Version tested: PC
The Rock And Roll War has rarely painted a successful backdrop for videogames – at least, not to the same level as World War II. And I know for a fact there are stalwarts out there still playing Vietcong who'll disagree with some fervour, but the problem has always been rooted in the ground. Namely, foliage.
Can't see the enemy until he's right upon you? Eek. It's a familiar state of affairs in every Vietnam war movie ever, and it's also the reason it's hard to make a game based in the jungle fun to play. Foe recognition, manic bullet-spray, and it's all over for one or the other. It doesn't really make for fun multiplayer. And just think of the grenade spam.
But some games have tackled jungle warfare, and with a measure of success. Take DICE's original Battlefield Vietnam. And Far Cry – although to a lesser degree, as the AI would shoot with deadly accuracy through greenery which blocked human line-of-sight. So how does Battlefield: Bad Company 2's Vietnam DLC deal with the problem?
Perfectly. Its maps are not so dense with foliage as you might imagine given the location, and what exists is easily blown away, just like the scenery of Bad Company 2. While each of the four maps differs considerably in design and pace, most line-of-sight blockage comes courtesy of other terrain features.
Between hillocks, rice-paddy embankments and low, one-storey shacks, there's enough verticality in the terrain of each map to block lines of sight and encourage short-range conflicts. In short, on-foot players generally need to get pretty intimate to start taking names, and the result is some close and bloody engagements.
The 15 new weapons offered also play a key part in making it feel very different to Bad Company 2. This is Vietnam, so sniper rifles are the only weapons to sport scopes, and automatic weapons are of middling accuracy. The shifting nature of hotspots, particularly in Rush and Conquest matches, means that there's rarely a sniper vantage point that's useful for long.
Automatic weapons are the natural breadwinners in this landscape and as a result, AK-47, M16 and LMG fire fills the air at every turn. The flamethrower is a tool of utter chaos in close confines, but tends to make you a bullet-magnet in the open.
The weapons look tremendous as well, and all add to the sense of atmosphere. Stocks are wrapped with tape, grenade launchers are painted with tiger stripes and sniper rifles sport perishing rubber on their scopes. Everything feels well-used, dirty, personalised and low-tech, which is well in-keeping with the setting.
The vehicles are an awful lot of fun, and the highlight is the Bell Huey. Every dust-off is a thrill, whether you're a pilot or a door-gunner. With the radio blasting sixties rock, you soar over the paddy fields spewing rockets at enemy targets while the sky clouds with tracer fire around you. It's a scene straight out of any given war movie and it feels great.
It's also reasonably balanced against other vehicles. The Huey's rockets can deal plenty of damage to enemy tanks, but repeated, accurate passes are required to destroy one, which gives anyone manning the tank's cupola-mounted machinegun a good stab at strafing the Huey's belly.
Jeeps are more effective chopper-killers, because their machineguns track with greater speed than those bolted to armour. Needless to say though, they're enormously vulnerable to rocket fire, as well as infantry weapons, so you have to stay on the move.
For pure comedy, you can actually shoot a Huey down with a shell from the tank's main gun. It's immensely difficult, but if you've a chopper coming straight down at you and your sights are lined up nicely, it can be done, and you'll click your heels and jump for joy when you achieve it... Although your squad-mates may not share your time-wasting mirth.
Aside from T-57 Russian tanks, the North Vietnamese Army has access to small trucks and tuk-tuks to get its forces mobile. There's something comically thrilling about barrelling into a US base or victory point in a tuk-tuk and stealing a freshly-spawned chopper or, even better, killing the pilot of one grounded for repairs and hijacking it.
Vehicle access is restricted by map choice, however. Phu-Bai Valley is the only map truly dominated by vehicles, as it spawns Bell Hueys alongside tanks, jeeps, trucks and tuk-tuks. Hill 137 and Cao San Temple are coastal maps which offer a little strafing action from riverboats, but largely drive both teams into brutal, infantry-heavy chokepoints.
Vantage Point offers a tank spawn to both sides, but there's a single hill-road between enemy bases lined with bamboo huts, which makes those tanks immensely vulnerable to RPG-sporting engineers and recon units with det-packs. Overall, vehicle usage is pretty well balanced against infantry strength.
As with Bad Company 2, objective-based games offer a meatier and more focused alternative to team deathmatch. Rush requires the attacking team to advance and destroy a series of key enemy installations, which soon become hotly contested flashpoints. Conquest is probably the favourite, with its series of re-capturable victory points, and capture the flag speaks for itself.
A cautionary note to PC users, however: you may have some difficulty getting the game to work at all. Initially the client wouldn't even connect to EA Online to let me browse servers, and after some trial and error I had to disable some on-by-default Windows 7 settings, set up a static IP address and monkey around with port-forwarding. Not what you really want when you buy a new game, particularly one that relies solely on internet play.
I must stress that not everyone has had such issues though. It all seems to depend on your particular setup, your router, and possibly your ISP's protocols. Xbox 360 and PS3 players needn't worry about such things, and the upside of the PC version, as ever, is the lovely visuals. Just be warned, you may need to tinker.
Like its forbear, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 - Vietnam offers yet more reasons to look beyond Call of Duty multiplayer and give something else a crack. There's a slickness to the combat, an intelligence to the map design, and a sense of atmosphere worth exploring, all wrapped up in a fast, fun, progressive experience that drip-feeds you goodies as you go. If you play Battlefield: Bad Company 2 multiplayer, it's well worth a tenner of your money. More of this, please.
8 / 10