ShellShock: Nam '67 Hands-On

We take point and check out this edgy Vietnam War action game as it nears completion.

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ShellShock: Nam '67 is the upcoming third-person action game from Dutch developer Guerilla, the same studio working on Killzone for the PS2. Publisher Eidos and Guerilla are hoping to differentiate ShellShock from the wave of other Vietnam War-based action games heading our way by trying to show the fuzzy morality of the conflict. We had the chance to check out the PC and Xbox versions for a report from the front lines.

 You need to pay attention when you're on patrol.
You need to pay attention when you're on patrol.

After choosing a name and an appearance, you'll start the game on the ramp at Saigon airport, where you and a bunch of other "cherries" (green troops brand new to Vietnam) are deplaning. An authority figure separates you from the crowd and tells you to follow him. The next thing you know, you're on a helicopter inbound to a desperate firefight where reinforcements are needed. It may seem a bit unfair, but that's Vietnam, cherry.

Once on the ground, you'll link up with your lieutenant, who'll quickly walk you through the controls of the game in a tutorial-like sequence. While your squad is marching down the jungle path, you'll stumble upon a Vietcong ambush of another American squad. Your lieutenant then calls in a mortar strike in the middle of the firefight, which happens to also take out some of the friendlies. This apparently sets up one of the conflicts in the game, as the men of the squad feel like they're stuck with a dangerously gung ho and incompetent squad leader. Though we didn't get far enough to see how this is resolved, we can only imagine that this could set up a potential "fragging" incident where a grenade "accidentally" rolls under the lieutenant's bed at night.

After the mortar incident, your squad then battles its way into a Vietcong base in the jungle, giving you plenty of opportunity to use the weapons at your command. Since the game starts in 1967, you only have early American weapons, such as the M-14 rifle. You can pick up weapons, which is important when ammo is low, but you can only carry one main weapon at a time. Another important part of your arsenal is grenades, which you can hurl to great effect if the enemy is clumped together. The combat mechanics are fairly standard for a console action game; you can absorb a lot of punishment, and your health meter will slowly turn red after numerous hits. Thankfully, you can always pick up a med kit and heal to full health, but if you die, you'll just respawn at the last checkpoint. The game spreads checkpoints out fairly regularly throughout a level.

During this early battle, you'll discover that the VC are using tunnels to reinforce positions. In fact, until you collapse those tunnels with explosives, you're going to pretty much battle a seemingly endless wave of guerillas. When you've whittled away one wave, it'll be up to you to dart inside and plant some C4 at a critical junction, which will cause the tunnel to collapse. Once you're done with that, you must battle your way onto the VC base itself, planting explosives on a couple of antiaircraft guns and blowing the fuel depot sky high.

After that hectic first day in the country, you'll retreat to your firebase, where you'll enjoy downtime between missions. As you wait for the next mission to head out, you can walk around and interact with the soldiers on the base. There's also Deuce, who you can buy drugs and equipment from provided you have enough "chits," which you earn during combat. There are also various pretty American nurses in the hospital that you can try to hit on. Even more tempting is the Vietnamese mama san that has got some girls off base, provided you have enough chits and can get past the guard at the gate.

When you're ready, you'll head out on your second patrol, which is a primer in avoiding booby traps. You'll also begin encountering some of the "moral ambiguity" in the game, as you have to search a Vietnamese village for contraband weapons. This means herding the villagers into the center of the village while you poke around for guns. You'll also have to kill female Vietcong soldiers who shoot at you and taunt you. You can also decapitate enemy soldiers with a well-placed shot to the head. In another "edgy" sequence, an enemy officer will blow his brains out rather than be captured by Americans.

 Stuck in the jungle with pretty American nurses and you still can't think of anything to say.
Stuck in the jungle with pretty American nurses and you still can't think of anything to say.

The controls feel fairly good with the Xbox controller, but the PC controls seem like they could use a bit more work to be better translated for a keyboard. Meanwhile, the graphics are fairly strong on the Xbox, but the PC version also seems like it may have a ways to go. Oddly enough, the Xbox version has a much more organic and lush feel to the jungle, thanks to the fact that it runs at a lower resolution. In addition, Guerilla really emphasizes a grainy filter effect that makes the game look like old film stock, a la early Vietnam War footage. The PC version runs at a much higher resolution without this filter, and as a result the jungles feel sparser and emptier, and even have a bit of draw-in, in the early version we played.

ShellShock is very much a console-style action game. Indeed, the Xbox version has a nice amount of atmosphere and a strong graphical look. The PC version seems like it could use a few extra touches to help distinguish it from the console versions, so hopefully Guerilla can make adjustments to the graphics and control scheme to allow the PC version to stand on its own, rather than being a simple console port. ShellShock should be released for all three platforms this September.

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