BATTLEFIELD VIETNAM        reviewed by Neal "Pappy" Stevens

Developer: Dice
Electronic Arts

Getting Better and Better

As its name suggests, Battlefield Vietnam is set during the late sixties/early seventies military conflict in Southeast Asia. In most ways the game is very faithful to the winning formula first experienced in 2002 with Battlefield 1942: multiplayer that can support 64 players, expansive maps, multiple classes of soldiers, easy to access vehicles, great gameplay and balance. Add in some new aspects—helicopters, vastly superior foliage rendering, tandem weapon sets per class--and improved old ones—better graphics, fewer bugs, more diverse weapons—and you’ve got a worthy successor to the Battlefield crown.

If you've played the BF42 mod Eve of Destruction, you have had a taste of what's to come with Battlefield Vietnam, but that's all, merely a taste. DICE has adopted the great gameplay and balance that makes Battlefield so addictive, coupled it with a new and far superior graphics rendering engine, infused new sounds, and expanded on many elements that take the game to the next level.

The vehicles in BF Vietnam are not far removed from their ancestors in BF42. Of course, they are 1960's vintage and this go-round they include air assault and troop transport helicopters.

The ACH-47 Chinook helicopter does the heavy lifting for the US Army. Two door-mounted M60 guns and a ramp-mounted M60D provide cover for it as it lifts tanks and other heavy vehicles to and from the hottest spots in the war.

Huey Assault Helicopter: was an offensive vehicle that also has airlifting capabilities. With two missile launchers, two M124 auto-cannons, and a nose-mounted M5 40mm grenade launcher, it is capable of wreaking major havoc on the battlefield.

Huey Transport Helicopter was the workhorse of the US Army during the war in Vietnam, the transport helicopter rushes troops and vehicles to and from the battlefield, usually under heavy fire. For defense it has two internal M60 machine guns, each holding 500 rounds.

Mi 8 is an assault helicopter as well as a troop transport. It is basically a converted civilian transport helicopter and is thus not as heavily armored nor as agile as its US counterpart. Still, with four pod-mounted missile launchers, it is not to be taken lightly.

Mi 8 Cargo is versatile vehicle can transport up to six soldiers at a time, plus re-supply troops on the ground. Its rear door has been removed to allow passengers to provide cover fire for the helicopter with their own handheld weapons.

The helos are the stars of BF-Vietnam--more responsive to control input and easier to fly than those in Desert Combat or Eve of Destruction because they use a different physics model, one designed for rotary wing aircraft. They still require practice, so when you see a Huey Gunship warbling overhead, you know it's doing the noobie death dance. Helicopters came into their own as a force during the Vietnam war and BF Vietnam really showcases that fact. A good pair of players in a Huey Gunship are almost impossible to defeat--they can devastate squads of infantry. A chopper can lower a chain to a boat or tank and air drop it to another distant location--a great tactical move. You can load multiple infantry in a Huey, man the door gun, and even blast Wagner from the speakers and put the fear of God in the Communist enemy.

To counter the threat from rotary wing aircraft, the North Vietnamese have the SA-7 shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missile, a heat seeking lethal threat to helo pilots. If the helo pilot flies low and fast, he can be hard to hit--the SA-7 is effective but not foolproof. The US only have the M-60 machine gun and LAW, which are not very effective against helos. The game balances this with the Huey Gunship, which can take down the Russian built Mi-8 rather easily. I found myself climbing for the upper limits of the stratosphere when flying the Mi-8 before traversing the map so I could avoid the deadly Hueys. The Mi-8 is a great troop strafer, launching four missiles at a time that have a large blast radius and the Mi-8 troop transport allows players to spawn aboard so the NVA can hover high above a US base and spawn jump troops in a steady stream.

One aspect that is not captured is hot landing zone. Players in helos can parachute at altitude so the helo is never forced to land as was the case in the real war. I wish Dice had made that a game option: no perpetual parachutes aboard helos. That would have raised the excitement level of a transport helo coming in for a hurried landing with guys hopping out at three feet.

Tanks play a reduced role in Vietnam. They are lighter skinned and easier to destroy than WWII tanks and the terrain doesn't favor armor--so many ravines, rivers, and trees mean you can't take your Sheridan cross-country at any decent rate of speed like you could in BF42. NVA tanks and APCs are amphibious so they can navigate far quicker and easier than their US counterparts. Heavy weapons soldiers with RPGs can take advantage of the abundant cover to attack tanks and escape retribution easily in many areas. DICE thoughtfully included the ability for the passenger to shoot while riding in the jeep.

There are four classes of soldier available--infantry, engineer, heavy weapons support, and sniper/special forces. Each of the four classes has two weapon sets so for example you may choose between an engineer with a mortar or an engineer with mines; a heavy weapons solider with an RPG or a shoulder-mounted, heat-seeking SAM, etc.

The VNC soldiers have some note-worthy weapons at their disposal unlike anything seen in EoD or BF42: a tunnel-spawning shovel, pungi sticks, and booby traps. The fourteen maps range from rice fields and huts, to mountainous river deltas, to jungle warfare, to urban settings, all based on historical settings.

A huge variety of ferns, vines, Eucalyptus trees, banana plants, trees, brush, and undergrowth make BF-VN an astounding place to hunt and do battle. In regular Battlefield 1942 when you come under fire your first response is to drop prone and look for cover. In the denser parts of the Battlefield Vietnam jungle, you drop prone and disappear. To offset the abundance of cover and prevent BF-VN from becoming a sniper haven, DICE has added a "threat indicator", yellow arrows around the mini-map that signify which direction you are being shot from. Think of this as being able to hear the shots and discern their origin. The game does not take full advantage of the concealment elements, though. At distance, the foliage does not render leaving you naked and exposed even though you are nestled deep down in the bush. And the enemy name tags need to be harder to pick out.

Once you are down and hiding in the grass you find that the leaves are slightly translucent--you can perceive movement and shapes through the vegetation. This is a big improvement over BF42, where once you hid behind a bush, you couldn't see a darn thing. If you crawled forward until you could see, you were no longer in cover. With the new game, you can hide and still see pretty well.

Really superb audio effects compliment the graphics. The game environment is laden with subtle ambience: crickets, winds, footstep sounds. Tanks and heavy artillery create massive peals of thunder, making blasting stuff even more pleasurable. In the Hue map, NVA propaganda spews from loudspeakers, warning the GI Joe’s that the war is lost. New to BF-VN is a small stopwatch that tells you how long you have to wait until the flag changes to your side. If you are alone the stopwatch can take a good, long, nerve-racking time. If you have teammates on hand the flag changes much more quickly.

There are few bugs with this game and it includes Punkbuster, a comprehensive anti-cheat utility. The single player game is marginally improved but Battlefield Vietnam is still principally an online title.

I am an avowed zealot of the Battlefield series and I'm glad to say Battlefield Vietnam is very impressive. It's a Battlefield game, in all the best ways that count: gameplay, balance, atmosphere; but it's a new game in many other ways--a different period, more classes, customizable characters, more weapons, nicely modeled helos, new and quite interesting maps, and utterly great graphics. Battlefield Vietnam wins the war of multiplayer action/wargames, hoorah!

Specs: Win 98/ME/XP Pentium 800  Mhz CPU or faster, 32MB 3D video card, CD-ROM drive, 64 MB RAM (128 for XP),  1 GB Hard Drive space
Recommended: Win 98/ME/XP Pentium 1000 Mhz CPU, 64 MB GeoForce  video card, CD-ROM drive, 256 MB RAM,  1 GB Hard Drive space supports joystick, pedals, throttle stick.

HeloSim's Rating - 7.5 out of 10

 viewed by Neal "Pappy" Stevens Review Index

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