You can pay Men of Valor a number of compliments, but the highest is undoubtedly that it managed, on more than one occasion, to really make us sweat. At its best, it genuinely conveys the eerie, tense and especially sticky atmosphere of jungle combat. You wouldn't think it from the game's opening, though. A thoroughly tedious training mission kicks off proceedings and immediately highlights a number of areas in which the game is less than impressive, mostly visual. Chief among these is an inconsistent framerate, but you could also add some poorly detailed objects and some insipid, uninspiring textures. Combined, it's unimpressive stuff.
Still, you'll be glad to hear that any disappointment is short lived - it soon dissipates on reaching the game proper. You're riding with an armoured convoy through a muddy trail. A water buffalo (or whatever the hell it is) crosses your path. Villagers try to usher it on and members of your platoon join them to try and get things moving - and then all hell breaks loose. A mine goes off nearby, blasting mud high into the air before your position is showered with gunfire. Using the armoured convoy as cover, you slowly creep forward to the tall grass at the side of the road and watch in horror as the Vietcong charge at you through the undergrowth, screaming "F*** YOU, GEE-AAAAYE!". We died about ten seconds later and had to restart - but the encounter really sets the tone for the vast majority of the game. You can't see very much. You never know when you're going to be attacked. And when you are, the ensuing fire-fight will always, always be ferocious.
Much of the danger is due to the way your vitality works. You can't run around like Rambo and gun down the enemy at point blank range, screaming obscenities. If you haven't found suitable cover you're three bloody bits of a dead man. Get hit once and you'll probably be okay, but that third bullet will kill you for sure, and on a battlefield that's constantly being sprayed with bullets it's not that difficult to find death. Also, when you're hit, you bleed. If you don't bandage your wound (indicated by a flashing red zone on your health meter) you'll soon suffer permanent damage. Unfortunately, you can only really bandage yourself if you're standing still (which isn't much good if you're being shot at by loads of Vietcong) so again, you have to find cover.
Men of Valor, ironically, revolves around hiding from the enemy like a complete coward. You crouch in grass, poke your head around corners and use any rock, log or palm tree you can to stop getting shot. It makes for a tense experience and it forces you think about your environment - making you fear open ground while assessing your surroundings to plan your next move. In this respect then, the game really succeeds in its ultimate goal - to create an engaging and gritty war game - getting your blood pumping and nerves jangling, while the overall atmosphere of the game - with plenty of dialogue between your comrades, the overarching story line and the coarse, Full Metal Jacket-styling - all helps to create a believable and engaging war experience.
But there are problems. The locations are varied (taking you from the jungle to beach insertions and night time raids on bridges and so forth) but the basic gameplay remains largely the same, and strangely, this really boils down to the factors that make the game so tense in the first place. Because you're so careful about exposing yourself to the enemy, missions come down to executing the same processes over and over again. You creep forward to the next engagement. Hide behind a rock. Slooowly creep around until you spot enemy gunfire. Gently move your targeting reticule over the target until it turns red. Let off a volley of shots until the enemy is down, before creeping slooowly around until you spot the next enemy. And you do this again and again and again. It's very rare that you experience the rush of running blindly to enemy lines. True, you can do this, but 90% of the time you just end up getting instantly mowed down, and the consequence of that is having to replay 10-15 minutes of game you've already seen. After meeting your fate the same way several times over, you resign yourself to the tried and tested method, the consequence being that a number of missions in, your attention span starts to self-destruct. Meaning Men of Valor: The Vietnam War works hard, moves nicely, and pushes some great ideas, but its lack of depth and variety also eventually works against it. Still, having said that, it's better than the competition.
Men of Valor: The Vietnam War is out now for Xbox and PC