Ahh?the ?60s, the era that brought us color TV, a man named Hendrix, and a little something called Vietnam. The United States was on the verge of social revolution, and the civil rights movement was in full swing. For the first time in history, television could reach throughout the world and people could witness world events as they developed. For the first time Americans could see war for what it was without ever leaving the comfort of their living rooms. The Vietnam War became the grand experiment; it sparked debates, riots, and protests. It was the ultimate clash between politics and patriotism. It is probably due to all this history and controversy that game developers have been dodging this era and this contentious conflict – almost as though it was the draft. And it’s a shame because, as Men of Valor and developers 2015 (Medal of Honor: Allied Assault) show, it can make for a kick-ass video game.
In Men of Valor you play as Private First Class, Dean Shepard. The story is pretty much based around the young marine’s tour of duty, and you begin the game directly after Shepard’s arrival in Vietnam. Just as Shepard is becoming familiar with his squad via some good old football, the base gets bombed in an enemy assault and thus your fight for survival begins. Throughout the game Shepard takes an active role in everything from daily patrols to famous battles. Along the way he will encounter people that will help him. Some of these people you’ll like, and some you won’t. But mostly the only thing you will run across is VC (a.k.a. The Viet Cong – South Vietnamese guerrilla troops). Which brings us to the beginning of the complaint list.
The AI in Men of Valor is garbage, absolute garbage. One of the most formidable and clever opponents the United States Army has ever faced, a force responsible for rewriting the rules of warfare and defining guerrilla tactics are portrayed in this game as complete and utter idiots. Sometimes you can be positioned right beside Charlie and he’ll pay you no mind. Sometimes the Viet Cong will just run pass you if you’re not standing in the middle of a muddy jungle road. Oh, and your fellow brothers in arms are not much better, either; they rarely kill an enemy, and most of the time they end up getting shot themselves. Which, by the way, means that they moan and groan for a few minutes about being wounded and how they are going to die – though, unfortunately, they don’t. From a group of developers that helped create Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, which had some of the best A.I. in video games, this is wholly unacceptable.
Although the bad A.I. can be annoying at times, strangely it does not fully detract from the pleasure of playing the game. You see, Men of Valor does a lot of things right. The graphics are fairly good. There are nice character models, as well as awesome weapons and explosions. The long, dense grass and other foliage provide excellent cover and promote a real sense of jungle warfare. But what’s most interesting in the game is the sound; it’s contains both a superb musical score and solid voice acting. And this game did not receive an “M” rating for nothing. Your squad mates fight like marines and they cuss like them, too. It makes for some rather awkward moments when grand and epic music is playing in the background while your squad mates are swearing and directing racial comments at the Vietnamese people. It stirs such a mix of emotions while you are playing the game that you may wonder if this clash of styles was developed intentionally or just something that happens. Another interesting feature in the game is the ability to bandage your own wounds. When Shepard gets shot his main health meter drops dramatically and he begins to bleed, but if you hurry you are able to apply a bandage and regain a certain percentage of lost health. This is a much-needed gameplay addition as it is often hard to find health pickups during a ferocious firefight. Another useful feature is the ability to search enemy corpses. By doing this you can usually find weapons and health packs, both of which are quickly used.
There are extra features in the game that give some worthy plusses to Men of Valor. There are quotes and factual information about Vietnam that are also a delightfully informative bonus. Also, when you die, your commanding officer will read the dreaded ?letter’ that every family of a loved one serving in wartime never wants to receive.
Men of Valor’s multiplayer is stereotypical of war-themed first-person shooters. There are 6 multiplayer game types; of course there are standard matches such as Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, but Men of Valor does offer some unique multiplayer gameplay, too. In Search and Destroy, your team must locate and place 3 parts of a mortar gun so you can fire and destroy all your enemies. Secure the Documents is a Capture the Flag type game where one team must stop the other from stealing their documents and returning them to their filing cabinets (and, yes, they have filing cabinets in the middle of the jungle!). There are also multiplayer missions where you have specific objectives to complete while your opponents attempt to stop you. Frontline is probably the most fun of all the multiplayer matches. Here you have to capture and hold strategic points for a certain amount of time. Once the point has been fully taken your team wins. This game type offers the most action as you and your teammates will engage in frenetic firefights while trying to secure a single point on the map.
Overall, Men of Valor is a good game that would have been great if not for the disappointingly absurd A.I. and unpolished gameplay. But, despite its shortcomings, there is still fun to be found and it does succeed in bringing an authentic feeling of the Vietnam War to your computer monitor. As developers continue to squeeze as much as they can from the deflated World War II cash cow, Men of Valor perhaps offers a glimpse into a bright gaming future through the relatively untapped Vietnam War resource.