Gaming goes in phases. First one company has a good idea, and, if that company makes a great execution of that idea, everyone else jumps on the bandwagon and follows suit. And so it was with Medal of Honour, a lovely little first-person shooter that was in many ways tied to Saving Private Ryan, and the somewhat grim experiences of the Second World War. And it was tied not just by story line, but by Spielberg’s hand too. It was a huge success. From here comes a torrent of WW2 reality shooters offering to get you down and dirty with the rest of your Band of Brothers. Most had something special about them, whether it was realism, team play or online play, whether it was the quality RAF voices or the lovingly recreated environments and ration books, and most of them were good.
So it was inevitable that action gaming would move from the cold bunkers of Normandy to the humid forests of Vietnam. Promising improved graphics engines, a dirtier realism of play and a few sixties tracks carefully selected from Adrian Cronauer‘s popular ficticious radio show, well the cheaply licensed ones anyhow. And so we have Conflict Vietnam, Battlefield Vietnam, Vietcong and basically any other release that currently doesn’t mention Tom Clancy in the title. Its all basically the same stuff, just with different weapons and environments, and not so stringent laws on killing civilians.
And surfing the wave comes Shellshock: Nam ’67. A game of frightening realism that aims to show the full horrors of the Vietnam War. The aim of Nam ’67 isn’t to win, its strapline is simple; Forget Medals. Forget Honor. Just Survive.
You’re dropped by chopper in the middle of a jungle and left to fend for yourself? Pitting your frayed wits against booby traps, tunnels full of Viet Cong militia and the horrors of a jungle environment? Well, kinda.
First cut-scene into the game sees you arrive at Base Camp and told to have a bit of a walk around, get to know the boys, stop by the firing range for a bit of practice and then see your CO to begin your first tour. So that’s what you do. It makes a welcome break from the more rigid training camps you might have gone through in your WW2 adventures and you’ve just run into a guy that does a good line in ladies and drugs, provided you get back in one piece, and with some credits. So there we are, the scene is set, its gonna be more Jacobs Ladder than Tour of Duty. And its got swearing it in too! I can see why its rated M for Mature now. This is gonna be just like being in Full Metal Jacket.
And I’m down with that. So off we go to shoot a few into the targets over at the range, and have a chat with Captain Howell over what you wanna be taking into the war zone with you. Yes, did I forget to mention the game is single-player only and follows a campaign with strong characterisation throughout. More details on the website. First alarm bell goes off here and we haven’t started the game yet. I can shoot the captain! In fact I can shoot him continuously and he doesn’t seem to care one bit. He’s making a right mess around him though. We’ll let that incredibly shoddy piece of game production go for now, because we’re eager to get on with it. I mean, if you try that in Hidden & Dangerous 2 your platoon commander is sending you straight back out of the barracks.
Onto the game. Graphically it’s not as good as I would have liked, or expected. Between each mission there is a relatively well executed cut-scene, more often than not pre-rendered, but they are often quirky or at least follow the better scenes in some of the better Vietnam films. Turning up the resolution and detail slows the game down hugely. I’m not sure what kind of machine is required to play it at high-detail at 1280px plus but I don’t think its been invented yet. Environments are rather simple really. Image textures for foliage, beige wobbly stuff for water, that kind of thing. If you’ve recently strolled through Far Cry, as I have, you’re going to be hugely disappointed here. Not much in the way of volumetrics or particle effects. Characters and weapons are ok, a bit low polygon and I’ve seen much better, but you have to remember this is effectively a PC port of a PS2 and Xbox game, so you’re somewhat tied to console graphics engines in this respect, there is nothing here that hasn’t been done a year or two previous. There is a noise about the graphics, infact the entire screen has a whitenoise layer over it, which is a bit wierd at first but I can only assume is there to help anti-alias edges and the like and help the environment feel more believeable by, well, blurring it a bit. The game is predominantly a third-person shooter, so your on a shouldercam behind your protagonists right Shoulder, with a small zoom to head level. So graphically we’re far from the cutting edge.
Gameplay is where a shooter should shine. Although its nice to pause and watch the scenery, that’s not why you’re here is it. A shooter comes in two varieties. Firstly the twitch shooter, like Quake, which is about shooting often and at whatever you can, and secondly the strategic shooter, like CounterStrike, where knowing the recoil pattern of your weapon, and how to use cover effectively mean you’ll hit something. I couldn’t figure out which end of the spectrum Shellshock is on, it seemed to make little or no difference what I did as to whether an enemy might get hit. Actually using a sniper rifle unzoomed and pointing it in the general direction of your enemy seems to guarantee a headshot. Gameplay in this release really really sucks. Full of badly waypointed objectives and enemies that simply respawn and act upon scripted commands unless you step exactly where you should, you’ll easily find yourself exhaustively stood outside a vietcong tunnel waiting for the next guy to run out, and shoot him dead in exactly the same place as the last identical guy that ran out behind him. Sometimes one of your enemies might shout something unwitty like “You go home in bodybag, G.I.” in an unconvincing “Me love you longtime” accent before running at you with dead eyes just to simply stop (if you’re in the way) and wait for you to put a bullet in. I spent a few minutes wandering around a sparse village figuring out what I was supposed to do; one of the villagers had run for a bit and one of my squad had said something to the effect that he was trying to escape. So I stood in front of him for a bit waiting for something to happen until I finally got bored and shot him, instantly ending the mission successfully. Whilst you’re out there you might as well shoot your mates too, they moan at you a lot but they just get back up again. Its obviously not time for them to die yet.
Shellshock: Nam ’67 isn’t in the least bit terrifying, the horrors of war are contained within a few stills and cut scenes stolen from the likes of Platoon or Apocalypse Now and the like. The storyline is basic, obvious and clichéd. I could spend all day picking apart the faults and issues I found with the game, for there were many, but to tell the truth at times it is quite entertaining, briefly. It’s pretty much impossible to get actually killed, so survival isn’t much of a problem, the enemy does very little damage to you, as do most of the booby traps (which you can disarm if you can be bothered, or just run throught them if stealth isn’t an issue) and some of the missions do feature a corny level of clarity that makes you forgive the fact you can’t save anywhere and might have to redo bits again.
Throughout the game you can pick up little trinkets from your expeditions which equal ‘chits’ or credit, basically, which can be traded for a little boom-boom with the ladies outside the main gate, or for personal weapons and drugs, like Tamazipan for example, to make your missions go that much more swimmingly. If these extra little features were good, or at least entertaining, that would be a bonus, but they’re not, they’re just a waste of time, and watching the same girl model with different textures do a terribly animated (no motion capture here folks) wiggle is seriously not worth you strip searching the bodies of your enemies throughtout the missions. Spend your basecamp time shooting the captain in the kneecaps or conversing with the lads, its mildly more entertaining.
This is a bad title with great marketing. Its an issue that’s very much on the increase as platforms and developers continually push for market ownership without the time or the precedent to make something worthwhile. It annoys me greatly that titles like this are released by companies like Eidos and shoot into the charts within the top 5, leaving truly amazing games the power only of reviewers and word of mouth to get them pushed forwards. But that’s life isn’t it.
Luckily the game is rather short, and easy. A single player campaign running in at eleven or so missions with no multiplayer to speak of at all, so its not something you can really get bored of playing before you finish it. In theory its a great game, right up until you start playing it, but it plays like it looks, its dated, sparse and there simply isn’t anything there to look at.
Shellshock: Nam ’67 (2004)
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Platform: PS2, Xbox, PC (version tested)