Well, I’m shocked. Not in a good way mind you. I’m shocked Guerilla Games, the developer of Shellshock: Nam ‘67, resorted to a gimmick to get their game over. The gimmick in question: the atrocities of the Vietnam War. But when you strip away the blood and gore, the cursing, the sexual themes and the violent cutscenes, you’re left with a shell of a game - if you’ll pardon the pun - that fails to deliver the unnerving realism it advertises.
Amana introduces the microwave oven to home kitchens, the Green Bay Packers win the Ice Bowl, and the The Doors top the charts with “Light My Fire”. That’s right, it’s the year 1967 and you’ve been drafted to fight in the most controversial conflict of modern times. Shellshock: Nam ’67 is a third-person shooter set during the Vietnam War. You take on the role of a rookie US soldier looking to buck the odds of survival that sent so many young men home in body bags. Therein lies the first problem with the game. Shellshock promises “character growth”, which surely will prompt many people to believe a skill system, or some kind of role-playing aspect, to be present. Such is not the case though. The only growth your soldier will make is when he graduates to become a Special Forces operative, which occurs relatively early and does nothing for gameplay other than impress the nurses in the infirmary.
Another half-truth lies in the realism department. Yes, the game is gory, but laughably animated. You can pop a VC's noggin’ clean off his torso with a good headshot, but it looks like the cork being popped from a champagne bottle, with resulting arterial spray. Extremities are just as often casualties of gunfire, but if someone loses their leg from the knee down, a realistic after-effect would be to have them fall to the ground clutching their limb in shock and agony. Nay, instant death it is. And yes, the game has its share of ghastly sights. In one particular cutscene, a prostitute is tortured on a bed and has her neck slit when it’s learnt she’s a spy. But this and other cutscenes like it have more shock value than anything. Rarely do they advance the plot of develop a character.
Back on the battlefield, the combat is flawed due to poor AI. We’ll start with your fellow squadmates. They’re invincible. Literally. They won’t die, unless it’s scripted in a cutscene. A steady diet of lead only hampers their progress so technically you can let them kill all the enemies if you really wanted to. Actually, you couldn’t because they don’t seem to know how to advance on the enemies’ position, flank, or take out bunkers and artillery units. As for you, you’re not quite so invincible, but you do have the ability to regenerate your health as long as you stay out of harm’s way for a short while. Regenerating health? How is that realistic? As for the opposition, they’re dumb as dirt for the most part, charging recklessly. Why do they do this? Because there are so many of them. Waves of enemies. Waves and waves. Endless waves of spawning enemies. Have we not advanced past this?
Shellshock spans 13 objective-based missions. In some assignments you’ll be tasked to destroy artillery, tunnels and bunkers, and in others you’ll handle search and rescue duties. There are even a couple of stealth operations, but Shellshock wasn’t built for stealth. You can just as easily wreak havoc in these missions and still achieve the desired outcome. The unfortunate common factor in most of these missions: confusing objectives. There were numerous times when I did not know what I was supposed to do next. And while you figure it out, you guessed it, waves and waves of VCs.
Between missions, your home is Base Camp, which is fully interactive. Here, you can switch out your default weapon and take some target practice, chew the fat with your fellow soldiers, listen to 1960’s tunes from John Lee Hooker, among others artists of the era, and get briefed on your next assignment. You can also visit Deuce, the Joaquin Phoenix of Base Camp. He can hook you up with performance-enhancing drugs or a “pass to the ass”. That’s right, for a few chits (a form of currently the U.S. military paid its soldiers in Vietnam), you can spend time with a number of Vietnamese prostitutes (if the hut’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin’). For each girl you “hook” up with, you’ll unlock a half-naked picture of them that you can view in the photo gallery located off the main menu. And really, who doesn’t want a visual keepsake of the Vietnamese working girls they banged during their tour of duty?
Visually, Shellshock is a pretty good looking game. The jungles are lush with vegetation, the characters are well animated, the weather effects, particularly the dense fog, add to the experience, and the whole atmosphere has a cool grainy look about it. Unfortunately, the death animations are below par and the cutscenes need some work; in that the characters’ mouths don’t always match what they’re saying or when they’re saying it. And on the topic of sound, if I hear a VC say “You gonna die, G.I.” one more time…
Even the control scheme has a flaw, for console gamers. In order to lay prone on the ground, you have to hold down the prone button, which makes it impossible to lie on the ground and look around at the same time, since both actions require the use of your right thumb. Why one has to press AND hold the prone button to achieve a prone position is beyond me.
I enjoyed the first couple of missions of Shellshock: Nam ’67, but then the game went sour. It just doesn’t deliver on its promises. Character growth? Unnerving realism? I don’t think so. And when you take away the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, figuratively and literally, the true gameplay is revealed as repetitive and uninspired. There has to be a better way than this to spend a tour of duty in Vietnam.