Shellshock: Nam ?67 is a game that hypes itself up as a realistic and unique approach to the Vietnam conflict – and it succeeds some of the time. The best way I can describe this game is: ugly, intense, and sometimes completely misguided. This works as both a summation of the game and the war in Vietnam. Shellshock tries to put the player into the most controversial conflict of the last century, and succeeds for the most part. The game does a great job conveying a chaotic atmosphere during most cinematic portions, but fairs poorly in expressing a feeling of fighting a battle, especially during the later levels.
Starting out, you pick one of three characters (though merely for aesthetic reasons), and then are immediately dropped into an area where the Vietcong instantly swarm over your character and your squad. The utter chaos is quite brilliant, and serves to immerse you into the role of a military grunt as you break a sweat while attempting to stop the sheer numbers of Vietcong attacking you. Your squad leader is shouting orders that you curse at, and all involve wading through Vietnamese waves. Enjoy this feeling while you can, especially seeing as you will lose it upon realize that the Vietcong have spawning points you need merely cross to stop your foe from running amok.
Speaking of the Vietcong – their AI is simply idiotic; they are extremely predictable and easily killed. Their whole objective is to flood an area they are assigned to attack, whether it’s the main gate of a fort – or you. Their sheer number keeps it interesting, though, and they will not stop until you cross a spawn point. Five people shooting at you in close range is always hard, no matter their aim.
Making it to spawn points is actually (and disappointingly) quite easy, because your squad is seemingly invincible and your own health regenerates given time. Put these two gameplay details together, and all you need do is hide when you incur damaged and let the squad provide cover while you heal. The only time the squad members bite the dust is during the cut scenes, so you never worry about them during the actual battles. Death never comes quickly for you, either, unless you get shot in the head while running for a spawn point.
Now, when your character upgrades to his special forces (the only part of character development throughout the game), you get a few solo missions, and can no longer rely on your squad to absorb the punishment. These levels also try to be stealth missions, something that is completely out of line for a game like this. They not only ruin the squad-based feeling and the sympathetic emotions you project towards most of your squad (psycho team-member excluded), but the stealth is a joke; you can simply run-and-gun the levels if you chose while suffering no undue consequences.
The graphics are a bit dated for the PS2, which, frankly, is unacceptable for the Xbox. Character models are obviously low-polygon, and no type of mapping in the world can hide it. Calling the animation awkward is generous, as it would need a floating rubber-man to accurately move like some of the soldiers during the cut scenes. The blood and body parts are done well, though, which is good, because you will see a lot of both during this Shellshock. Shooting an enemy in the head results in a fountain of blood gushing through the air, and shooting a limb might result in it being blown off. The best part of the graphics resides in the forest. The foliage and terrain look great (too bad that it clips like ka-ray-zee when your character is crawling through it).
The movies are done respectably well, but they play with a polished look that a game depicting conflict perhaps should not have. The movie that best shows this is when your character is being flown into a hot Landing Zone and, instead of realistic clothing creases and wrinkles, everyone on board with you has a uniform that’s as smooth as silk.
The controls are very similar to the Halo games, with one analog stick moving the character, while and the other aims. This set up is great for a game utilizing a third-person view, but accuracy is extremely important in a game where death is one exploding head away. Unfortunately, Shellshock does not have perfect controls, which results in a few exploding heads for your character as you make your way towards spawn points. That’s right, checkpoints are secondary, buddy. They are frequent enough to make it through the game, though you should only be using large capacity ammo clips for the most intense moments. Either way there should be enough bullets to go around.
The sound is where Shellshock shines. The voice acting is done extremely well (aside from the Vietcong), and expresses believable character emotion, which is usually missing on their faces. The Vietcong have very limited amounts of dialogue that they shout at you, and you will hear all of it during the game’s first two levels. This is unfortunate because the game is so much longer than the mere thirty to forty-five minutes it will take you to beat the first two levels – and then the Vietcong simply become annoying. Another beauty is the soundtrack; it’s filled with classic tunes from the sixties era. Man, I love those songs.
Speaking of the base, this is the mini-spot that you go to between levels. There’s not really anything special here, but you can buy items from an NPC named Deuce. Deuce sells miscellaneous items, including (almost) nude postcards, and even fornication with a prostitute. The rest of your time here is spent talking to soldiers, who usually have nothing to say, but a few will give you tips on the next mission, or talk about how they feel about the war. You could call it character development. There is no time during a battle to do it, and developers Guerilla want you to care about the soldiers who die.
The strangest thing is that there is no multiplayer option. What’s that all about? Shellshock would have scored much higher if it had included a multiplayer mode of some sort. It’s not that this game desperately needs a ?versus’ multiplayer, but a cooperative multiplayer would have been great. Gameplay and longevity would have been boosted considerably through a coop mode where you and some friends could become the squad that’s forced to cover one another while planning the best way to storm an enemy gun turret or tunnel. Yes, that would have provided some amazing fun.
Another quirk that I disliked is the trap disarming. You have to pick your way through a mini-maze before time runs out, but the timer goes so fast that you can’t afford even one mistake, nor can you dawdle. I guess this is supposed to conjure a feeling of tension, but it done so sloppily, and your character does not die if you fail, which make this whole exercise somewhat of a moot point.
I’ve said a lot of negative stuff about Shellshock, and it deserves all of it. However, it does have redeeming qualities. This game is violent. Not violent in a fistfight sort of way, but a violence reminiscent of, say, the first thirty minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Deaths are bloody, and the cut scenes are bloodier. I’m going for the belief that this is supposed to show the utterly senseless violence that occurred in Vietnam, and if this was (developers) Guerilla’s intention, then they have exceeded all expectations. If Vietnam was anything like the cut scenes seen here, then you can bet your bottom dollar that this was an ugly and painful war.
The game, as a whole, is jumbled little pieces that fit together surprisingly well. Perhaps it is because of the intense cut scenes that I found the game enjoyable and wanted to keep playing it. The first few levels are intense and keep putting you into edgy situations, but it slowly drops off from there. However, it still has a certain amount of attractive excitement. The characters that do die usually don’t do so with any unnecessary gusto, which is a relief, because I am tired of seeing characters die with guns blazing and the battle hymns resonating.
I suppose it’s hard to explain why I like Shellshock: Nam ?67 – but I like war games in general. This is not the best war game I’ve played, but it’s certainly not the worst either. It has its own share of glitches, but the voice acting and soundtrack were enough for me to keep coming back for more until I reached the end. However, once you’re finished, that’s it. Shellshock has nothing more to offer after the eight to ten hours of game time. Absolutely nothing at all.
I can’t see how Shellshock: Nam ?67 can be worth $50USD to anyone outside of hard-core war game fans, but once it moves to the $20 bargain bin – go pick it up.