South-east Asia, in particular Vietnam, has become the acceptable face of the enemy in post-cold war gaming. Gamers could be forgiven for becoming a little jaded by the whole Charlie-and-jungles scenario. Men of Valor raises its head above the parapet in such a climate and, we're glad to report, inspires us to walk that damn humid jungle trek all over again.
We travelled to Vivendi's head office in Paris to set out on our Xbox journey through the Vietnam conflict that still mars America's military history but is far enough down the line that game treatment of the conflict can be frank. And this game doesn't pull any punches in that regard while not going for the overly graphic (arguably sensationalist) approach of ShellShock: Nam '67.
The game's missions (often based on actual events) are tied together by real footage from the war and show dead bodies from both sides of the arena of conflict. We asked level designer Cayle George about the inclusion of such clips and he said that developers 2015 "aren't making a statement, we just wanted to be accurate". And this treatment is a fair marker for the whole design of the game. The one potential problem seen by 2015 at the outset became the measure of their approach when creating Valor. As George notes, "How do you make a game where you're fighting on the side that didn't win the war? Make the objective a case of survival, that you and your buddies make it out the other side."
One way that Valor attempts to achieve this is "through rich character development and cinematic sequences to make you think about the integral characters as real people," explains George.
This is partly fulfilled by scripted events (as in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, also from 2015) - such as watching one of your buddies die from a gut-shot - but is mainly built up by simply having you save each other mission after mission (in real terms, it's you that does the saving in the main). How successfully they accomplish this can't be judged from the four missions we were privy to but we saw enough that the intent to make you care for those in your platoon came across as central to the game as a whole.
There is variety in the style of game control including manning a door gun on a Huey chopper and steering a river boat but the heart of the game, on which it will succeed or fail, is the precarious infantry first-person shooting element. We fought the enemy in a number of environments ranging from deep jungle to built-up areas (85% of the game is made up of jungle fighting) and it's the jungle confrontations that build up the real tension and have you hesitantly quivering on the trigger.
One thing we were really happy to see is that 2015 are quite happy to let the game breath and are content to leave you walking through jungle with not a great deal happening for short spells (not unlike Doom has previously done with its creature-less corridors just before it all goes mental).
On occasion you'll see a lone enemy up ahead and you dive for cover before you wait and ponder your approach. Alternatively, all hell breaks loose as incoming fire explodes from seemingly everywhere (although it's invariably from straight up ahead) and everyone just hits the fronds, ferns and tree trunks - yes, tree trunks are probably your main ally in the jungle. And let's not forget the booby traps. Unlike ShellShock, they're not flagged up from some distance away and blundering into one planted on a tree that you were going to use as cover is quite easily done when the enemy sets your pulse racing with a well-timed ambush.