Here's a puzzler for all you action gamers: Why would someone create a first-person shooter based on a war in which the biggest obstacle was trying to see who was shooting at you? The game in question is NAM, which strives to deliver the fun and intensity of a first-person action game and the realism of a simulation - and because of that indecision it ultimately fails on both counts. GT Interactive has been touting the fact that the game was "created with the developer of the Doom conversion for the Marine Corps," but that only means that if that conversion is like this game, then it's not very fun for us civilians to play.
NAM puts you in the boots of Alan "the Bear" Westmoreland (couldn't these guys have come up with something more original than the last name of the top US general in Vietnam?), a Marine Corps sergeant who has the handy ability to absorb insane amounts of bullets and recuperate to full strength instantaneously by grabbing little bags with Red Cross emblems on them. The reason for the Bear's Duke Nukem-like powers? The CIA's dosed him up with - and I quote from the manual - "an experimental serum that is a healing agent, pain killer, and stimulant all rolled into one bad-ass cocktail." Wow - if they'd given this stuff to every grunt in Vietnam, Hanoi would probably look like Las Vegas by now.
The real reason behind the Bear's superhuman abilities, though, is much simpler: NAM was made using the Build engine (as in Duke Nukem 3D, Redneck Rampage, Shadow Warrior, Blood, etc.), and about all that's been done for the sake of "realism" has been to make the enemies almost invisible in the dense jungle undergrowth and to limit the amount of ammo for heavy weapons like the M72 antitank rocket launcher and the M79 grenade launcher. Even there, the designers add a video game touch: Both weapons have been enhanced so they'll home in on an enemy soldier, which actually is a drawback if you're trying to hit a spot between two foes in order to take them both out with one hit.
So what you get is a single guy squaring off against 60 or 70 enemies per level - it's like Rambo starring in Duke Nukem or Redneck Rampage, but with the handicap of limited ammo for his heavy-duty weapons. Because the Build engine does a pretty crappy job of rendering leaves and brush, you wind up staring at a bunch of pixels trying to spot the flash from a gun barrel as you see your life meter gradually shrink to nothingness. That might reflect how tough it was to see VC or NVA soldiers, but it doesn't add up to very much fun. The Build engine was made for running and gunning, not crawling and sniping - but that's what it's being used for here.
What's more disappointing is that NAM doesn't even manage to incorporate the few advances that have been made to the Build engine over the years. Feel like driving that tank that's parked beside you at the start of a mission? You could, if NAM were designed by 3D Realms (Shadow Warrior) or Xatrix (Redneck Rampage Rides Again), both of which let you drive vehicles; instead, all you can do is look at it longingly and be thankful for the machine-gun fire it's spitting out. And NAM runs agonizingly slow compared with other games using the Build engine - it's probably because of all the computing muscle required to render the trees and leaves, but that doesn't change the fact that the animation is amazingly choppy at 640x480 even on the recommended system (Pentium 133).
NAM strives to re-create the action in NAM by letting you call in artillery and air support, but it bears little resemblance to the real thing. Request an air strike, and before you can say "Hanoi Hilton" you'll see napalm bursts dotting the landscape in front of you. You also get to control AI marines on several missions, but by the time you maneuver in front of them and issue an order, it's likely that either you or they will wind up lying face down in the pixelated jungle breathing your last breath.
NAM features the usual multiplayer options of any game using the Build engine, but because it's not officially supported on a gaming network, the only way to find an opponent is to head to the Internet Gaming Zone or HEAT and search for someone who owns the game. Given how little fun is to be had in the game's single-player mode, though, the chances aren't too good that you'll be running into a lot of people eager to play with you.
And that's actually something of a shame. Besides CTF and gruntmatch games, NAM allows you to play in fireteam mode (sort of like Team Fortress for Quake), in which each player can choose a different role - sniper, medic, machine gunner, and so on - so that you have to work as a team to win the mission (once your character dies, you're out until the mission's over). There's also an option to play gruntmatch games against AI opponents, but it's little more than a joke: These guys must have been drinking that "badass cocktail" that Bear was knocking down, because they're almost impossible to kill - they move at the speed of light and tend to hang out at the spots where you rematerialize after dying (damn campers!).
But make no mistake: No matter what the box copy says about "realistically bringing the true experience of the Vietnam War to life," this is a video game trying to pass itself off as an accurate and realistic simulation. Is it a good first-person shoot-em-up? No. Is it a good simulation? No. Should you buy it? No.
That is all. Dismissed.