Elite Warriors: Vietnam Hands-On
We get our hands on an early version of Elite Warriors: Vietnam and discover it may be the most realistic and serious of the Vietnam games.
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Yes, Elite Warriors: Vietnam has "Vietnam" in the title, but the surprising thing about this upcoming action game is that it is by no means a traditional first-person shooter. Heck, it's not even a traditional third-person shooter. In fact, it's hard to describe Elite Warriors, other than it will remind you of so many different genres, including shooters, role-playing games, and strategy games. We've been playing around with an early version of the game, and so far we can say that this is definitely one to keep an eye on if you're into the Vietnam War.
Elite Warriors is based on the actual combat history of the Studies and Observations Group, the forerunners of today's Navy SEALs and Army Delta Force. The SOG fought in Vietnam by deploying commando teams deep behind enemy lines to identify bombing targets, capture North Vietnamese prisoners for intelligence, stage ambushes, and rescue downed American pilots. This meant that SOG teams often spent weeks behind enemy lines, literally sneaking through enemy territory, dodging patrols, and avoiding detection. Needless to say, they performed some of the most dangerous missions of the war.
In order to capture the high-risk nature of SOG operations, developer Nfusion is tackling the game in a very interesting way. Nfusion previously worked on Dirty Dozen: Pacific Theater, a unique and entertaining shooter with huge levels that managed to capture the feeling of actually roaming around a battlefield. However, those levels would be nowhere big enough to capture the scale of SOG operations. So, in an interesting twist, the game almost plays out as one part role-playing game, one part simulation, and one part action game.
It all starts off with you receiving a mission and then getting to choose and outfit your four-man SOG team. Each man is rated in a variety of stats, from hand-to-hand skill, small arms, heavy weapons, grenades, explosives, fieldcraft, infiltration, medicine, and more. Naturally, in this situation you outfit each man appropriately: the trooper with the highest medicine skill is the medic, while the one with the highest infiltration skill gets to be the scout, and so on. After your men are selected and outfitted, you can deal with the mission.
Elite Warriors presents you with a topographical map of the region, with icons that represent your target, your primary landing zones where helicopters will deliver and extract you, secondary landing zones in case your team's presence is blown and you have to get out of Dodge in a hurry, and resupply points where helicopters will drop off supplies. You can plot out your waypoints on the map as to how you will approach the target area, and the only real limitation is that missions will require you to get to the target by a certain day and time. After that's all set, you choose a speed at which your team will travel, and the team icon will then begin to move across the map. You can select from "slow + careful," which means that the team will move slowly but with less chance of enemy contact; "normal time" where the team moves along the route at regular speed; and "double time," where the team attempts to make up lost time, but at the increased chance of enemy contact.
Assuming that your team doesn't encounter any hostiles, each night you can select whether you want to rest the men or continue marching. It's up to you, and you're at the mercy of the mission timetable. If you push your men too hard without rest, their morale will fall. However, if you dally too long, you may screw up the timetable. So there's a fair bit of strategizing you'll have to do just to get to the target. Along the way, you can encounter random events, such as a sprained ankle that will slow down the team, or a change in the weather, which will affect the team's progress. And, of course, there's always the chance of being detected or detecting an enemy patrol. When this happens, and also when you reach your target, the game drops into the third-person action mode (there's also an option to play in first person), and you have to deal with the patrol. If it's a case where you detect the patrol first, you can try and hide your men in the bushes and wait for the patrol to pass by. But if it's a case where you stumble onto an enemy patrol, you'll have to take them out, which means getting caught in a potentially confusing jungle firefight.
The action mode in Elite Warriors is by no means a standard shoot-'em-up. There's a huge amount of stealth involved, as you can crawl around the jungle to avoid an enemy patrol or sneak up on your target. You have control over your squad simply by calling up a radial menu by holding down the Q key and selecting from the many options, such as "hold fire," "prone," and "fire at will." There's also the ability to jump from squad member to squad member simply by hitting the corresponding function key. It's a very easy system to pick up and learn, and before too long we had our squad sneaking up on a North Vietnamese camp, with each man getting in separate positions to provide different fields of fire. When the fire command was given, the North Vietnamese guards were cut down in seconds, and we ran into the camp to secure the important documents that we needed. That's not to say that the game is easy, though, as the gameplay can be tough, especially if you get caught in a firefight. Fortunately, you can easily save and reload the game anywhere, so you can try again if you fail.
Elite Warriors is hard to categorize, and as such, it reminds us of a lot of early games that featured so many different styles of gameplay. Fans of early PC games may remember the classic SEAL Team from EA, which was probably the definitive Vietnam game of its time. (Admittedly, it was also one of the only Vietnam games of its time). Elite Warriors: Vietnam may very well be the SEAL Team for today's generation, especially for those who are looking for a more involved and realistic approach to the Vietnam War. Look for the game when it ships at the end of this month.