Featuring graphic portrayals of the controversial actions and overall brutality of the Vietnam War, Shellshock: Nam '67 looks to provide an uncensored depiction of the conflict as seen through the eyes of a rookie soldier.
Players must fight their way through a variety of missions, ranging from expansive battlefield encounters with the North Vietnamese Army to stealth-based missions to assassinate VC generals. Authentic weapons from either the U.S., Viet Cong, or North Vietnamese armies are available to use, as players battle in locations ranging from the wetlands of the South to the mountain borders of the North, as well as dense jungles and rural Vietnamese villages. Character development is interwoven, and as each mission is completed players will advance in rank, from a "grunt" to a special forces soldier, taking with them all of the skills learned from previous missions.
Realistic injuries were a consideration while Shellshock: Nam '67 was in development. Fellow Soldier's don't simply live or die; rather, depending on the injury, they may lie on the ground suffering, or struggle on wounded while attempting to take down the enemy. If players find themselves being overrun by the opposition during a mission, they can call in choppers to provide cover fire, or have the entire area leveled by a destructive napalm artillery attack.
Vietnam is quickly becoming the new World War II as the backdrop de jour for action shooters. Shellshock: Nam '67, however, tries to set itself apart from the others by providing a much more gritty and realistic portrayal of the war and everything that came with it. It's wise that that they sought that kind of hook, since the actual gameplay is pretty unremarkable.
Shellshock is a straightforward, third-person shooter where you control one soldier on an epic quest to shoot everything that moves. Your soldier can carry one melee weapon, one pistol, and one rifle, which is pretty limiting, though you can swap those weapons out on the battlefield if you're lucky enough to find the right gun for the current situation. Shellshock also pretends to have stealth components, but don't be fooled. Stealth mainly consists of creeping up behind enemies and stabbing them, but it's really difficult to do in the absence of any hiding or evasion mechanics. What's more, it doesn't seem to matter if you forego stealth and just noisily shoot everyone like you normally would. In fact, it's easier and almost unavoidable.
Each of the game's levels, including the supposed stealth-based ones, feed you objectives at the beginning of (and sometimes during) the mission, but your goals tend to be of the typical "kill these guys" or "blow that thing up" variety. There are a few exceptions, like holding off waves of enemies in defense of a jungle fortress, disarming booby traps, or gunning them down in the streets from an in-flight helicopter. You're also accompanied by teammates that hoot and scream catch phrases, but they're completely computer-controlled (no coordination or commands needed from you, buddy), dumb as rocks, and curiously indestructible outside of scripted sequences where they seem fated to die.
Any claim to "realism" Shellshock might make falls flat in light of the rest of the gameplay. Your soldier's health regenerates quickly, so the game becomes ridiculously easy as soon as you learn to find cover and squat for a few seconds. Not very realistic. The same goes for the levels, complete as they are with invisible walls and conspicuously arranged tree trunks designed to keep you in bounds and on the correct path. Oh, and your character can't jump. I was frequently annoyed when trying to storm an enemy position only to be stopped dead in my tracks by a formidable precipice formed by six inches of dirt.
Finally, the enemy AI doesn't offer much, either. Enemy combatants seem to think that the best way to win this war is to rush into your meat grinder while repeating one of a handful of annoying catch phrases. Occasionally, the enemy will lob a grenade and they often crouch behind cover; far too often, they don't seem to have much brains until you blow them out.
It's also worth taking a moment to note the game's lack of an RPG-like development system for your character. Normally this would be unfair for a shooter, but in this case it's justified because the game's box promises "character growth" and that you can "Develop from a fresh-faced rookie to a hard-edged Special Forces agent." Don't believe it. When I add up the number of ways you can "develop" your character, it comes to ...let's see ...zero.
This isn't to say that the game isn't completely without merits. The levels look pretty nice, packed with dense foliage and landscapes that make for some great shootouts (though they would be even greater with better AI). It's a great break from space stations, science labs, and the burnt-out French countryside. There's a good job of keeping the jungle settings from being monotonous by varying the time of day and the weather conditions under which many of the levels take place, and the music is also notable for the way it catches the mood of 1967.
Eidos's marketing folks have made a lot of noise about Shellshock being cut from the same ragged cloth as other honored depictions of the Vietnam War, namely films directed by Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone. To its credit, the game gets the gore and horror of war down all right. There are scenes where your allies murder captives in cold blood, there are depictions of graphic torture and mutilation, and the game certainly earns its "Mature" ESRB rating.
One of the game's major selling points seems to be that when you visit Base Camp between missions you can trade in your battlefield trophies, earning what are called "chits." These chits are essentially currency you can use to buy a few powerups, like drugs that can temporarily steady your aim, but Eidos is making the most noise about your ability to buy pornographic trading cards or passes to the whorehouse behind the base. After the first such experience, I fail to see why. Shellshock has no problem portraying torture, murder, and war, but it relegates sex with a prostitute to off-camera wall shaking and moaning. (This may have been done to avoid an Adults Only ESRB rating, but it still reveals some strange double standards.)
So you have bold, gritty depictions of violence, sex and a smattering of the psychological terrors of war, and yet Shellshock completely fails to reach the kind of cinematic feel or pathos you get from movies like Apocalypse Now or Platoon. The characters are shallow: you're not given any kind of insight into what's going on with them, what they're thinking, what they're feeling, or how they're changing. There's also little continuity to the story: a few cut scenes and mission briefings don't fit together into a larger, more compelling narrative. It doesn't help that the model animations and voice acting in the cut scenes are of uneven quality (though I did catch some nice voiceover work by veterans like Billy West).
In the end, Shellshock: Nam '67 has a bit of style but not much new gameplay behind it. It looks good and it's a serviceable shooter (you do get to shoot things, after all), but the game play just isn't that exciting, especially when you consider that it has no multiplayer and the single-player is so linear.
People who downloaded Shellshock: Nam '67 have also downloaded:
Men of Valor, Soldier of Fortune 2: Double Helix, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Soldier Elite: Zero Hour, SiN Episodes: Emergence, Line of Sight: Vietnam, Secret Weapons Over Normandy, Silent Hill 4: The Room
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