Now everyone can love the smell of napalm in the morning.
Few events are more polarizing to a population than war, and when it comes to the shady conflict in South Vietnam dating from 1965-1973, tempers run white-hot. Why were we really there? How many did we leave behind? What was the extent of U.S. war crimes (i.e. the My Lai Massacre) in Vietnam? Did the U.S. truly suffer approx. 57,000 casualties or were losses grossly understated to assuage the massive public dissension for the war? Some 30 years after the fact, it's still a thorny subject.
So it's no wonder that, until recently, even the most edgy video game developers have steered clear of the Vietnam debacle and all it represents, opting instead to build on the unquestionable evil of Hitler and his brainwashed denizens. But for whatever reason, the floodgates are now open and we're starting to see more games willing to dive into this hornet's nest of a war.
And if they all turn out like Battlefield: Vietnam, gamers are in for a treat. Deftly and tastefully delving where few have dared tread, EA and Dice's next entry in their incredibly popular Battlefield franchise is a grand multiplayer first-person shooter endeavor. The graphics engine is a bit more polished than Battlefield: 1942, the weapons are more modern and the gameplay is still riveting, though the war feels awfully familiar.
As before, up to 64 players (2 teams of 32) can play as the U.S. forces and related allies or the North Vietnamese and Vietcong allies on a variety of maps that restage famous battles from the war. The same unit classes are back - Scout, Assault, Anti-Tank, Medic, and Engineer - and each has a specific set of weapons and equipment. The goal is to secure strategic points for as long as possible, making for a gigantic, frenetic game of tug of war…literally.
The battles are fought over land, sea and air, essentially the same way they were in real-life. You can get airlifted directly into battle via various choppers. You can fire your gun or mounted ordinances while in flight to lay down heavy suppressive fire. You can call for a buddy to airlift your butt out of an area that has grown too hot to handle (good luck with that one, though). You can pilot various jets and napalm the hell out of dozens of poor saps. And yes, you can accidentally shoot one of your own; friendly-fire is as much an issue here as it was back in the day.
New to the franchise is the ability to actually airlift vehicles into the fray as well as small structures that act as spawn points. This gives the game a new dynamic as it allows for handy surprise attacks behind enemy lines. A well-organized team can plan some rewarding strategies, making smart teamwork even more important than before.
Choppers and jets are not your only modes of transportation. You'll find APCs, a few different tank types, jeeps, trucks, a scooter for speedy recon missions and many more. Like BF: 1942, the transition from infantry to air or sea battles is virtually seamless, though it still takes a great deal of practice before you'll be proficient at piloting aircraft. A third-person camera view helps a bit, but essentially trial and error rules the day for the virtual pilot.
What takes significantly less time is efficiently operating the game's 30+ weapons. Accurate automatic M16's and Soviet-issued Kalashnikovs are a fresh alternative to the ordinances of WWII. Each side uses arching mortar fire and stationary 88mm cannons, and you can take down jets and choppers with various RPG's and M72 LAW rocket launchers. You'll find mines (some which shoot up waist-high before exploding) and terrain specific booby traps at your disposal as well - I've been trampled by a couple of rolling logs covered in sharp spikes more than once. Vietnam was anything but neat and tidy, and BF: Vietnam really does a good job capturing the chaos of war.
This is made possible by the increased level of detail afforded by the tweaked game engine. The areas are replete with jungles and thick foliage, leading to a wealth of stealth tactics as enemies lie prone in perfect camouflage. While the aesthetics are not groundbreaking, especially when standing side by side with games like Far Cry and UT 2004, they look better than BF: 1942 and certainly get the job done. The textures are sharp and detailed and hold up surprisingly well up close.
However, the price of running BF: Vietnam is high; namely, a burly gaming rig with oodles of system resources. Forget the minimum system requirements, because anything close to those just won't look good at all. Raise those graphical settings too high and the framerate will dip in a heartbeat, and the load times can be rough with even a sweet system. It's also important to note that Radeon users need to make some necessary setting tweaks from the get-go, so be prepared to upgrade if you want to see this puppy fully loaded.
The demanding requirements are most noticeable when playing the lackluster single player mode. Yes, it has returned, albeit slightly more fine-tuned than in BF: 1942. The bot A.I. has improved for enemy and friendly NPCs, but without an incredible rig, you will need to severely roll back the number of bots in a game, lest your framerate and your sanity as a whole will suffer. Once again, the single-player is a pale shadow of the online component and presumably exists as just a training ground. It's too bad that more attention wasn't given here.
That attention was likely diverted to the audio, though, which really brings the game alive. Pumped through chopper radios and speakers littered across various U.S. bases, you'll hear "War" by Edwin Starr, "The Letter" by The Box Tops, "The Psychotic Reaction" by Count Five, "I Fought The Law" by Bobby Fuller Four, "On the Road Again" by Canned Heat and more from the likes of Jefferson Airplane, CCR and others. Heard on the other side of the fence is a lot of chatting and songs in Vietnamese and a morbid, heavy accented voice spouting things like "G.I., you cannot win this war!", "G.I. Joe, your government does not care about you!", "Your pilots cannot see you G.I.; they will napalm you!" Propaganda or truth - you make the call!
Battlefield: Vietnam follows in the footsteps of its predecessor as a fun, engrossing online experience, but those who have played BF 1942 might be a little miffed that Vietnam is so similar. The gameplay that was amazing a year and a half ago is not as shockingly new, leading to a battle that many of you will feel you've already fought. Still, the seamless inclusion of land, sea and air combat coupled with the intensity of jungle warfare wins it a medal of honor.