Men of Valor: Vietnam Review
The team responsible for Medal of Honor: Allied Assault has now taken their historical shooter gameplay twenty years into the future with Men of Valor: Vietnam. In doing so they’ve created a game that captures the character of the war in Southeast Asia, probably better than any Vietnam War game to date. However, despite all of its atmosphere and mission variety it has some problems which detract from its overall experience.
In Men of Valor you are Dean Shepard, a Marine who finds himself in Vietnam as the war escalates far beyond a “police action”. Shepard is a good man with a strong sense of duty, which is conveyed through his letters to family members back home that are shown after each mission. On the flipside though, during missions and cutscenes Shepard is always quiet and the other soldiers rarely speak to him beyond giving out orders which makes for a disconnect between the character portrayed in the letters to home and the one you play when the action starts.
|Welcome to the jungle.|
Overall the game does a good job of conveying the atmosphere of the war through archival footage and photos, quotes from the leaders at the time, character conversations during cutscenes, and even through classic 60s rock which plays during the soldiers’ downtime. In a nice touch the game lets you look around during cutscenes which helps to make you feel more like a participant than a voyeur.
This atmosphere extends to the game’s missions which do a good job of providing you with a cross-section of the environments faced by troops in Vietnam. You’ll fight in bombed-out cities, on river patrol boats, from a helicopter gunship, and of course in jungle and rice paddy environments. You’ll encounter ambushes, grenade-tossing old women who approach you under the pretext of seeking help, jungle booby traps, and many other hallmarks of the Vietnam War. These locations all look really good and the jungles are lush and filled with vegetation. On the downside this is a heavily event-scripted game, so the look of large environments is an illusion. For example, as you move through the jungle you’re in reality moving down a plant filled corridor. Move too far to the left or right and you’ll butt up against an impenetrable wall of foliage. Not only are you channeled from one event to the next, you don’t have the option of flanking the enemy when you encounter them. It’s the same sort of thing in the vehicular missions; you’re sitting at a gun while the vehicle takes you along a predetermined path like you’re on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland.
The carefully choreographed levels are not that big of an issue if you just let the game take you along for the ride. This style of game can certainly deliver a deeper story-like experience than can more freeform shooters. However, something that does really detract from gameplay is the game’s poor AI, for both the enemy and your squad. First of all, they can’t really seem to kill each other. There will be shooting aplenty during firefights but your squadmates never die unless it’s part of the script and at times you’ll feel as if you have to kill every single enemy soldier yourself if you’re to survive. Things get even more bizarre in close quarters. The enemy will charge to within a few feet of your squad and yet will fire in some random direction rather than at the soldier two feet away. Your buddy in turn will be more concerned with firing into a distant tree line than with taking out the enemy who is close enough to touch. On more occasions than I can count, I had to walk along the line picking off enemies a couple of feet away with almost execution style headshots. Also, you can take a position near a spot where enemies enter a building or area and just camp out killing them one by one as they enter. They don’t seem to notice the pile of bodies they need to step over and don’t always react to your shots if your first one doesn’t make the kill. I don’t want to give you the impression that Men of Valor is an easy game – there are enough ambushes, surprises, and overwhelming number of enemies to keep you on your toes and guarantee that you’ll rack up your share of KIAs. You’ll also have to contend with a console-style save system that only saves your progress at periodic checkpoints, which means you’ll be in for some backtracking when you do fall in battle.