First person shooters tend to be set in one of three environments: sci-fi future, World War II, and modern day counter-terrorism operations. This is not too surprising, as these settings are familiar to gamers and provide developers with easy to manage environs in which to develop game levels. On the other hand, game developers have shied away from the Vietnam conflict because of the difficulties posed by its dense jungle environments and guerilla tactics. In spite of these difficulties, Pterodon has decided to take up the challenge with their game Vietcong.
|Lush jungle environments give the enemy plenty of places to hide.|
In Vietcong you are a Special Forces soldier named Stephen Hawkins. You begin with a few boot camp training sessions that serve as a tutorial and as an homage to Full Metal Jacket. Once you've been thoroughly humiliated by your drill instructor, you're shipped out to a forward base camp deep in the Vietnamese jungle. Not only are NVA incursions common in the area, the Vietcong are very active in the vicinity as well.
Your base is where you'll receive your pre-mission briefings, but you're free to choose when those briefings occur. Between missions you can walk around the base, visiting the HQ, shooting range, and your quarters. The shooting range allows you to select the weapons that you will take with you on your next mission, and to try out the various weapons that are available. In Vietcong there are over 20 different weapons available that are modeled on the weapons in use by both sides in the conflict. Each weapon has a different feel, with varying degrees of accuracy and recoil, so your choice of weapon does make a difference in the game. Should you find yourself out of ammunition while on a mission (a quite likely occurrence), then you can equip any weapons dropped by fallen comrades or enemies. In a nod to realism, you'll also need to make sure that you have or can find the ammo needed for your new weapon, and you'll have to drop your current weapon before you can pick up another.
Your quarters serves to add atmosphere to the game. You can read mission results or your private journal, and listen to 60s rock on your radio. There's not a whole lot that you can do there, but it gives the game a little character that you can't get when the only thing separating missions are load screens.
Also stationed with you at your base are a group of specialists who will accompany you on your missions, although you won't be able to select the make-up of your squad for each mission. There's the ubiquitous gruff, muscle-bound machine gunner, a radio man to keep you up to date on changing mission objectives and to call in aid when needed, a medic to patch your squad up when they take hits, an engineer who provides extra ammunition, and Nhut. Nhut is a member of the South Vietnamese army who serves as point man and guide, and provides valuable insight into the tactics of the enemy. You can issue basic commands to your squad, but for the most part you either have your men follow you or Nhut.
As for the AI of your squad, it has its moments of frustration. You'll occasionally find yourself alone in a firefight because your squad has gotten lost somewhere along the way. Most of the time they behave pretty competently, and sometimes your squad will wipe out an enemy patrol before you can even see anyone. The enemy AI is generally pretty good in that the enemy makes use of cover and maneuvers for a better firing position, but they can become preoccupied with your squad, leaving them very vulnerable to an attack by you on their flank.