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Shellshock: Nam ‘67
Score: 60%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Vietnam is the new World War II, or at least that’s how it seems in the gaming world. Shellshock: Nam ‘67 is one of the many Vietnam-themed games hitting store shelves in the upcoming months. In an attempt to set it apart from other similar-themed games, Shellshock tries to show an even darker, more violent side of the Vietnam conflict. What this amounts to is a standard third-person shooter with scattered scenes of stomach-wrenching violence, and a heavy dose of four letter words.

Shellshock’s graphical presentation can either be interpreted as a big step in the direction of artistic merit in video games, or a poor attempt at hiding graphical flaws. The entire game is presented through a grainy filter that is intended to make it look like one of those roughly-shot Vietnam videos you usually see in history class. I really liked this presentation, especially during some of the opening cut-scenes since it really sold the idea of the conflict. However, it’s really hard to overlook the fact that the style is also covering up bland, colorless textures and simple, poorly animated character models. In an attempt to push the limits of shock value, body parts fly off in battle with alarming frequency. Having heads explode after taking a powerful shot or having the odd arm or leg removed is okay, but it happens so frequently and with such over dramatization in Shellshock that it becomes silly.

Outdoor environments look great and feature a nice haze-feel that really makes you feel like you’re crawling through the steaming jungles of Vietnam. Indoor environments are a completely different story. They seem to want to get your attention by placing B-rate haunted house elements like dead bodies in various stages of decay and torture situations, in boring, boxy rooms rather than pumping up the graphical quality and making them look good. Sadly, this is a theme with most of the game.

Audio is just a tad better than graphics, but not by much. The game’s soundtrack features a mix of 60's rock and the sounds of war. The overall impact is weak, but it still sounds good. The real problem comes in the voice-acting department. The frequent use of four-letter words is a bit disturbing. In some cases, I can understand and accept the use of certain words if it adds something to the game. This really isn’t the case in Shellshock as every other word is some sort of curse, swear, or other bleep quality word.

The setup behind Shellshock: Nam ‘67 isn’t so much a riveting story of survival during the war as it is a collection of really bad Vietnam clichés. You begin with the freshly drafted kid just showing up in the war, throw in the trigger-happy psychopath squad-mate, and top it all off with some shady underground dealings like a prostitution ring running in the base camp, and the pirating of corpses and homes for war trophies.

At its core, Shellshock is little more than a half-rate 3rd Person shooter. There’s really nothing worthy of note throughout the entire game, and what’s here really doesn’t play all that well to begin with. Each mission starts with a lame setup and presentation of mission goals. Every mission places you in a company of troops, but as expected, you end up pulling most of the weight during missions and have to solve all of the problems by yourself. This means you’ll often have to run into dark caves and face heavy machine-gun fire head-on while your teammates sit around in a dazed stupor.

Shellshock tries to make up for these gameplay shortcomings by presenting the “brutal reality” of the Vietnam War. Now, I’m fully aware that Vietnam wasn’t a picnic in the park and that it left behind a generation of scared people in its wake. However, this realism is taken a little too far. It starts out innocently enough with a general shooting himself in the head rather than be captured, but soon escalates to American soldiers flipping out on Vietcong soldiers and murdering them in cold blood, and a particularly disturbing scene depicting a soldier mercilessly beating, then murdering a prostitute. This is the kind of unnecessary stuff that really has no place in gaming and is what gives the entire industry a bad image. Make no doubt about it, Shellshock more than earns its Mature rating and really makes you wonder what a game has to depict before crossing into the AO rating territory.

Between missions, you can tour the base camp. Here you can partake in a variety of pointless activities that include talking to other soldiers and buying items through the camp black-market. Honestly, there’s really no point to buying anything through the black-market. The only “useful” items are narcotics that influence your performance on the battlefield. The only other items are a collection of six semi-nude photos and a pass that allows you to enter a backroom in the camp where you can sell looted war trophies (like flags and patches), or buy some time with one of six prostitutes (thankfully, no real sex is shown). Like most of the game’s content, there’s no real point to any of this and it adds little to the experience. The first two or three times through camp add a nice atmosphere to the game, but once you’ve seen everything there is to do here, it’s just another annoyance.

For a game that is trying to depict a “brutally realistic” Vietnam experience, the health meter is surprisingly forgiving. Your character rarely takes damage, even after charging headlong into a booby trap, and what little damage he does take is quickly healed off. This really takes away from the intensity of the game. The realism is also taken away given the fact that your squad-mates are indestructible. In the event that your health meter does get low, you can easily retreat behind your squad and wait to get back to full health.

Game Mechanics:
By now you would think that gaming has moved beyond the idea of enemies randomly spawning out of mid-air, but Shellshock: Nam ‘67 brings this concept back with full force. Vietcong forces rarely rely on smart tactics and instead swarm you with numbers. There was a point in the game where I sat atop a hill and watched as troops spawned from thin air and continued to charge into a group of my indestructible soldiers. Enemy soldiers also have a habit of magically appearing in already cleared out rooms, which adds a bit of frustration to the game.

After completing the game once, there’s very little reason to go back through and play Shellshock again. There are no multiplayer options and all of the black-market “extras” can easily be purchased on the first go through. The game isn’t particularly long either – each of the game’s 13 missions can be completed in about 20 minutes (or shorter) which has the game clocking in between four to six hours of total gameplay time.

Regardless of the conflict or the political motives behind it, there’s a certain reverance that all games based on real-life conflicts need to adhere to. Shellshock treats the subject of the Vietnam War with little respect, and trivializes a horrible experience that still stirs up powerful emotions for some people. Shellshock: Nam ‘67 is about as hollow and plain as a game can get. It’s all style and no substance. What is touted as the game’s “breakthrough feature” turns out to be a gimmick excuse to load the game with needless profanity and scenes that add little to the game other than to increase the shock value. The tasteless antics taking place in Shellshock are enough to put a halt on recommendations, but the lack of gameplay really makes Shellshock hard to recommend, even as a rental.

If you’re in the market for a Vietnam game, it’s probably best to wait for one of the plethora of other Vietnam games coming down the pipeline.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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