Tunnel Rats: 1968, inspired by the movie of the same name, is the brainchild of infamous German director Uwe Boll, who has made a name for himself adapting video games into movies. A single-player first-person shooter set during the Vietnam War, Tunnel Rats attempts to express something terrible and disturbing about the horrors of war, and in a way, it succeeds. After spending an hour with the game, you'll begin to understand how terrible it is, and after two hours you'll be profoundly disturbed that you bought it. In fact, the game gives itself away from the start. "You tunnel boys like things real deep," remarks a GI during the opening cutscene, "like deep down in your own dark tunnel of the soul."
You play as Brooks, an American soldier stranded alone in an inhospitable Vietnamese jungle. Brooks is one of the least sympathetic heroes you'll ever play as; he's a cruel, foul-mouthed jerk who is often deranged but never witty. He is apparently supposed to be on a character arc that sends him to the cusp of madness, but in reality he's insane from the start. Brooks' eccentricities are revealed primarily through frequent, awkward monologues, which vary schizophrenically from antiwar rants to "That's what you get, you commie bastards!" The other glimpses you get into your character's psyche come in the form of images from Brooks' childhood and life back in California. You discover, for instance, that he has a bizarre neurosis related to hunting with his father, which never makes much sense.
The character's voice acting is just as clumsy and inconsistent as the writing, and his inappropriate attitude is reflected throughout the game. From one perspective, Tunnel Rats deserves credit for daring to defy political correctness. However, a consequence of Tunnel Rats' zealously anti-PC approach is that it will offend just about everyone. For instance, the game's portrayal of American soldiers goes from bad (Brooks) to worse when you encounter a GI who has turned into a shrieking cannibal, and to offend the other side, your character issues a steady stream of anti-Vietnamese slurs and goes out of his way to desecrate every Vietnamese corpse. Granted, ripping the ears off of your slain enemies is optional, but since it increases your total health, only the most principled individuals will be able to abstain. In addition to the obviously poor taste of this "feature," the game makes the experience (and its less disgusting counterpart--taking dog tags from dead GIs) especially painful in two ways: first, you can't interact with just any part of the body; you have to find the right pixel to "use" in order to get the ear. Second, for each trophy you collect, you have to listen to your character's insipid, psychotic ramblings, such as, "Beats your precious stag heads, eh, Pops?"
Most of the game takes place in the tunnels, a dreary, subterranean world of endlessly repeating dirt-brown walls, one-hit-kill traps, and Viet Cong, with the occasional addition of a room, usually consisting of several boxes and a portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Navigating the tunnels can go from wearisome to downright nauseating as you spend what feels like hours staring at the floor and looking for unavoidable traps. You disarm one variety by completing pointless, irritating quick-time events and the other with the use key, but once again your cursor must be in exactly the right spot, so attempts to traverse the tunnel at greater than a snail's pace will frequently be rewarded with instant death. Easier to outwit, but equally deadly, are a handful of tunnel-dwelling snakes, who have, for all practical purposes, forged an unholy alliance with the Viet Cong. If all the instant-death obstacles aren't sufficiently frustrating, the checkpoint-only save system forces you repeatedly through the same trap-infested tunnels, unless of course you get the loading bug, in which case you'll have to restart the level entirely. Another bug will send you clipping into forbidden areas from which you can't escape, and additionally, every time you die, you lose the ability to throw grenades for the remainder of the level, so do adjust your strategy accordingly.
Aboveground sections are a welcome relief from the underground torments that make up the majority of the gameplay. Although the jungle is still full of traps, you can jump over them or avoid them entirely, and the Vietnamese enemies are more plentiful out here, so you can indulge in some typical linear shooter action (sans grenades, in all likelihood). For your aiming needs, don't bother using the iron sights; the crosshairs are much more accurate, particularly on the "commie" weapons. As for your enemies, they'll have no trouble shooting you, but that's about the most advanced tactic in their arsenal--some will even charge you with a knife as they stare down the barrel of your AK-47. Graphically, the outdoor scenes are beautiful in comparison with the tunnels, but objectively they don't come close to modern standards, most notably in the character and weapon modeling departments. Sound is likewise underwhelming throughout the game, and you may even notice that the ambient bird sounds from the jungle occasionally filter deep into the tunnels, as if to mock you.
Tunnel Rats: 1968 seems to have a strange notion of what constitutes "fun." Does anyone enjoy searching for booby traps in repetitive, brown tunnels or listening to a psychotic man-child rant about his father? The whole concept is fundamentally flawed, and the game's brevity, its suicidal AI, and its exasperating bugs and other annoyances only compound the problem. Don't blame Uwe Boll--he merely inspired the game--and don't expect the developers to take responsibility, because they don't even mention the game on their Web site. Perhaps Tunnel Rats mysteriously emerged from somewhere hellish and deep, "like deep down in your own dark tunnel of the soul."