For those of you, (especially the protestors) that think the current Iraqi conflict is false-hearted and contentious, imagine existing among the population of 1964, and engulfing all the controversy that was the Vietnam War. No other war has ever amounted as many snarling protests from the American public like this war did. EA Games took a fearless leap when deciding to bring this war back to the forefront with Battlefield Vietnam, not only because of the bitter reminder of the war, but also in trying to follow up its phenomenally received Battlefield 1942, and the two expansions that followed. Was there any way Battlefield Vietnam could be so excellent, that it would cool the hot coals of American opinion towards the war, as well as surpass its prior outing?
Well?..not quite. As the game stands now, there are various bugs and lockups existing. This will unquestionably be fixed in later-released patches, but it’s a weighty irritant to deal with until then. With any luck (though doubtful), EA will also patch the AI, for it’s a pitiful comparison alongside some of the current top contenders. One huge setback I noticed was that the AI almost seems pre-programmed to lunge straight for the capture points; regularly ignoring me speeding by them in a Jeep, until I shot at them, ostensibly saying “Here I am!!! Shoot at me please!” What downright perplexes me is that the AI more or less seems dumber than it was in Battlefield 1942. On top of hardly noticing you in passing, the adversary doesn’t conceal itself very well, and apparently has no sensory ability of picking up weighty, pounding footsteps approaching them in an Olympic-like sprint from behind. In a counterpoint to those observable problems, it’s hard to know where the enemies are going to strike next. They usually elect to pack a few people into a few transport helicopters, and drop every man they have on one of your capture points. Though the unpredictability of the whereabouts of these events are nice and surprising (as opposed to Battlefield 1942’s mostly straight-line, sequential capturing), and very true to the Vietcong way of war, it does create giant empty pockets of nothingness around their flags. This makes capturing those points overly simplistic. It would be nice if the foe would leave a few troops around for resistance. If you happen to be protecting one of the points they decide to raid though, you’re in for a very good, chaotic firefight, as the enemy is relentless when they set their sights on one of your control points.
There’s still a lot of fun to be had, and there’s a lot of game play added within the numerous trimmings added since Battlefield 1942. Setting traps is a blast (no pun intended), and piloting the new helicopter and napalm dropping jets proves much easier than the preceding game. Nearly all ground vehicles now have mounted weapons, and setting up mortar cannons has proven to be a favorite strategic element for myself. Heavy tanks have been nerfed a little in an effort to balance the game play slightly, but the fundamental formula remains true.
Perhaps my main setback with the game lies in the fact that I had problems with the original. While I loved Battlefield 1942, there were a lot of things I’d hoped would be etched out a little better in a sequel. I completely loathe the mini-map that resides in the upper right corner of the screen. Though its zoom level can be attuned, it just never seems show enough of the terrain, particularly for navigational purposes. I had also wished EA would add a kill-replay element of some kind, so that you could evaluate your death and see exactly where, and who butchered you. It’s hard to learn from your mistakes if you can’t even see the mistake you’ve made. In my opinion, the interface has also suffered. Things just don’t appear to be as clean, or as easy to read as it was in the predecessor. Oh, and maybe it’s just me, but I could NOT find a way (in the single player mode) to choose to play as the opposition!? Hopefully, this is just a mishap on my part, and I haven’t yet clicked the precise spot to choose a side, but this again points doubting fingers at the interface design.
The addition of selecting between two kits for each troop class is a welcome addition, and in offering those extra kits, EA saw the need to cut down the number of troop classes to four. The ability to move, and replace spawn points for your team can be a huge factor in multiplayer games, and as much as I’ve complained about the AI, the multiplayer is what we all really want to dig into right? EA also knew this, and detached the whole conquest/campaign mode from this iteration. Besides all the maps being immediately available instead of being released as you move through the campaign, there is really no difference in the single player mode of old, and new.
Finally, hats off to EA for including the Battlecraft editor for Battlefield Vietnam straight off the install. It’s commonly known that replay value is largely based on new, player created mods, and this game will be no different. As fun as it is, with a few patches and updates, EA could have another superb title on its hands. As it stands now, it mostly just feels like an expansion pack to 1942.
Although the player models look slightly better this go round, and the foliage rendering is tight, Battlefield Vietnam’s graphics are just not on par with today’s technology. Perhaps an upgrade to the Unreal Warfare engine would have benefited the title more, though it would have severely delayed its production. Because the previous game is still hot on the playability chart, I think we all could’ve waited a little longer for a sequel. Even the foliage, as well done and fun to hide in as it is, pales in comparison to Far Cry’s beautiful island jungles, and Unreal Tournament 2004’s unique plant-life. I know this keeps the game playable on many lower-level PC’s, but that’s why rendering options exist. What I can appreciate though, is the grittiness of the terrain, and the dark, faceless fear it can induce when you realize you’re being shot at, but can’t see the guilty sniper hiding in the rough brush on top of the hill. For the most part, the engine looks good, but it’s showing its age.
The thud of outlying bombs and desert winds pleased the audio sensors in Battlefield 1942, and that sort of ambience carried over beautifully in the sequel. The surroundings of the jungle lends itself nicely to the soundtrack, as you hear the murky waters swell, carnivorous birds scream, and river frogs croaking. If you listen really well, you can even hear the rustling of leaves as a soldier crawls up to your heel in a sneak attack. Back at the bases, you hear weather reports, judicial news, and other war-inspiring fight songs and jingles. In a nice addition, you can hop in the Jeep, and while scooting straight towards enemy lines, you can turn on the tunes, and flip through several adrenaline boosting, time honored war songs by the likes of Creedance Clearwater Revival, Edwin Starr, and Jefferson Airplane to name a few. If any aspect of this title is worthy of a prize, the audio should get the blue ribbon.
There’s no quarrelling the fun to be had with Battlefield Vietnam. The multiplayer mode is great fun for hours on end, and there’s very little lag on most servers. Dog fighting between aircraft is still nearly impossible, but bombing raids on various landmarks has never been easier. Still, I wish there were a camera angle where you could measure your bomb drop coordinates a little better. The other lingering problem carried over from 1942, is that from a range, you can’t tell if the guy you’re targeting is on the red, or blue side, since his name doesn’t show up from that distance. Granted, it’s not as big of a problem with Battlefield Vietnam since there’s a bigger dissimilarity in the clothing between the two factions, but it does still cause problems at times.
Though Battlefield Vietnam will remain a massively played game for some time, it’s biggest challenger is its predecessor. With two expansions, and the recent battle chest being released with the basic game and all its expansions, Battlefield 1942 is just now hitting its prime. Still, if you own both games, then you’ve got the ultimate mix of war-shattering entertainment. Because the Battlefield clones have yet to fully surface, you’ll always find people to play with, as one of the two games is the only option for this type of genre – not to mention the inevitable expansion pack or two! The Battlefield duo is something every gamer should experience at some point, and I can’t heartily recommend one over the other, but Vietnam gets the slight nod from me, just because of the fact that it’s got new toys, new environments, and a whole new way to die. It doesn’t exactly bring the real Vietnam experience to life on your monitor, but it doesn’t exactly candy coat the volatile war either.