Ah, sweet helicopters. Flying has been reinvented for Battlefield Vietnam and the helicopters are highly manoeuvrable and relatively easy to control. Of course you'll still end up looking embarrassingly clumsy as you pitch your Huey into the jungle the first few times you fly, but once you get the hang of it, you are the Air Cav. Players can board the helicopter with you and fire M60s from either side. Or, if you're flying the Russian-built Hind, you can expect half a dozen parachutists to want to be deployed over the strategic areas of the battlefield. Both helicopter types boast rockets too, which makes for formidable air support. Even more exciting is the possibility of being able to airlift vehicles around the map.
In fact the US forces slightly dominate the game's aerial aspect, employing Chinooks and B-52s to back up the Hueys and F4s that roar across the battlefields with impressive agility. The Vietcong fight back with the Mig-17 and the Mig-21, but more impressive still are their anti-air capabilities. They field both the Russian ZSU anti-aircraft tank and infantry-launched heat-seeking missiles. The skies are dangerous.
But never as dangerous as the ground, which plays host to an incredible array of death-mechanisms to feed you that final meal of shrapnel and lead. There are Russian T-54s and Patton tanks churning up mud and lobbing shells in each other's direction. There are Jeeps and APCs and mortars. There are dozens of other shooty machines, including incredibly over-the-top artillery. Play with these when you've got 5.1 sound and a big old subwoofer hooked up and you really know about it. Better still, a welcome favourite makes a return to a number of the maps: the Vespa-style scooter. While not particularly heavily armed, there is little more enjoyable than hurtling through villages, dodging explosions and harrying invading GIs as your Kalashnikov-wielding passenger shoots wildly from the back seat. Within minutes of play we were already zooming across bridges in this little beast, vast walls of fire billowing behind us as aircraft blitzed the village behind us. Ace.
Another impressive addition is that of boats. These range from the plastic motorised patrol-boats of the US Marines, to the wooden fishing rafts of the Vietnamese villagers. Many of the maps are set around coastal areas or swampy inlets and the boats can provide invaluable transport to attack bases further upriver. These boats are loads of fun, especially if you want to do sneaky manoeuvres on the larger maps. And it's the larger maps that provide the best experience of battle. They're varied and highly detailed, with as many open highland areas as dense vegetation and jungle. The smaller maps are good for urban combat and suchlike, but interiors and shattered buildings are not where Battlefield Vietnam's strengths lie. The real inspiration is to be found on the Ho Chi Minh trail or the scrubland lagoons. The chaos of 20 or more people on each team trying to fight for a small, swampy island is an invigorating experience indeed.
But there's another trick up the flared sleeves of this rock 'n' roll conflict: music. And I'm not just talking about the instrumental version of White Rabbit that dominates the options screen, either. Music has actually been implemented into the game itself, so that every vehicle has a radio and that radio can be heard beyond the vehicle cockpit. This means if the Marines in the Jeep that races past are listening to Wild Thing then you'll be able to hear it too. This adds enormously to the feel of this actually being a Vietnam experience: lashings of atmosphere are endowed on the proceedings by this single concept. It's obviously a cheap trick, but an effective one. Hell, you'll be smoking Thai marijuana and making 'Charlie don't surf' quips before you know it. The soundtrack includes The Kinks 'You Really Got Me' and 'All Day and All of the Night', Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit' and 'Somebody to Love', Deep Purple's 'Hush', Bobby Fuller's 'I Fought the Law', Edwin Starr's 'War (What is it Good For?)' and of course, Wagner's 'The Ride of the Valkyries'. This selection of music really adds weight to the Hollywood interpretation of the '60s and '70s that you'd expect from a game made by this generation of people. People for whom this is entertainment. People like us, who were actually nothing to do with the savage atrocity of one of the most appalling conflicts of all time. Hmm.