Air Conflicts: Vietnam Review (PC)

It's clear to me now that I'm an awful pilot. Like Denzel Washington in "Flight" I'm a woozy, drunken, and slightly disinterested helmsman. What should be encouraging displays of "shock and awe" turn increasingly into unfortunate Kamikaze tactics as my jet ploughs nose first into the mud some way off of enemy combatants. For inspiration I've tried to invoke a 60s themed Top Gun, Tom Cruise, and Iceman but to no avail.

What starts out as a simple tutorial mission turns into a Real Life documentary detailing the horrors at 1,000 feet. When told to rudder left, I ham fistedly whack my mouse with all of the finesse of a disinterested troll. The plane banks sharply, starts to plummet to the ground, and invariably turns upside down; the pilot presumably is pressed up against the window thinking who let the amateur onboard.

And when it comes to shooting, I fair no better. Once the untrustworthy aspects of navigation are sufficiently conquered, it's time to kill the Vietcong. While this is a task easily accomplished since the mid 90s, the systematic murder of Charlie is hard achieved when you are less master and commander of your flying vessel, and more dizzy rider of a confused, yet fast, goat. Targets are something I glimpse at in my rear view, the enemies crying out for napalm and receiving only clumsy flyovers and the odd crash landing.

Taking the reins of this particularly difficult cockpit is Joe Thompson - perhaps more aptly named Chuck Americano - a US pilot with a twinkle in his eyes and a target reticule in his HUD. Like most flight games, Air Conflicts: Vietnam suffers from trying to portray a story in the most mundane and average of ways. To put it much more simply, players should be instead approached with a PowerPoint presentation complete with bullet points: "You? Good guy. Them? Bad guys. De-stroy".

Set in the midst of the Vietnam war, Joe portrays his idealistic approach to war in his head movies. Like any videogame worth its PEGI rating, the protagonist manages to be present at many of the conflict's more notorious moments, bobbing along in the air and drinking in the history like Forest Gump.

While by no means a bad game, the problem with AC:V seems to be that flying an aircraft feels like riding an ADD bull that also seems to be in the early stages of Parkinson's disease. Flight veers wildly between sluggish and twitchy, with the resulting titular conflict playing more like the player character is strapped naked to a rocket, whilst crying, rather than casually deleting the existence of the enemies below.

The balance between simulation and arcade isn't finely struck, and the resultant experience won't really appeal to either audience. Everything is too simplistic to attract the purists that get excited by named and functioning plane parts, while the other audience, the slightly dumber audience like me, can only sigh with frustration as the jet bolts again and again into the banks of a river as any form of violence is attempted.

Which is a frustrating experience when combat turns out to be a gleeful adventure of napalm and rocket shells. Each individual fly machine is equipped with a multitude of missiles and destructive ammunition, and successfully sending those unfortunate ground troops to the choir invisible is always a, slightly morbid, hoot.

But like a break in the clouds, when AC:V shows glimpses of promise and enjoyment, ultimately stormy weather bares down forming an unhappy formation. Vietnam, whilst perpetually labelled as beautiful by Joe is ironically not so when rendered in the in-game engine. Everything looks slightly blurry, with the visuals not really detailing a lush land decimated by war, but rather a claymation version of warsville-anywhere.

It's these clumsy steps that take AC:V from an enjoyable flight-sim-come-arcade to a sluggish, identity-crisis ridden schlock fest. There are lots of good ideas here, variations in objectives, AI companions, skill building, and numerous aircrafts to fly, but it all feels so bland, mundane even.

There is little to endear this Vietnam air adventure above and beyond its competition. While setting out to achieve a fine balance between simulation and arcade, the game manages to land somewhere off the mark, skidding to a halt and ultimately pleasing no one. It can have moments of excitement and every so often it does show glimpses of superiority, but they are far too few to make this one worthy of much attention. Average to a fault.

Best Gaming Moment: Hitting a target cleanly for the time.

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By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Oct 08, 2013
I hear it's a pretty dreadful flight game, and that no one has told the Americans they actually lost the war in Vietnam. May be worth taking this for a spin when it's bargain bucket price, but by then better flight games and simulators will be on the market ("IL2 Sturmovik: Battle For Stalingrad" for one).