Platoon: 1st Airborne Cavalry Division Review

Platoon isn't a bad game by any means, but it could have been much, much better.

If there had been computer games in the 1940s, it probably wouldn't have been considered safe or even tasteful to make a game about World War II until maybe 1965. This logic may explain what appears to be a newfound interest in the Vietnam War among computer game developers like Digital Reality. The film Platoon was released back in 1986, so if you happen to be keeping track, the developer has had plenty of time to try to follow up on the atmospheric film but may have fallen short of the mark.

The game does a decent job of re-creating the feel of fighting in the Vietnam War.
The game does a decent job of re-creating the feel of fighting in the Vietnam War.

Despite the movie tie-in with the trademark shot of Willem Dafoe on the manual, the game itself has nothing to do with the film, except for the Vietnam setting. There is a sort of story told through the main character's diary, but generally speaking, Platoon is a fairly straightforward squad-level real-time strategy game, which turns out to be a good thing. The game incorporates terrain, weapon types, visibility, and cover in a surprisingly elegant manner. Terrain exists as "areas" on the map, and different terrain types grant different types of cover and visibility bonuses. You can see the extent of any terrain type by holding the cursor over that feature. This eliminates any guesswork while creating some interesting tactical choices.

The graphics are nicely done, and although the soldier models look a bit clunky, the animations are superb, and the terrain--while it looks a bit artificial--does a decent job of setting the stage. The sound is a bit inconsistent; Platoon has simply excellent background music and absolutely awful voice-overs. You'll be best served by turning the voices completely off.

The game itself has 12 separate missions. Once you play a mission in the campaign, you can unlock it for solo play. The first time you go through a mission, you'll find that the game does a good job of re-creating what it must have felt like to fight through the jungles of Vietnam. You'll creep along, unsure where the next danger will appear, and worry about the slow speed of your support weapons, and you'll also have to worry about making your soldiers crawl to take advantage of cover. Soldiers have only health points and endurance--they can't develop their skills, so Platoon doesn't really have much in the way of role-playing game elements.

Platoon's gameplay is simple without being simplistic. Soldiers can stand, run, or lie prone. Unit facing and position are very important, and setting up your units prone in good terrain is essential to getting through extended firefights. The game does a good job of informing you when you've spotted enemy units or when you're taking fire from an as-yet-unseen source, and with the ability to pause the game and issue orders, you'll never feel like you've lost control. Missions typically consist of several objectives, which are revealed to you sequentially throughout the mission.

Unfortunately, because the missions are completely scripted, once you've gone through part of a mission the first time, you'll know exactly what to expect the next time through, so you'll be reloading missions with complete knowledge of all the mines, ambushes, and other "surprise" events you've seen up to that point.

The terrain
The terrain "areas" actually work quite well despite the abstract way in which they're presented.

You'll be doing this a lot, too, because even on the medium difficulty setting, Platoon is quite tough. This isn't, of course, due to any skillful play by the AI, but is simply due to the fact that you'll be greatly outnumbered and face so many enemies that you'll be forced to reload each mission multiple times. There is no in-mission save, so if you screw something up three-quarters of the way through the mission, you'll have to go back to the beginning and do it all over again. This is where the game gets most of its replay value, because these missions are very difficult. They are puzzles with very little margin for error, and as you load one for the second, fourth, and even 10th time, you'll find frustration overshadowing a lot of the game's strengths.

It's a shame that all these limitations keep Platoon from being a truly good game, because the basic game engine works quite nicely. The slightly abstracted terrain really gives a nice feel for the cat-and-mouse tactics so common in the Vietnam War, and if the scenarios had been designed better (and if the game gave you a few more resources early on), Platoon could have been a remarkably good game. Instead, you get lots of repetitious play and no tactically challenging situations. Even the introduction of tanks and air strikes later on can't save it. Platoon isn't a bad game by any means, but it could have been much, much better.

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Platoon: The 1st Airborne Cavalry Division in Vietnam More Info

  • First Released Nov 21, 2002
    • PC
    Platoon isn't a bad game by any means, but it could have been much, much better.
    Average Rating73 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Digital Reality
    Published by:
    Strategy First
    Strategy, Real-Time
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.