by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
Good Morning Vietnam!
The year was 1965. The U.S. and Soviets were locked deep in the freezers of the Cold war and the erupting conflict in North and South Vietnam looked to be the perfect place to cut off the head of communism’s spread. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a crippling blow against the hammer and sickle turned instead into an excruciatingly long, psychologically damaging conflict. It would also be the first time the United States military failed to achieve a decisive victory. Leaving its World War I and II roots behind, this is the hell that developer Games Farm’s latest entry into its Air Conflicts series has chosen to step into and so far it seems like a smart direction to trod. For those unfamiliar with the series, Air Conflicts: Vietnam is the fourth entry in the air combat franchise that has previously taken players through the skies of both the European and Pacific theaters of the World Wars. While the Vietnam War certainly could and has been the backdrop for emotionally charged tales about the atrocity and futility of war, but you won’t find one here. The game tries to throw in some pathos here and there, but all in all the experience is a pure adrenaline-fueled arcade shooter through and through. Welcome to the jungle.
Roger That, We’ve Got Visual
The campaign in Air Conflicts: Vietnam tells the story of American Air Force pilot Joe Thompson as he pilots a number of different aircraft to wreak havoc on the Soviets and North Koreans. This setting brings forward the two most obvious changes to the franchise: a new location and new aircraft to control. The jungle hills of Vietnam are a far cry from the oceans, forest, and planes of previous games. Clearly players won’t be soldiering through the trees themselves in their aircraft, but they can make for some cool vistas to enjoy while you’re dropping bombs and hosing bullets. Unfortunately, my visual enjoyment was hampered by the fact that the game, at least as it was while I played it, was a disappointment visually. The aircraft themselves looked decent enough, but the trees (which are almost the entirety of the ground), and enemy fortifications looked more like a high-end PS2 game than a late 2013 PC game. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the different weather effects and the way that bright sunny days and dark storms changed the overall mood. Take that all with a grain of salt as my preview build didn’t allow me to change the graphic settings, but my experience left a lot for my eyes to desire.
Variety is the Spice of Life
The other change to the franchise this time out is the addition of helicopters added to the selection of fixed-wing crafts. The aircraft control well and are each specialized to their own combat niche. Fighter jets scream at high speeds and use their quick-firing weaponry and spy maneuverability to out-maneuver other pilots in dogfights and hit targets in quick hit and runs, bombers are more sturdy for no-nonsense runs to land targets, and choppers counterbalance their comparatively snail-like pace with high weapon and maneuverability precision to easily get up close to enemies and strike with surgical accuracy.
Overall shooting and making things go boom feels good but it isn’t really anything that most players haven’t seen before. Where the game attempts to differentiate itself a bit is with its squad options. While Joe is the main character and the pilot that players will always start with, players can choose which allies they bring into missions with them. Each character has light RPG elements that allow them to gain points in various areas like durability, accuracy, evasiveness, etc., so it pays to keep your fellow pilots alive at risk of having to continue from that point on with rookies watching your back. If things do go terribly and one of your allies has their craft destroyed, you can often times engage in an optional rescue side mission to rescue them, but if you don’t they become a POW never to return. To be honest, I didn’t notice a dramatic difference between having experienced pilots and rookies aid me while I was playing as Joe. How building up your squad really becomes useful is that during missions you can instantly switch between any of the planes/copters in your squad. This makes it not only important to load your machine with a good choice of weapons, but also to pick other types of machines and weapon combinations that will complement the weaknesses and strengths of yours. Not only is it cool to bring out your heavier bomber to make a strafing run, switch to a more nimble plane to fight off a few bogeys, then switch back to finish the job, but it’s also nice to be able to switch to someone else if you happen to get a little too trigger happy and run out of bullets or missiles.
Air Conflicts: Vietnam almost certainly isn’t going to win any awards for re-inventing the arcade flight combat genre, but it isn’t really trying to. It’s trying to be a game that can be picked up and played on a whim for a quick mission or two without a huge learning curve. It’s trying to let players indulge their primal instincts and blow up everything that moves. It’s trying to be fun. Whether or not the game succeeds remains to be seen. A lot will rest on the ability for multiplayer, which I wasn’t able to play, to gain and hold a solid community to fill its fairly standard deathmatch and capture-the-flag (bomb-the-building) gamemodes.