Shellshock: Nam ’67

Second only to Apocalypse Now, Shellshock provides one of grittiest, fairest, bloodiest accounts of the Vietnam war ever to reach popular culture. With that said, Eidos’ most recent foray into the squad-based action genre, is, in every aspect, a lesson in shame. Shame of a nation, fighting an ugly war, destroying millions of innocent lives, the shame of men, committing some acts most unbecoming of America’s men in uniform, and finally, perhaps least importantly, the shame of a video game style. Yes, if the 60’s were the end of America’s innocence, Nam ’67 is definitely the end of squad-based combat, and it isn’t pretty.

This, of course, is not to say the game isn’t playable, likable, or even addictive, but rather, that it stinks of “copycat”. Indeed, we’ve been through this before. I’ve not been the last to trumpet the death of the squad-based combat genre, nor was I the first; yet, developers cannot seem to keep their hands off the premise. In Shellshock, platoon mates often inadvertently shoot you in the back, get in the way of your live fire, or fail to attack with any skill or ability. Of course the idea of a soldier leading his way through dense Vietnamese (or Laotian or Cambodian, for that matter) jungle alone is obscure, but it is equally preposterous to use the same model for a game set in 1967 Vietnam that was used in missions fighting space aliens, terrorists, and Nazis alike. Perhaps some middle ground may be found, or perhaps developers might catch on to the fact that a team only becomes a factor in a game when one can communicate with them. Rather, squad mates in Nam act as mindless drones, which at times seem to make strides to avoid any possible cooperation whatsoever

Shellshocked takes you through Vietnam, starting as a lowly enlistee, you will work your way up to a special forces operative as you progress through various combat scenarios. Before beginning anything, you’ll have the opportunity to name yourself and choose which type of character (from a selection of 3) you wish to play. In this sense, Shellshocked is astounding in its efforts to portray realistically the experience of a draftee, fresh from the states, thrown in to a world of chaos and bloodshed.
The excellent storytelling of the missions is only half the story of Shellshocked: Nam ’67, because awesome cinematics and breakaways complete the picture more so in this game than in almost any other. An excellent opening cinematic, introducing the war with awe-inspiring views of bomb blasts and troop movements amidst historical backgrounding of the war. Honestly here for a minute, we know most of you rarely, if ever, watch entire game cinematics; but be forewarned, you will not wholly reap everything Nam ’67 has to offer.

If you’re naïve, of the revisionist sort, or otherwise enamored with the Swift Boat Veterans for truth, you might be downright shocked and offended by some of the images and subplots in Shellshock. Credit is due to Guerrilla, the developer, and Eidos, the publisher, for having the courage to create and market a war game that accurately portrays the horrors committed on both sides of the Vietnam conflict.

For example, there is a definite sexual undertone to life on base. One goal will be to collect currency to exchange for an evening with one of the local girls, provided through a friendly neighborhood pimpstress. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for opportunities to collect Vietnamese artifacts, to steal and sell stateside through another on-base entrepreneur. Of course, all these things have been evidenced and refuted numerous times in the past 30 years, but now Shellshock: Nam ’67 lays them out with no apologies.

Commercially, Shellshock will probably be less successful than it should be, simply due to the fact that it stands a good chance of alienating anybody who plays it in one way or another. Vietnamese civilians are all portrayed along the lines of many racial stereotypes; perverse, torturous acts are implied, if not shown, on almost every level; and Americans act as some of the most brutal, primitive human beings ever known. With that said, everything in Shellshock is carefully researched, so the developer definitely has firm ground to stand on. Guerilla consulted numerous historians and actual American Vietnam war combatants to gather facts and anecdotes, which of course are projected along a fictional storyline.

Rarely is a game as important for its plot and theme as it is for its gameplay and action. Games that we remember most are always those that changed the way we experience video games. Shellshocked, in its purist form, is one of those games. Unfortunately, it has been muddied by an overused gameplay concept, poor graphics, and unpopular political themes. Hopefully, future developers will not see Shellshocked for the commercial disappointment it will probably become, because its lack of appeal is due almost exclusively to its gameplay and graphics. Rather, Shellshocked must be respected as a developer’s successful dare to project America’s dirty laundry before the country’s youth.

Despite this, many reviewers and cultural decency groups have cried foul at Shellshocked, ironically, for the exact reasons I just used to describe the game as a triumph. Shellshocked is one of the most heartbreakingly accurate portraits of war, and is bound to offend many among us who wish to view all America’s endeavors as valiant crusades of democracy.

Once again, with sound, Shellshock delivers all the realism one could possibly expect from a video game. Combat sounds are exciting and engaging, and certainly well engineered. Many people may find the voice acting to be poor or cheesy, because the scripting definitely has an air of inauthenticity. In this regard, guerrilla tried too hard to recreate the personalities and wit of soldiers, and the result are some of the most pathetic “comedic” dialogues ever to find their way onto Xbox.

Nothing spectacular in the graphics department. Character’s faces are hard to discern, some of the cutaway scenes have atrociously poor graphics, and the entire game is nowhere near as sharp or vibrant as it should be. Perhaps one could make a point that the games blurriness and lack of clarity is somehow a metaphor for the war itself, but I’m not going to get in to that. Besides, they were in a jungle for crying out loud, there must have been some incredible views.

To make up for a lack of creativity in the gameplay department, guerrilla appears to have repaid us with the quirkiest, silliest set of controls in an action game to date. You’ll have the usual methods of aiming and movement, and zoom and firing, but after that, things can get a little confusing. Crouching and crawling maneuvers are often difficult to control, especially at those pesky times when one must break into a sprint to avoid fire. Most importantly, the interface to pick up an object, such as a weapon or tool, is frustrating and poorly developed. One must move around in circles, as a headless chicken, around the desired item, until its icon appears on the HUD, then, without moving, you must scroll through the items on the HUD list to the desired item, select it, and then move on. Needless to say, this can put one at quite a disadvantage during the initial battles. However, once you get over this, controls are easy to master.