Platoon Review

Platoon is a tactical RTS set in the jungles of Viet Nam from 1965 through 1968.  The game is ostensibly based on the 1986 Oliver Stone movie of the same name, but outside of the logo and the picture on the game box there does not seem to be much in the way of a connection between the two.  The game's protagonist is a Sgt. Lionsdale, who was not one of the characters in the film as far as I can remember.  For a game based on a movie, there is surprisingly little in the way of narrative or storyline.  Each mission's loading graphic is a letter to home from Lionsdale, but these are pretty much your boilerplate war letters that could have been written by any soldier in any war.  The pre-mission briefing serves to introduce the tactical situation and objectives, so the game really plays as a series of single engagements.  So to fans of the movie looking for the chance to be a part of the film, you've been warned.

Your squad in the jungle.

The disconnect with the movie and the general lack of a storyline would be easily forgivable if Platoon made up for it with exciting gameplay.  The jungle environments and the fanaticism and tactics of the guerilla enemy make the war in Viet Nam a good setting for a squad-based strategy game.  Unfortunately, Platoon is a straight-forward and shallow strategy game that happens to be set in a jungle environment.

The problems begin with the way the game groups your units.  Lionsdale and specialty units such as engineers and M60 machine gunners can be controlled individually, but riflemen can only be given orders as a group.  This makes flanking movements and other tactics difficult at best, and impossible in missions where you are given a single squad.  A lot of missions degenerate into moving a blob of soldiers around the map while trying to outgun any opposition that you encounter.

The game also suffers from some AI issues, on both sides of the conflict.  Lionsdale and rifle squads move pretty quickly, but the specialists lag really far behind.  Granted it is harder to run with an M16 than an M60, but when a group move order is issued it is hard to believe that the riflemen would want to leave their heavy firepower behind.  Also annoying is your riflemen's propensity for running through minefields because they refuse to let the engineer keep up. 

You can issue orders to your units to change their stance, but they don't always fully follow the order and you often get stuck with a squad that is half standing and half crawling.  It is even difficult to get everyone to drop to a prone position when coming under enemy fire.  The game allows you to issue orders when paused, and you'll need to make constant use of this feature every time an enemy is sighted and try to get your squad to react properly to the attack.

The enemy AI is even worse than that of your squad.  When enemies spot your men, they come charging out into the open and then stop and fire away at your squad while standing.  The manual boasts that the enemy AI is programmed with "authentic fighting techniques", but it is hard to imagine that VC and NVA soldiers were taught to charge out of the brush and then stand and fire.  Not only do they come right towards your men, the enemy likes to get up close and personal - on the order of 5 to 15 meters on the game's scale.  This forces your squad to stay put and return fire because if you attempt to move you'll take heavy casualties.  It's like two ships of the line firing broadsides at each other.  You'll outnumber most enemy groups you encounter, so at first you will easily wipe out the enemy.  However, the missions are long and become more and more difficult as they progress and attrition eventaully takes its toll on your squad.  Lionsdale is often the only soldier to make it to the extraction point at the end of the mission, but since he survived you'll complete the mission and be given a congratulatory message.  Somehow Lionsdale is able to continue his career without a single reprimand for all the men who have died under his command and without earning the nickname "Angel of Death".