You know, when I agreed to this review I thought it would be a walk in the park, lazy references to Lynard Skynard, Full Metal Jacket and the occasional shouting of “You weren’t there man!”. As it turns out Men of War: Vietnam has unwittingly taught me about the horrors of war, but not the way 1C probably imagined. It may surprise you to hear I’ve played more than my fair share of obscure games, Tow Truck Simulator a particular highlight this year, I cherish the feeling of satisfaction one can gain from digging around in all the dirt and janky gameplay to find that one speck of pure genius that the developer has managed to get right, their pure concept perfectly translated to the end user, the elemental atom of gaming if you will. Saying that, I can say with some authority that Men of War: Vietnam is definitely in the top three of games most reluctant to share its precious molecules with me.
Ruthless doesn’t do MoW:V justice, with lack of tutorial or training mission you are dragged from the boot camp of the main menu and straight into the bad bush of the Vietnamese campaign. Your four men are ambushed behind enemy lines, the convoy slaughtered and reduced to cowering in the cover of trees to hide from blood-thirsty helicopters (they’re carnivores don’t you know). Forced to scavenge from depots and fuel for any vehicle to get you out of there, you find refuge in the form of a decrepit fishing boat. As a compelling and engaging narrative for an RTS game the story driven objectives rank high here. However with the odds stacked against you from the start and lack of any major instruction your likely experience with the first mission will be one of frustration from repetitively dying and forcing to reload, I don’t exaggerate when I say I created 18 save points on the first mission alone, forcing to rewind about 40 times. Was it my fault? Partially. MoW:V has possibly the most tactically aware strategy engine I have seen. After several hours I came to the notion that you should face the enemy on your terms only with your men in cover, preferably in the prone position, funnelling the yanks into a narrow choke point to maximise your lower firepower. If you get caught unawares by a patrolling soldier your best bet is to try and run and hide and slowly crawl your men to another position and try again, one can’t help but feel the similarity to Metal Gear Solid or even Syndicate for those older readers.
Not satisfied with the mental barrage MoW:V presses on with an all-out assault on your graphics card. My desktop is no slouch; quad-core 2.5GHz, 8GB DDR3 RAM and a shiny new Nvidia GTX480 at the helm. Still though, on maximum settings I was lucky to get a framer per second in double figures. Dropping the settings down a notch I was able to get a good mix of graphical fidelity and acceptable performance, but still not the steady 60fps I am accustomed to. The only real answer for this unusual slow-down is surely the rendering of thousands of trees and shrubbery you will often call home. I mean seriously, for the first few hours it felt as if I was playing a Magic-Eye game, my green fatigued soldiers battling green enemies in a dense thicket of green flora, maybe my graphics card has run out of green. Credit is due though to the hugely detailed maps and the robust engine where you can freely scroll, change perspective, zoom and angle in any permutation to help pick out Charlie sneaking up from behind. In a most unexpected way this outwardly perceived negative point really draws you into the gameplay feeling as if the environment is your greatest friend or foe. Musically MoW:V reacts to the action itself, changing mood and tempo when the action heats up. It isn’t what I stereotypically envisage to be ‘Nam music, however considering my reference points largely come from Forest Gump I am clearly an idiot, rather the music is appropriate to the genre and not necessarily the time period.
You may feel this review is conflicted and you’d be right. I still can’t get my head around why a game with such depth and beauty is so reluctant to show it. In a way I’m glad that MoW:V is so uncompromising in its stalwart values of realism, a more accessible game would’ve most likely lost its edge, dumbing down to the lowest common denominator resulting in a flabby and directionless game. This game is a rough diamond, if you feel you have the mettle to polish it against your will, you have my blessing. This game has the molecules of genius, but it will make you work for them.
MLG Rating: 8/10
Platform: PC Release Date: 09/09/11
Disclaimer: A digital version of Men of War: Vietnam was supplied by the promoter and played over the course of one week on a high-end gaming PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.