Combining the player-directed team warfare of an MMORPG with the fast-paced competition of a first-person shooter, and the realism of an accurate historical setting with forgiving arcade-style action, Battlefield Vietnam follows the same basic battle plans as its winning 2002 predecessor, Battlefield 1942. The follow-up allows as many as 64 players to join and battle together online, across the land, sea, and skies of a virtual Vietnam. Recruits choose to fight for the United States or the North Vietnamese Army as one of five basic soldier types, each appropriate for a different selection of era-authentic weaponry.
Drivable vehicles include jet fighters, helicopters, tanks, trucks, and Jeeps, and passengers can now fire weapons while on board. A cross-section of popular music from the era, including singles by Credence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, and the Kingsmen, can be played in-game on the car and truck radios, and will be heard by other players as these vehicles pass them. Users can also import and listen to customized .mp3 soundtracks (though only on their own computers).
The most immediately obvious difference between Vietnam and 1942 may be the games' environments. Battlefield Vietnam levels feature the country's thick, jungle landscapes, which can have a great effect on line-of-sight, cover, and tactics, as well as on the game's overall look. Many credit community support, including fan-made mods and even game-engine rendered "machinima" movies, with contributing to the success of the original 1942. This Vietnam sequel ships with all the basic map and mission editing tools in place.
While the gaming industry has done World War II a million times over, the latest war-du-jour these days is the more morally ambiguous Conflict in Vietnam. Chances are nobody will be able to capture it with quite the panache of Dice and Electronic Arts, the duo that put together our 2002 mutliplayer game of the year, Battlefield 1942. Battlefield Vietnam has all the flavor of the era, most of the hardware involved, and some of the best multiplayer gameplay you'll find in a war-themed first-person shooter.
Don't expect realism here. As with 1942, Vietnam focuses on gameplay. You'll drive tanks and jeeps and APCs, patrol rivers in gunboats, soar through the skies in jets and hover over enemy territory in choppers. It has the flavor of real combined arms tactics but the fast pace of an arcade game.
Back when Battlefield 1942 was released, it revolutionized the way gamers looked at multiplayer first-person games. The original game is not only still going strong, it has also spawned an active modification community that put together such hits like Desert Combat, not to mention a Vietnam-themed mod in the form of Eve of Destruction. This puts Battlefield: Vietnam in the unusual position of competing with its predecessor.
When it's all said and done Vietnam doesn't wow us the way that 1942 did in its day, but it's a step forward graphically, a leap ahead in the sound department, and just as much fun as the original.
Two big changes and a handful of tweaks set Vietnam apart from its predecessor. The most obvious change is in the graphics engine: ground clutter covers the hillsides with thick vegetation and heavy forests sway in the wind. This favors some new gameplay, as it's much easier than before to go prone amidst a clump of underbrush unseen by the enemy. Occasionally machinegun fire will rip out of the jungle from unexpected angles, cutting you down before you can even get a look at your assailant: Welcome to 'Nam! Being able to hide in the jungle makes it a little easier for one solider or a small group of soldiers to defend a location, but fortunately this isn't so effective as to slow down the brisk pace of the game. Expect to be frustrated by snipers and hidden enemies, however.
The second big addition to the Battlefield franchise are the helicopters that played such an important role in the war. Fans of the series might have already swarmed the skies in helicopters from the BF1942 Desert Combat modification, but here the choppers are better integrated into the game and much more intuitive to fly. The strategic ramifications are significant: It's now relatively easy to airlift a huge mob of troops to nearly anywhere on the map. Helicopters can also hover above a location to capture it, which is particularly effective if you've got a couple of guys hanging out the side doors using the .50-cal machineguns. The addition of helicopters -- for transport or for dishing out firepower -- emphasizes vehicles and gives the game an even more frantic pace. Our only complaint is that it wasn't possible to have individual control configurations for jets and choppers; joystick settings that felt good for planes were too sensitive for the helicopters and vice-versa.
Marketing for the game highlights the fact that you can now airlift tanks or jeeps to the front lines via helicopters, but in practice we found that it was a difficult art (it took this reviewer ten minutes to do it the first time. With practice it gets easier.) You'll need a skilled helicopter pilot and vehicle driver smart enough to drive into the chain to get hooked up, preferably in less time than it would take to drive across the map. It's hard to imagine this coming into play very often in a chaotic Internet game, but if you've got even a half-decent team together the ability to plop a tank down just about anywhere can quickly turn the tide of battle. It's worth practicing to get it right.
Numerous small additions keep the game fresh. Engineers can now set down static mortar firing stations, great for taking out infantry. You can fire your weapons out of the car while riding shotgun (no pun intended) in jeeps. The VC can "dig tunnels" to other part of the map, which is represented by a single spawn point engineers can move around. This little trick doesn't often come into play, but when it does it can really frustrate and confuse the Americans. (Welcome to 'Nam!) These little tweaks don't drastically change the gameplay: this still feels like a Battlefield game, but is has the flavor of a different war.
Vietnam is intended as a multiplayer game through and through: skip it if you'd prefer to game offline. At its core the gameplay is the same as what you'd find in the original Battlefield: a mix of vehicles supported by infantry is your best bet for capturing and holding territory. It's an enjoyable game even on a server full of idiots, and absolutely incredible with two skilled teams going at it. Vietnam is an awesome game for LAN parties.
Unfortunately, it also suffers from one of the problems that plagued the original Battlefield: the object of the game is to capture and hold points on the map, but there's nothing to stop players from zipping away from everyone to take points far from the action. Some map designs mitigate this problem, but you still sometimes have problems where you're chasing down strays the whole time instead of fighting big battles on the front lines.
However, one drawback from the original Battlefield is gone. Most foot soldiers now have powerful machineguns and more anti-vehicular capability, and there are more vehicles (with more seats!) to go around. As a result, Vietnam is a much faster game with more to do and less 'down time.' It's fast, furious, and fun from start to finish.
Vietnam has some play balance issues that might not surface until a couple of months after the game has been on shelves, once all the players master the strategies. Unlike 1942, the two sides in the game have very different armaments. One of the options for U.S. players is to carry both a heavy machinegun and a rocket launcher: there's virtually no reason to pick any other class! In general, as with the real war, the U.S. has all the advantages in equipment. On some maps, a swarm of American choppers can descend on VC positions from any angle. There are lots of antiaircraft options available, but once players master the game skills, will more than a couple of the maps turn out to be balanced? Our playtesting seems to hint that this might be a problem, but then again, Battlefield has always been about crazy over-the-top fighting and not about serious tournament-style play anyways.
A variety of game maps keeps the multiplayer exciting. You'll be fighting in anywhere from exposed grasslands and rice paddies to dense Cambodian jungles to inner-city alleyways between shelled-out buildings. Some maps are vehicle-intensive, with jets and choppers filling the sky. Other maps emphasize infantry, with tanks carefully threading their way through muddy roads while rockets roar unexpectedly out of the underbrush. There's even a new "Evolution" mode, where a pair of historically-related multiplayer maps are linked together and team tickets carry over from one battle to the next. The multiplayer game is extremely rewarding.
A pile of small problems and a poor single-player experience prevent Battlefield: Vietnam from making the jump from great game to outstanding game. Long load times between matches are a real buzzkill. During gameplay, even with a broadband connection you may experience some stuttering with a lot of people on the screen. Sometimes running down a set of stairs will cause you to take falling damage. On at least one map we experienced a repeating sound glitch that didn't stop until we exited the server. These little problems tend to sort themselves out in subsequent patches, but why do we have to put up with them?
Vietnam offers a single-player game against bots in order to familiarize yourself with the gameplay. There are many games that do this well (Unreal Tournament 2004 is a slam dunk), but Vietnam's bots are profoundly poor. For one thing they seem to ignore the camouflaging effects of ground cover, meaning you'll often be shot by enemies you can't even see. On top of that, we've had them shoot us while partially clipped through walls and invulnerable. Moreover, they're strategically slow: they'll hold heavy weapons like tanks back in the rear for no apparent reason. As a result, you can't even really get a feel for the multiplayer game when playing against the bots. No, online is where this one's at.
One thing the game does an outstanding job of, however, is capturing the feel of the era. The art, the menu designs, even the loading screens nail the turbulent late 60s/early 70s. But the music in particular needs to be singled out: Electronic Arts has been making an effort to really step up the music production in games, as seen by the licensed tracks in franchises like Madden. But Vietnam is probably the first wargame with a licensed soundtrack. This isn't some audio guy's weak attempt to capture the 60s on his keyboard; it's not a bunch of cover bands doing their impressions of the music; no, it's the actual tracks that defined a decade of conflict. From CCR singing "Fortunate Son" to Jefferson Airplane crooning "Somebody to Love" to the Bobby Fuller Four admitting "I fought the Law," you're simply locked into the period. You can now play music from the car radios or listen to propaganda broadcast from your base. And yes, you can even blast "Ride of the Valkyries" from your chopper as you pepper an enemy beach with rockets. Kudos to EA for taking game music as seriously as films do in Hollywood.
Along those lines, the sound effects in BF: Vietnam are leagues better than in 1942. The zip and clatter of bullets crashing through the bamboo around you is unmistakable.
The Final Verdict
If you're looking for a multiplayer wargame with all the subtlety of a napalm bomb, this is your game. It's just different enough from Battlefield 1942 to warrant a sequel, but it doesn't significantly change what we so enjoyed about the original. Furthermore, modification tools are shipped with the game in the form of map editors and other utilities. They're not super-easy to use, but they should allow the game to grow with the community over the next couple of years.
It's a shame that Vietnam suffers from so many little issues and a poor single-player mode; compared to other more polished first-person games on the market it has some rough edges. Still, it's got that mystical 'fun factor' behind it. Fans of multiplayer who pick this one up won't be disappointed.
People who downloaded Battlefield Vietnam have also downloaded:
Battlefield 1942, Battlefield 2, Battlefield 2142, Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, Call of Juarez
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