After being greeted by a vintage war-tape recording that gives America an excuse to be involved with the Vietnamese, the game’s reasoning for existence comes into play. While I must admit this grizzly introduction grabbed me and had me keen on what was to come next. What was actually delivered failed to reach whatever expectations of enjoyment I may had hoped would be present in the game.
Without the motivation of the game’s wildish cut-scenes, the story that attempts to drive this game is a poor one indeed. Air Conflicts Vietnam borders the line of mediocrity that bares resemblance to the generic wannabes that attempted to outshine the Ace Combat series during the era of the PlayStation 2.
With that being said this isn’t a game intended to take itself too seriously. It’s a game about fast-paced fun in which you spend thirty minutes to an hour trying to kill time until something better comes along. The only problem here however is the limiting fun-factor that the game actually contains. I did appreciate the game’s music as its choice of classic rock seems to fit well into the action that drives its gameplay.
The missions of Air Conflicts: Vietnam try to give a sense of realism while providing enjoyment through the use of Arcady-like gameplay sequences, which feel as if they were just made up at that exact moment. This isn’t necessarily wrong and the variety provided within the missions are sufficient. Air Conflicts: Vietnam takes the same approach to learning the basics that most games involving flight do. The dialogue provided by non-playable characters instructing you to check the functioning of your vehicle through the means of steering, aiming and switching your vehicles weapon systems are light and simple.
The missions that follow directly after the game’s tutorial bring you directly into the action, and this is where the mission variety becomes noticeable. With the option to fly a choice of fighter jets and military helicopters when available, you control two to four vehicles as part of a squadron. You have the choice to switch between any vehicle at any time and this allows for a number of different choices for going about your missions.
While some missions will require you to go head to head in full on dog-fights. The game also manages to bring a challenge to its slower paced missions. Such as rescuing civilians or team members off the ground. However the line between challenge and downright irritating is very noticeable and this is one of the game’s flaws, especially since it’s not meant to be taken too seriously. The game does give an attempt to spice things up a little and it’s here where the game is most consistent. While the missions involving military helicopters share similarities to those requiring fighter jets, the aims and goals of the mission seem practical when you’re required to take part in something that the other vehicle cannot.
Chasing enemy fighter jets around the map will keep you busy for a short while, and others such as rescue missions, bombing small villages, and playing on-rails with a mounted gun do their best to keep you guessing. But after one or two play-throughs of what is essentially the same mission under a different name, things start to become lackluster pretty quick. There’s nothing wrong with the missions the game provides you with nor are their goals. They just feel slumped and empty at times, and the poor control schemes of manoeuvring the vehicles, don’t do well to help.
The problem isn’t within the control mappings or the layout of the buttons themselves, as the player is free to use either a control pad, keyboard and mouse, or a flight stick. Fighter jets fair better than the military helicopters and that’s where the fun-factor of the game as well as its strengths lie. But the irritating, unjustified, and clunky pilot controls of the helicopters slow down the pace of the action and thrills you get from piloting the jets. Damage balancing also feels a little off-key at times as enemies have this amazing ability to sink rounds in to your health bar while not receiving anything of a similar sort. I’m all down for a challenge but the feeling of a broken game or a missing patch feels prevalent here.
Playing essentially as a one man team in which you control up to four vehicles, the need for an auto-pilot or smart A.I. would have been gratefully appreciated. When you’re not in control of the other air crafts or choose to switch to a primary weapon on-board the same vehicle in which you’re stationed in, the need for an auto-pilot couldn’t have been more disappointing. Helicopter controls are a nightmare, having to control the direction in which it is flying when you’ve changed your camera view and placed your focus on controlling the door gunner is an awkward situation.
Why wasn’t there an A.I. present to take on the role of the pilot while the player is attacking with the vehicle’s main weapon? If not an A.I. why not an auto-pilot system? These questions hit you fast and the non-existent support of your generic voiced squadron members don’t provide an answer. A.I. is just about as useful as the environmental back-drop of the trees and rivers. The squadrons provide no beneficial existence to the gameplay never mind in aiding the mission. The fact that a friendly helicopter managed to fly into me when we’re at 8000 feet in the air is as much a mystery to me as it is an accomplishment. I couldn’t decide on whether or not I should have applauded him or been enraged.
With difficulty settings ranging on a scale of 1 to 4 with 1 titled Ground Rat and 4 by the name of Navy Pilot, my curiosity on whether or not this would cure the incompetent A.I. and actually motivate to me to play some more left me in suspense. Long story short the controls stayed clunky, squadrons remained moronic, and the difficulty caused more frustration than enjoyment. As ninety-nine percent of the game takes place in the air with the remaining one percent being your time in moving from the main menu to the game, scale plays an important role in flying the vehicles. Appearance wise the levels are acceptable and the diversity of the level design is fair for what the game sets out to be.
The scale of the actual environment however is a different story. Environments are small…real small and the lack of detail within the game’s world doesn’t do anything to counter what is essentially an un-busy world. The mountains, rivers, hills, and rice fields do a great job of bringing authenticity to the world and because of this you know it to be Vietnam. But the game’s old-school approach to dealing with level closure is not one of nostalgic pleasure nor did it feel needed. The grid-like borders around the edge of the map comes off as ugly, you know it’s there to warn you that you’re leaving the game’s world and notifies you to turn back. But this outdated method of communicating with the player is off-putting and pulls you out of the game.
Due to the game’s small environments your enemy’s ability to leave the battle area while you are warned to turn back if you leave, makes it a little frustrating to engage them. The world should have been alot bigger and this feels game breaking at times as its not long before the grid-like structure of the boundaries start to appear in the distance. The game’s visuals aren’t by any means an amazing spectacle and the low resolution cut-scenes that work their way into gameplay after specific in-game goals are met, look abysmal in comparison.
Bearing that in mind the game is very scalable for a variety of configurations. But given that the game doesn’t turn any heads to begin with even on its highest visual settings, the graphical fidelity that you may expect from its fairly detailed graphics menu will leave you disappointed.
Although the single-player campaign may not be up to everybody’s liking, the multi-player may actually be one of the game’s strong points, providing it picks up a decent fan-base that is.
The multi-player segment of the game is all about dog-fighting with other players and it takes these elements from the game’s single-player campaign. Multiplayer is where the quick fun aspect of the game kicks in as it eliminates the mediocrity that the single-player campaign works so hard on bringing to the table.
Outdated level design and the irritation that comes along with the game’s damage balancing and A.I. are not enough for me to experience Air Conflicts Vietnam for a second time around. If curiosity and an inverted definition of challenge is what drives your game purchases then go for it.
This game was reviewed on the PC.