become a veritable FPS smorgasbord.
Naturally, all shooters deal with the concept of war and combat, and in recent years the subject of World War II has pretty much been done to death. So it seemed to be inevitable that we’d eventually touch upon the subject of the Vietnam War. Vietcong: Purple Haze is just one in a slew of Vietnam based shooters that seem to be gracing the Xbox - some already available and some - just on the horizon.
I suppose the big draw of Vietnam for me is the fact that World War II shooters and futuristic shooters have pretty much ruled the scene lately. Vietnam shooters seems to fit somewhere in the middle as far as warfare technology is concerned. Avoiding the current strategies and weaponry seen in games like Ghost Recon, but greatly surpassing the more simplistic motifs found in titles like Medal of Honor. For the most part it’s an idea new and untouched by game developers, at least on a console – and with that comes the potential for untapped freshness, fun and excitement.
So with that, only one thing remains; a simple and unbiased review to tell you all what you can expect from Vietcong: Purple Haze. Will it be another carbon copy shooter like those of the recent past, or will it breathe some fresh air into a genre saturated with very traditional themes. After all, a gaming experience can only be as good as the men and women who try to re-create that world for us? As simple as it may sound, immersion into a gaming world depends rather heavily on a developer’s ability to take us to a time and place that many of us have never experienced and with any luck at all, never will. After all, the Vietnam War is a huge part of world history that won’t soon be forgotten – and with that we sit down with Vietcong: Purple Haze.
Rather than delve into the historical incidents that led up to the war in Vietnam, I’m just going to assume that everyone’s reasonably familiar with this particular war and take it from there.
Vietcong: Purple Haze allows the player to partake in the few different game modes. The most notable of which is the Campaign mode, but there is also Quick Fight, which allows the player to choose a map, their allegiance, and whether or not you want supports troops. It’s essentially nothing more than a way for players to get a quick fix of action without committing to a mission in campaign mode. There is also multiplayer available via Xbox Live, which I’ll discuss a little more later on.
In Campaign mode, the meat of the game; you’re thrust you into the role of an American special op assigned to complete various missions throughout this war torn country. Whether it be a simple recon missions, search and destroy, prisoner rescue or what have you, the object is pretty simple. Seek out your objective and kill anyone who may stand in your way.
As expected, you’re far from a lone gunman within the blistering hot confines of these dense, vine ridden jungles. Accompanying you are 3, sometimes more soldiers who fight alongside you. Radio operators, engineers, medics, pointmen – each filling and role and fleshing out your unit. However they start and remain pretty much unreliable and undependable throughout the entire course of the game.
Most of the time your squad mates can best be compared to the 3 Stooges. Aside from slapping one another on the forehead with some speedy wrist action, your compatriots seem to serve little purpose but you get in your way and boil your blood. At least the Stooges where capable of throwing a monkey wrench at someone’s head with a decent level of accuracy, these guy are pretty much the bane of the entire game. Running into one another, bounding 5 feet into the air for no apparent reason, blocking your movements etc. They’re a huge, infuriating liability and far from an asset.
Actually, I shouldn’t say that, getting some health back after the enemy rips you a new one is always welcome, it’s being healed while a wad of C4 is counting down to destroy a cache of weapons and other munitions that’s the problem. Unfortunately can’t move while being healed and with the clock ticking down, death is certain. It’s my opinion that C4 is likely to cause far bigger damage than some cotton swabs and bandages are capable of fixing. The thing is – they’re just clumsy and generally useless, a hindrance that the player has no choice but to accept.
Another drawback comes from that fact that they move incredibly slow. If you run up ahead of your team to get the job done, you’ll find them to be way back in the distance, standing around like they’re having a tea party. They ‘re always so far behind that you’ll often find yourself having to take a break from the action to wait for them to catch up. If you look back you’ll often find them stumbling around, bumping into one another like mindless lemmings.
While the men in your squad can be issued commands and told to complete certain tasks, they often seem to forget what you’ve told them and inevitably, like I did, you’ll probably elect to just pretend that they’re not even there and move along without them. Besides, what’s worse than being on your stomach prone, trying to advance towards then enemy, but you can’t because all of your men are standing in front of you, blocking your ability to move. Unfortunately, when it comes to this game’s rather stupid AI, Vietcong: PH doesn’t allow you the option of going berserk and mowing down your buddies in a hail of gunfire. That’s too bad, since your teammates often proved to be more deadly than the enemy. The best you can to do alleviate your aggravation is to scream at your TV set and hope the screen imploded, destroying the whole lot of them.
Still, I digress, this game isn’t without some positive features, it’s just that the use of your team mates; who seem to be so prevalent in this game’s design also seem to be the biggest drawback of the entire experience.
Negativity put aside for the time being, one has to point out the excitement in wandering through a thick jungle as you disarm booby traps and meet the enemy head on. The combat itself seemed to be pretty good. Skirmishes were enjoyable, thought not overly exciting and control was nice and precise. Movement was easy despite the awkwardness of jumping over fallen logs and such, but overall control wasn’t a huge problem. It could probably have used a little more fine-tuning, but for the most part it was playable.
While there are plenty of shooters out there that have more to offer, Vietcong: PH wasn’t totally without some entertainment value; it just never pushes the envelope. Missions were generic, level creation was simplistic and uninspired – and the battles, which often seems to be heading towards some positive fun, usually ended before they even began.
As with most shooters these days, Vietcong: Purple Haze includes online multiplayer for up to 10 people. Typical modes can be seen including Death Matches, Team Death Matches, Capture the Flag etc.
Overall I found the online play to be pretty good, despite the mediocre single player mode. Gameplay was fast and furious over the provided 9 maps, and with downloadable content we can probably expect to see a few more some day soon.
While the game itself isn’t exactly stellar, the online play went a long way towards adding some bang for the buck. Would I buy this title solely for the online play, well of course not, but for those who have already taken the plunge, Xbox Live adds great strength to an otherwise sub par title.
It goes without saying that if games like this can’t accurately represent the horrible conditions the American troops were forced to contend with during the Vietnam War, that the game simply won’t fly. Dense foliage is certainly the most prevalent feature one would come to expect from such a game – and for the most part Vietcong: Purple Haze succeeds in this area. These jungles are thick with brush and vines, often obscuring your view of the enemy so well that you don’t even know that they’re around until you are practically standing on them.
There are also a lot of other nice touches, like the rain, the shimmering rivers and the birds that sometimes take to the sky when you scare them from their hiding spots. Still, other things like the frogs that you will see on the ground are far less impressive, as they don’t even move and appear to be little more than a pet’s lifeless chew toy.
Character models and scenic textures are pretty good for the most part, but do little to highlight the graphic capabilities of the Xbox, especially since a majority of the models are rather simple in design. The visuals here simply get the job done and do nothing to go above and beyond normal expectations. The visuals here basically get a passing grade, but never truly impress.
The worst graphical woes to be seen in Vietcong: PH comes from the men in your unit and the enemy soldiers. Often moving and behaving mindlessly as the run and bump into one another. Get stuck behind trees and then suddenly appear to be running right up the sides of them. Weird stuff like this is everywhere in the game and if you just keep your eyes open, you’ll see lots of goofy visuals. In fact, they’re pretty hard to miss.
The first incident I witnessed occurred when I was still in the games training mode. A computer-controlled soldier who was training alongside me on the game’s rifle range was suddenly stuck behind a 4x4 column. Suddenly this character, still trying to walk but unable to move past the post sprung like 6 feet into the air, somehow managed to free himself and then continued on his merry way. After seeing something like this, so early in the game, I knew I was in for a whole host of other visual surprises.
One of the more noticeable problems in this game is that there seems to be virtually no collision detection amongst your follow soldiers. You can be standing there using the radio operator’s equipment and another soldier will walk up and basically meld together with the radioman. Somehow a deformed mongoloid with 2 heads and 4 arms standing in front of you isn’t something I would personally expect to see in Vietnam, and to put it bluntly, this is just pain ugly programming. I don’t attest to know anything about programming videogames, but I do know I wouldn’t want to put my stamp on anything that appeared so – incomplete.
On the positive side, the game starts out with some really cool, black and white stock footage on many of the major events of that time. For example; Muhammad Ali being stripped of his heavyweight title after tearing up his draft card. It feature clips of the Beatles, Elvis getting married and splices them together with some actual War footage. Seeing this opening did wonders to get my blood pumping and coupled together with an awesome 60’s tune did nicely to get me psyched up to play the game.
The game also includes some cool cutscenes between levels, but unfortunately there moments are all recorded playbacks that are horribly littered with grain, picture artefacts and noise. Why there scenes, which were obviously rendered using the actual game engine couldn’t be created in real time, I’ll never know. The action and storytelling in these scenes looked great, but from the standpoint of their visual presentation, they were sorely lacking.
As with the visuals, the sound in this game plays a heavy role in creating the illusion of being in the Vietnam War. The immersion that comes from buzzing insects, squawking wildlife, trickling rivers and such all add to the ambiance and realism.
Unfortunately, while Vietcong: Purple Haze does indeed have sound, there’s nothing setting it apart from anything other than generic.
Voice acting is good at best, complete with a cussing drill sergeant who seems to be modelled after R. Lee Ermey’s character from Full Metal Jacket. However, even this obvious caricature is nothing more than a weak duplicate. Other character voices are little more than annoyances throughout the game as fellow squad members scream out “Mother F…” and “A-hole” on a regular basis. Sure, this is a war game, but a few different pre-recorded lines would have been nice.
Probably one of the better things in the sound department has to be the music. While there are a few licences tunes from the 60’s a majority of them come to us via bands I’ve never heard of. Still, even these unknown tunes from unknown artists seem to fit the game nicely. Carrying with them that distinct 60’s sound that so perfectly represents the time.
Sound effects are probably one of Vietcong’s weakest areas. Falling rain, running water, footsteps and gunfire are all fairly mediocre and seem to lack the punch needed to push this title to the next level. Immersion and the feeling of being surrounded by enemy troops never occurs. Having the luxury of surround sound at home and never feeling like I was inside the action did little to create any feelings of urgency.
While Vietcong: Purple Haze boasts and impressive 19 missions, the size of these missions certainly left something to be desired. Some of them took little more than a few minutes to accomplish, resulting in a game that would take a seasoned gamer less than 10 hours to complete in total - a weekend rental at best.
Still, if there were one saving grace for this game, it would have to be the online multiplayer. While it doesn’t offer anything that sets it apart from most other online shooters, it still proved to be an entertaining experience. If anything, the online play will take away some of the sting for those who may regret the initial purchase. Aside from that, Vietcong: Purple Haze really doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
A couple Vietnam based shooters are currently available for the Xbox, none of them offering any substantial level of entertainment – Vietcong: Purple Haze being one of those. Still, there’s still hope as there are a few more coming out over the next while – for instance, Men of Valor, due out in just a few short weeks.
While this game isn’t going to win any awards and will probably be forgotten in a matter of months, it wasn’t a totally horrible experience, just not a memorable one either. I had fun with it at times – and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that. Sure, the single player campaign can be whistled through in a matter of hours, but thankfully Xbox Live adds a little replay value and life to this otherwise generic game.