Fans of war-themed first-person shooters don't need to worry. If game developers ever run out of World War II battles to recreate there's always Vietnam.
Vietcong 2 is the latest Vietnam-themed FPS, but is put together like Call of Duty. This isn't a bad thing, especially because most games are a dime a dozen in this genre.
Vietcong 2's story is limited in scope, as sometimes happens in first person shooters. The US campaign follows a group of soldiers during the Tet offensive, and the VC campaign does the same, only with a Vietnamese squad. Their paths intersect in a rather troubling cutscene in a cathedral. Gamers will unlock the VC campaign after they storm this cathedral in the US campaign and find a Vietnamese diary, which is translated by a French priest into a super-short campaign.
The graphics are fairly impressive, especially the environments. Rather than put gamers in the middle of Vietnam's lush jungles, Vietcong 2 follows the events of urban combat in a city in South Vietnam called Hue. The buildings look realistic, and the graphics engine shows the ravages of war and how rundown the city has become since it started. It almost looks like something the Source engine (Half Life 2's graphic engine) put together. However, most of the doors can't be opened (and there are a lot of them), and they barely look different from the walls next to them. The character models could use work, too. If you get more than three feet away from any character who is talking, their mouth stops moving, which is definitely distracting when you're in a room full of soldiers and can't tell who's talking to you.
The sound isn't bad. The voice acting is good, although you can't depend on your squad when you're wondering if there are enemies around. Most of the time, they'll yell "all enemies KIA!" and this is rarely true. Something I found endlessly entertaining was the fact that one of the voice actors in Vietcong 2 did the voice of the always-hilarious gladiator in Sacred. If you've played Sacred (and you should have), then listen for him to yell out stupid lines in his highly memorable voice.
The music in Vietcong 2 is cool and has a solid feel to it. It doesn't get in the way, but it does start up in weird spots, like the middle of a firefight for no apparent reason.
Vietcong 2 plays like the first expansion to Half-Life, Opposing Force. Gamers control one character in a squad with an engineer and a medic, with very little control over the other characters beside a couple of orders they can issue. Most of the orders are pretty useless, too. The only one I used was the follow command.
The engineer is a walking ammunition depot, and the medic is a walking hospital. This makes Vietcong 2 a little too easy, at times, but unless gamers are separated from the two and doing their own thing.
There aren't any times where your life depends on someone else's health bar.
The objectives of each level are accessed with a press of the tab key, and are well laid out. You never have to wonder what you're supposed to be doing. Also, the compass at the top right of the screen shows the direction to the next objective, but from time to time you'll be a floor above it or below it and not be sure what's going on. However, after the first time this happens, you'll be prepared to explore a little bit. Another definite plus in Vietcong 2 is the lack of protection missions. There aren't any times where your life depends on someone else's health bar. You can even lose a member of your squad and keep going, but it's usually a bad idea to try without your medic.
Speaking of which, Vietcong 2 can be very difficult, although the difficulty isn't balanced throughout the game. Some missions are a breeze, others are practically impossible. Taking cover isn't just expected of you, it's demanded. If you don't play the entire game in a crouch, you'll get blasted to pieces before you get three steps. Still, it's a breath of fresh air compared to some of the way-too-easy war games out there.
The artificial intelligence can be poor at times, although it's mostly above average. Your squad does a good job of following you around and can hit targets, for the most part. However, they can do some boneheaded things. A member of my squad would occasionally walk into a room full of enemies and get gunned down, much to my irritation. To be honest, I did the same thing sometimes, too. But in the middle of an ongoing firefight?
I think not.
The enemy AI, on the other hand, is worse. Sometimes they walk right past you, and because they look similar to your character in both the US and VC campaigns, you'll often get cut down from behind without even realizing you just walked past them. The only thing they seem to be sure of is to take cover and lean out and shoot from time to time. While this does mostly work, when you can run right up to their cover and shot them, they look stupid.
The weapons are cool, and there are a lot of them. They range from the archaic (the very old-school VC trombone gun) to the almost-modern (the Russian-made Dragonov sniper rifle and RPG-7). They all feel good to use, and have a realistic recoil. The best guns in Vietcong 2 are the sniper rifles, but you only get to use them in a handful of missions. The reason is clear, though, because you get the drop on every enemy with them, unless they're right in your face. Of course, the coolest weapons are the explosive varieties: namely the RPG-7 and the M-79. Nothing is cooler than blowing up a distant turret gun with a single shot.
Vietcong 2 is well put together, and has high production value. There are few bugs, although once I had the environment turn gray for no reason. However, backtracking a bit returned it to normal. Other than that and the problem with the character models, Vietcong 2 is solid.
Vietnam-themed games usually try to dwell on the shock value of the war, and pack in as much gruesomeness as possible in each frame. Vietcong 2 doesn't, however, because the developers, Pterodon, see the Vietnam War differently. Instead of portraying the shock value of the war, they show their view of war in general.
At the end of the US campaign, the character you've been playing speaks his mind on the war, and it comes across as unnecessary. He's obviously speaking for the developers, and in light of the current Iraq War it can be a little tasteless, depending on your personal political views. Seeing your character suddenly turn into a puppet for the software makers hardly improves the game.
The Vietnam War is generally controversial, at the very least. We shouldn't forget it had a major portion of the country up in arms protesting, and is still a very sticky issue, but Pterodon could have handled it better, or not have touched on politics at all; whether it belongs in the game in this obvious manner is questionable.
If you're tired of the WWII shooters, then this game is a good bet. However, with titles like Call of Duty 2 and Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood out, it's unlikely you'll get tired of WWII games. There's not much reason to.