A cross between Apocalypse Now and The Descent, with your dad’s record collection dusted down to provide the soundtrack to its steamy jungle gunplay – you’ll be strangling a ghoul in the bowels of an ancient temple when the screen freezes and our hero narrates the horrors of war, his love for his brother and how he’ll never be the same again. It’s all very ‘Nam. It even has Lynard Skynard’s Free Bird playing out over the credits. We’re making Shellshock 2 sound good. With that description it should be the year’s most entertaining horror FPS. It’s not.
Beginning in a dimly lit hospital in a war-torn city in Vietnam, you’re called in to help interrogate a prisoner. A US soldier, strapped and bound, screaming on a bench. He’s the only survivor of a patrol sent out by top brass to search for a new secret weapon called Whiteknight. Among the howls of agony and blood, lots of blood, you recognize your brother, Cal. Events don’t go to plan and the Viet Cong strike the camp, Cal escapes, but not before chewing on some nearby marines. The game is set. The thin plot put in motion. You must follow Cal into the heart of darkness and find out what Whiteknight is and if there’s any hope of curing your flesh-hungry brother.
The saddest thing about playing through Shellshock 2 is that it could have been so good. The setting – the 28 Days Later meets Apocalypse Now plot – could have really delivered a novel horror FPS, if only there had been more time spent polishing the game. There are moments when Shellshock 2 shows signs that it could have been a unique slice of horror – such as the mission in which you have to hide in a cave system to escape the Viet Cong, with only the smoke from red flares for guidance and a swarm of hungry zombies screaming out of the darkness.
This should be frightening, but everything is so underplayed. The zombies lack impact, even when they leap from trees you’ll huff in frustration rather than gasp in terror. Those scenes do offer a glimpse of what this jungle horror could have been. When we fled through an abandoned temple with a pack of marauding zombies behind us, through giant carved skulls and splashed into chest high water, it lacked tension. This is partly because the graphics are almost PS2-like in their clumsy design – and partly because the AI has the neat trick of always stepping into your gun sight. One click and an exploding head later and any sense of fear is wiped away.
The controls are solid enough, if a little jittery, but there’s no real weight to any of the weapons. It all feels and looks very old-fashioned, which is a strange and largely unexpected sensation. There are no tricks or surprises; don’t expect cover fire, melee combat or the satisfaction of popping the head of a zombie from a distance. There’s absolutely nothing exciting or satisfying about pulling the trigger in this game; whereas Killzone 2 delivered a bombastic gun rattle and Call of Duty a connection to the kill, Shellshock 2 gives you nothing. It’s a horror first-person shooter where the horror doesn’t manage to shock and the shooting never excites.
There are also some weird design choices that seem only there to irritate, like the gun covering almost all of your vision when you use iron sights, and an inconvenient button placement for picking up items means you’ll be fumbling in the heat of battle at the worst times. A zombie shooter set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War should have been awesome. It should have oozed atmosphere and visceral bloody shocks, but Shellshock 2 Blood Trails has neither.
Feb 25, 2009