Review

Men of War: Vietnam Review (PC)

I’ve played some tough games in my time. Super Meat Boy threw down his gauntlet, and I chucked it back into his squidgy face, The ArmA series has marched me into countless battles, but I’ve always come out the other side scarred but alive. I even managed to tear down the towering iron curtain of Supreme Ruler: Cold War. Yet Men of War: Vietnam is so hard it almost had me in tears.

I’m not joking. I think I left Vietnam with actual PTSD. It makes every other game I’ve played look easy. It even makes itself look easy, as I will explain in due course.

“You take the one in green. I’ll take the one wearing the hat”

First though, the obligatory introductory blurb. Vietnam is the third standalone expansion pack for the critically well-received Men of War, after the meaty Red Tide and the multiplayer-focussed Assault Squad. The game features ten large missions split into two campaigns. The American campaign revolves around a special ops team led by Sergeant John Merrill. The North Vietnam campaign focuses on two Vietnamese soldiers and two Soviet military advisors who are the only survivors of a US ambush on a Vietnamese convoy.

To be honest, you won’t care about these people because of the story. Both the script and voice-acting are laughably bad. You’ll care about them simply because you need them. Men of War loves nothing better than to pit you against seemingly impossible odds, and the loss of a unit is a gut-wrenching experience because you know it’s only going to make things that much more difficult.

Vietnam has upped the ante over the previous three titles, and this makes perfect sense as veteran Men of War players are going to be looking for a new challenge. But the very first mission massively oversteps the mark. And for a newcomer such as myself it isn’t so much a baptism of fire as a swimming lesson in a pool filled with razor blades and salt.

The North Vietnam campaign comes first, and the mission begins just after the aforementioned ambush. There’s no time to acquaint yourself with the controls, as after about five seconds a hovering UH60 blasts you into neighbouring Cambodia. After you’ve reloaded and quickly hid your men in the bushes to avoid this happening again, a squad of US soldiers comes looking for you. These are fairly easily dealt with, as is the nearby outpost that holds a few rocket launchers which you will need later.

Then the fog of war lifts, and the game reveals to you the US base.

It’s an enormous, sprawling beast, and impossible to penetrate with anything other than carefully timed melee attacks. Your objective is to steal some trucks and destroy three helicopters, only the former is a trick and the latter is impossible. You can’t blow up the helicopters because the entire base comes down on you, and you can’t kill the helicopter pilots because there’s another group of helicopter pilots nearby who are beyond your reach.

Fortunately, it’s a secondary objective, so in the end I ignored it, and headed for the trucks. But oh no! The trucks are all broken, so instead the game tells me to steal a boat which is only a short distance from where you started the mission. So I backtrack, carefully hiding from the now circling helicopters who will obliterate my units if they so much as glimpse some elbow skin amid all that jungle, kill the guards and jump in the boat. But oh fiddlesticks! The boat is out of fuel, so now the game directs me to a heavily guarded church where there’s a jerry can I need to collect. So I kill all the guards, and pick up the jerry can. But oh diddums! The jerry can makes your unit move really slowly and another massive army rushes out of the jungle and attacks you and OH FOR FU…

At this point, I turned off the game, went into the bedroom, and deployed a tactical nuclear tantrum. And I was playing it on easy.

The attention to detail is phenomenal

I apologise if that was rather long-winded. But according to Steam I played that first mission for five hours. I could have played Portal twice in that time and still had time to cook a nice dinner. Instead I had a bagel spread with cream cheese and tears of rage.

Part of the problem is the Vietnam setting itself. Make no mistake that the game looks fantastic and feels very authentic, but the thick rainforest foliage makes it extremely difficult to locate enemy units. If just one of the little blighters spots you on this first mission you’re going to get squashed. It feels less like a strategy game and more a puzzle game, because you end up trying to work out how the developers intended you to complete the mission rather than developing your own solution.

It’s a real shame this first mission is so horrific, because the rest of the game is really rather good. It’s still extremely challenging, but it’s a challenge that can be overcome with tactics and patience rather than trial and anger. The second mission saw my grizzled foursome searching for a contact amid a maze of rivers, little villages and paddy fields. At one point you have to capture a patrol boat in a moderately guarded camp (moderate by Men of War standards anyway).

I took out the patrols on the outskirts using melee attacks and silenced weapons. Then I sent two of my men to the North of the camp, moved my sniper to a position opposite the camp on the east bank of the river, and kept one man to the south. After this I executed a simultaneous three-pronged attack, first using my sniper to take out the boatmen before they could utilise the boat’s heavy machinegun, then used a flurry of grenades from north and south to take out the majority of the guards before finally mopping up the stragglers with small arms.

Watching a plan come together so smoothly like that feels oh so sweet, especially after the depressing grind of the first mission. Yet even sweeter was when I stole the patrol boat and obliterated three large enemy camps using nothing but the boat’s machine gun from an offshore position. As with all the Men of War games, you can take direct control of any unit. The aiming-system for direct control is a little haphazard, and it’s usually better to use your units to do your killing by proxy, but it’s useful for certain things like controlling vehicles, and revenge.

As the game progresses, it also grows in scale, and your small squads become assimilated into vast armies. The American campaign features a fantastic mission called “Die Hard Attack” which tasks you with flanking a heavily fortified Vietnamese frontline and clearing out pillboxes and mortar teams before rolling in with tanks and infantry squadrons. Again, taking enemy equipment and using it against them is key to victory, only instead of a gunboat it’s mortar tubes you get to steal, and oh boy are they fun, exploding with a thunderous whump and kicking dirt, dust and deceased soldiers up into the air.

In fact, Vietnam’s overall presentation is top-notch. Sound engineering is excellent, even single-shot rifles have a satisfying crack to them, and intense gunfights rattle through the jungle, while the shockwave from grenades shake and shatter the surrounding trees. The only real stain on the game’s visuals is the UI, which looks as if someone has stuck a strip of tinfoil to the bottom of your monitor.

Apocalypse, yesterday

Unlike Assault Squad, Vietnam is primarily a single-player experience. However, it does have the option to play cooperatively. In some instances, such as the harder or more complex missions, this is probably the ideal way to play the game, as it means you can concentrate on one or two tasks rather than trying to micromanage an entire army, and it makes it easier to pull off advanced tactical manoeuvres, such as a simultaneous strikes from multiple angles.

So, in terms of boiling down this review to a verdict on whether Men of War is good or not, I think I’ll go with the trusty “Yes, but” conclusion. It is good, but the Vietnam setting doesn’t fit the template as well as World War II, and I would strongly advice newcomers to play the original Men of War first, otherwise that first mission may well put you off for life. Trust me, I know. I was in ‘Nam, man.

Top Game Moment: Stealing an enemy mortar and using it against them. Explosions are even better when served with a side-dish of irony.

Videos

Comments

By bosnian_dragon (SI Core) on Sep 10, 2011
bosnian_dragon
Great, thank you for the review! I've been expecting an even harder MoW because I've played through the original Men of War, the Red Tide, and Assault Squad, so I can say I'm a veteran Men of War, but Vietnam sounds really challenging.
I'm so buying this game!
By OldNavy80 (I just got here) on Sep 12, 2011
OldNavy80
I totally agree with your review, I bought the game on the 9th and havnt gotten passed the first mission yet. Trying every tactic to get the choppers and I get wiped out every time. Very frustrated and almost ready to never play it again. They really need to patch it so you can buy more troops etc in the smaller tasks in the beginning. After working all day and dealing with real life's issues its just too much work and really not enjoying it)
By OldNavy80 (I just got here) on Sep 12, 2011
OldNavy80
p.s. keep the hints coming because I sure need them! LOL
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Sep 12, 2011
herodotus
@OldNavy80
Need to take over the HMG in the tower (using direct fire control) and surround the base with 3 soldiers for defence. Disable the choppers with HMG. Grab the fuel for the boat from the old church (remembering to carry it in backpack, not equipped).

I've read many user reviews so far and none have been positive to the point where I'd buy this. Tried the demo an I wasn't as impressed with the presentation as you Richard - too much obscured by tree canopies. As for the learning curve - steep as all hell, even if a seasoned "MoW" gamer.
Your final comments for those new to the series are an excellent addition to a great review.
By playburoy (I just got here) on Sep 13, 2011
playburoy
MEN OF WAR MODERN WARFARE
By n1zm0 (I just got here) on Sep 13, 2011
n1zm0
i actually just registered on this site to say this is one of the best reviews for this game, a CRAPLOAD of reload saves and many hours later i finished the first level - on EASY ffs, it's a compilation of being prone in the grass when the huey comes and ballsy hit and run guerilla style tactics and diversion bait ambushes that got me through (guerilla style warfare, hmmm just like the Vietcong did IRL... no really it works!)

*side note, the jerry can can be hidden in your inventory!!! you do NOT have to walk around carrying it in your hand, simply pick it up then in the bottom box that shows grenade/knife/jerry can right of the main weapon box, pick the nade or knife then press i to make sure its in your inventory -NOW YOU CAN RUN LIKE THE WIND AGAIN!!!!- when you clear everything and get to the boat, press I and drag the jerry can out of the box and then have your character pick it up, use it with the boat! thank me later lol
By alexshurly (I just got here) on Sep 17, 2011
alexshurly
Great review. It took me 5 hours JUST to destroy the 3 helicopters on the first mission. Thats not including however long the rest of the mission took me. Awesome game!!!