Back to the shit
When released in early 2003, Vietcong
seemed like one of those promising shooters that would found a franchise. It had an interesting setting in the then-underrepresented Vietnam war, along with a level of realistic grittiness that hadn’t been seen in the almost antiseptic real-war shooters released up to that time. Some critics didn’t appreciate the language, but hearing GIs under fire screaming about “dinks” and “gooks” was certainly a hell of a lot more authentic than troops killing Germans without shedding blood or uttering expletives in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
. You had to think that Vietcong
would be a shooter series to keep an eye on.
Well, think again. Despite taking two-and-a-half years to make Vietcong 2
, developer Pterodon has taken a step backwards in virtually every area. This sequel lacks much of the brutal charm of its predecessor, with crude controls, excruciating difficulty, and level design featuring the city-clearing drudgery that has made WW II shooters seem routine. Forget about running through the jungle. Here, you crawl down city streets where snipers shoot you in the head every couple of steps.
And I’m not exaggerating with that last sentence. While the original Vietcong
was a challenging game about halfway between a traditional kill-em-all shooter and a tactical challenge where one or two bullets sees you pushing up daisies, Vietcong 2
is maddeningly hard. It’s not the kind of crazy difficulty that you can come to appreciate and even make friends with, either; it’s the kind of crazy difficulty caused by odd design decisions and flaws.
The biggest problem is a dedication to realism over playability. Setting the game amidst the insanity that was the surprising Tet Offensive launched by North Vietnam in 1968 is a great idea, because it adds all sorts of pressure to mission objectives and puts the Americans under siege. But few compromises have been made to ease the challenge of fighting off hordes of fanatics in black pajamas. You’re asked to be Rambo in a fairly realistic combat situation; unsurprisingly this combination is an unworkable idea.
There are a lot of reasons for this beyond the obvious. Perhaps the most notable problem is finicky movement. I had to turn mouse sensitivity almost all the way down just to avoid whipping around like an out-of-control Flash, and even then it was tough to navigate in closed quarters. Pterodon has made the interior settings far too small, with corridors in Vietnamese homes and office buildings so narrow that you get caught on every little table and chair. You really do get stuck, too. Back into a crate, for example, and you typically get jammed there for a moment.