Review

Platoon: The 1st Airborne Cavalry Division in Vietnam Review (PC)

With the recent resurgence in historical strategy games, it was no great surprise to see one turn up with the Vietnam War as a setting. Platoon differs in as much as it is squad based - no major battle featuring 100s of units here - but then, the Vietnam war was, in the main, exactly the same - small engagements, ambushes, traps, bad visibility etc. and Platoon manages to capture this efficiently.

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You could be forgiven for thinking the game would be based on the film - anyone who has ever heard of it will instantly recognize the Dafoe still on the front cover, but this is not the case. The game follows the fortunes of Sgt Martin Lionsdale as he does his tour of duty covering 1965-68, and each mission is preceded by a clip from his diary to ‘set the tone’ - it is interesting to note the apathy creeping into the diary entries as the campaign progresses & the futility of it all is realized.

Game performance is perfectly acceptable - My PC is well below the min specs but, with the graphics level set at the highest, I had no problems at all - everything flowed smoothly with no sign of stuttering or camera wobble.

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The terrain graphics are superb, Digital Reality have tried to capture the varying terrain types & incorporate them fully into the game via the clever use of ‘types of cover’. Hovering the pointer over any area will bring up an outline & a description of the benefits of that terrain type (visibility, cover % etc), whilst clever use of the camera allow you to view the action from a variety of different angles. The character models seem a bit out of place, but the animations are once again superb - when a character runs he runs - not just a speeded up walk, and it is the same for crawling or walking. The music for the game is excellent, and the sounds of battle are just right too, although some of the voices are enough to make you wince.

The game controls unfortunately, is where the whole thing falls to pieces. A squad is typically, the Sgt., a squad of riflemen, a machine gunner &, if you are lucky, a medic. You cannot select a single rifleman, a click selects the whole group of them (normally 5) and they move & are controlled as a single unit (although you do have a good formation option that is an absolute necessity). Characters move at 3 speeds; crawl, walk or run and swapping between each mode is easy. Crawling & running will tire the characters out until they get to the point where they must rest, whilst walking does not tire them at all. Tactical usage of each movement mode is essential if you want any of your squad to survive (running between cover, crawling over open areas & when caught in an ‘open’ firefight etc.) Riflemen & heroes walk at one speed, whilst characters like medics & machine gunners just seem to dawdle along (heavy equipment?), although you can have them running while the rest of the squad walks.

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It is when enemy contact is made that the frustrations really start. If you are fortunate enough to spot the enemy before they spot you, then the firefight is often a quick, one-sided affair. However, if you come under fire first, you start losing squad members immediately because they will not do anything unless told to do so. Therefore, they will continue to march happily along, getting shot to pieces whilst constantly reminding you that they are being shot at - not very realistic at all. If your attention is drawn elsewhere, you will suddenly realize that your squad has been wiped out without a return shot being fired! In much the same way, visibility is restricted to what can be seen in the direction they are looking, thus a flank attack by the enemy will go unnoticed (apart from the ‘under fire’ yells) and the squad (or what’s left of it) wont even turn to face the new threat (shift right click needed for that) let alone return fire. I simply refuse to believe that a squad in Vietnam would not be looking absolutely everywhere for an enemy that can quite literally pop up anywhere, and that they would not hit the deck or seek cover the moment bullets start flying.

The whole game is ‘on rails’, meaning that when you restart a level (and believe me you will), everything is in the same place. So, on the 2nd or 3rd attempt, you know where the mines that have to be cleared are, you know where the ambush is set etc. and completing the level can become very tedious. It is also ridiculously hard, even on the easy or medium levels and, as there are no ‘in mission’ saves, you will be restarting each mission quite often just to complete it and getting to the point of dreading the next mission because of the probable multiple restarts. Having completed a mission, you will find it ‘unlocked’ and replayable as a solo game, enabling you to hone your tactics and develop different strategies.

Taking all into account, Platoon is a good game - you certainly get a feel of what the fighting must have been like with the continual hit & run tactics needed - but it could so easily have been a ‘great’ game. A little bit of ‘common sense’ imparted to the characters would have lifted this game no end and completely removed the frustration element.


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