Vietcong 2 is a game put together by 2K Games and Pteradon Studios after what I can assume was months of painstaking research and programming, and is an interesting beast. On one hand, it absolutely drips Vietnam all over your monitor. You can smell the lush jungles and blasted cities. The game is full of character, you and your squad mates can often feel like real characters in a movie detailing the 1968 Tet offensive around the besieged city of Hue. You will experience the war from both sides of the conflict, as a grizzled, foul mouthed American Army captain, or a fresh faced Vietcong, filled with ideals and energy. There is something of a story being told by a reporter who tags along with you on the American missions, giving a prologue to the action that you just played through. So there is some plot and a great setting going for the game.
However from the time you wake up in the shoes of Captain Boon in bed next to a Vietnamese prostitute after a cut scene of jungle combat that turns out to be your daydreaming, you can tell this is not the kind of game grandma would approve of you playing. Your squad members drop an F-bomb so often that by the end of the American campaign you feel like you've been listening to Scarface for six hours.
The words lose all meaning as the men who are supposed to be helping you do little but spout the same phrases ad nauseum and seriously get in your way. Have a shot on the VC on the balcony? Not anymore! Guy from New York jumps in front of you, saving the same "Charlie" that he is currently cursing out. Forget about them being of any use inside of buildings too, they'll just block the tight stairways and try to shoot through the walls. Try thinking of them less as intelligent helpers and more as large blocks that follow you around and shoot at the cover that the enemy is ducking behind. The AI is adept at finding and ducking behind cover and most firefights are little more than you and your squad shooting at a group of enemies behind cover. Fortunately the AI has terrible aim, but that includes your squad members as well. You will end up finishing off 90% of the enemies in the game while peering down your iron sights, waiting for their head to pop up above the balcony.
Your allies are not all useless though, guy that gives you health is a godsend because of the game's harsh damage model. You can't take more than three shots without dying, and each time you get hit is lowers the maximum on your health bar, a certain percentage of the damage you take is permanent in each level. You end up dying many times, often because you were not being careful, but there are also times Charlie just gets the drop on you and you take a bullet to the head. The draw distance on enemies is too short; often you are getting shot at by VC who you can't even see.
A typical situation is one where you and your squad roll up to a building to be greeted by a swarm of Vietcong firing wildly in your direction from cover. Checking your new objective, you must kill the enemy. After two minutes of firing off carefully aimed shots at the enemies as the pop up to fire on your position, and the occasional visit to your medic, the streets will be silent once again. A new objective will appear: clear the building of enemies. Building clearing is a run and gun exercise, bursting into rooms and blasting the soldiers within before they can react.
Repeat that exercise, add in a few scripted sequences and you have an idea what the American missions are like. One glaring problem is that some of the scripts don't always work right. Take an alternate route and you won't be able to complete the mission, or the Marine you are supposed to follow will just stare ahead dumbly, necessitating you reload from the last save point. Another problem: every auto-save point causes the game to pause for a second and stutter, a big problem when you are engaged in close quarters combat.
The game stutters often actually, which is puzzling because it is not the most graphically intensive game out there. Just what are you installing from the five CDs the game comes on? The models are blocky and have low polygon counts, the textures are low resolution and blurry, and the level architecture is simple with a few impressive flairs added intermittently. It looks more like Half-life, which was released way back in 1998, than a game from 2005.
The strange exception to the low graphics is that the guns are beautifully rendered, which is nice because you spend too much time looking at the side of your weapon. You read that right, the side of your gun. Get too close to a wall, crate, or soldier and your gun folds against the player, blocking line of sight and making it impossible to shoot. Reloading also brings the weapon right against the players face, totally obscuring vision. Both of these game play decisions are frustrating.
However, while the American campaign is lackluster, the Vietcong levels really shine. The majority of the Vietcong missions take part in lush green jungle that is much preferable to the drab city levels. You will lead your VC team of engineers on missions to assault American defenses, ambush a convoy, shoot down helicopters and avenge your slaughtered village. Each mission is different from the last and is a blast to play through and you feel like you are in charge of the action. Instead of being forced to wait for the Marines for backup, you are leading the charge on the American bunker in the dead of night. Unfortunately the Vietcong levels must be unlocked through the American campaign and there are only four missions.
It is also no wonder that the maps for the Vietcong missions are also featured prominently in the multiplayer mode. Well balanced with a plethora of game modes and soldier kits and weapons to choose from, the multiplayer might just be the best part of the game. Capture the flag is the most popular game mode, but unfortunately most servers are empty and there are only about 50 players playing online at once, spread across a dozen populated servers.
What does it all add up to? Unfortunately Vietcong 2 is a game that just doesn't add up quite right, the pieces don't fit exactly right and the whole package plays really clunky. There really should have been more of the Vietcong missions included since these are where the game plays right. Instead most of the game is an exercise in confusion and frustration as you stumble through the rubble of Hue city as Captain Boon. The game's mechanics and visuals work best in a jungle environment and worst in wide open streets and cramped buildings.
The final word? This is a game for the hardcore Vietnam buff. The setting is captured right but unfortunately the game has far too many annoyances so it is not for the average gamer looking for a fun shoot em up game.