Vietcong impressions

We take to the jungles in Illusion Softworks' new first-person shooter. Details and new screenshots inside.

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Illusion Softworks, best known for producing last year's epic action game Mafia, recently finished work on Vietcong, its upcoming first-person shooter set during the Vietnam War. The game is now available, so we've delved into it to experience the single-player campaign, the quick mission mode, and the online multiplayer mode.

Mafia received widespread acclaim for its highly authentic and atmospheric presentation, and Vietcong makes a similar kind of effort. The game's title screen is set to some late-'60s-style guitar riffs, and the game also features some recognizable songs from the time period, such as "Hey Joe" by Deep Purple, and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by The Stooges. The authentic soundtrack and realistic-looking character models help establish the setting of the game, making Vietcong more than just a shooter in a jungle.

The campaign casts players in the role of Sergeant First Class Steve Hawkins, who is sent in as a replacement intelligence officer for a special operations team based in Nui Pek Camp. Steve is given a voice and a personality, and players will initially get a chance to explore his new base of operations and meet his new comrades-in-arms. However, it won't be long before Steve and his squadmates find themselves in battle against the game's titular enemy.

The combat in Vietcong is complicated by the fact that the enemy soldiers are difficult to spot. Not only do they use cover to their advantage, but they also use branches as camouflage to disguise themselves in their surroundings. They also use booby traps and set up ambushes. Combat often takes place at a relatively long range, so the best way to detect enemies is from the muzzle flash of their weapons. The dense foliage in the surroundings and the emphasis on guerilla warfare lend the game a distinctive feel, even though it plays and controls similarly to other first-person shooters. Damage in the game is fairly realistic, in that only one or two direct hits will take Steve out of the fight, so players will need to move carefully through the dangerous environments.

In addition to playing through the campaign, players will be able to set up a quick fight to skirmish against a number of enemy troops. Vietcong also includes a fully featured multiplayer mode that includes deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, cooperative, last man standing, assault, and real war modes. Assault mode is objective-based, with one team playing as the Americans and the other as the Vietcong, each trying to accomplish different mission goals. Real war requires a team to capture multiple flags to score. Numerous servers are already up and running, and, based on our initial experiences, Vietcong appears to be stable for online play.

The game's 3D graphics engine capably renders both characters and environments. Trees and other foliage can be seen moving in the breeze, though this scenery does become pixelated up close. We also noticed some issues with the way characters interact with the environment, such as fallen soldiers seeming to float a bit above the ground. The game's frame rate also seemed a bit slow when we ran the game at 1024x768 on a 2.4GHz machine with a GeForce 4 video card. Nevertheless, Vietcong's overall presentation is realistic, and its motion-captured character animations are particularly noteworthy. Stay tuned for a full review of the game in the coming days.

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