Version tested: Xbox 360
Back in 2004, when everyone was already complaining about a surplus of World War II games, Vietnam was the next big thing, and Shellshock: Nam '67 was Eidos' answer to Battlefield Vietnam, Vietcong, Line of Sight and others. Nowadays, World War II is still big business, Vietnam has been abandoned once again, and Shellshock 2: Blood Trails is the answer to a question no one asked. It's not a very good answer.
You play as a grunt inserted suspiciously into a unit deep in Vietnam, only to discover that you're not only in the s***, you're on the hunt for your brother, who has been infected with some sort of zombifying virus that turns him - and a lot of his fellow GIs - into something out of 28 Days Later. Mist-soaked hills and raw jungle oppression were enough for Vietnam games five years ago, but apparently not now.
Which is a shame, because the Xbox 360 and PS3 would certainly do a good job of rendering Vietnam in smoldering, oppressive detail given half the chance. Whether for budget reasons or not though, Rebellion barely gives them a tenth of a chance. Textures are bland, geometry uncomplicated, lighting sharp and unrealistic; the jungle is jagged, clip-happy and static. Character models on both sides are dull, sparsely detailed and clunkily animated, and the frame-rate lurches into the teens with alarming regularity. Load times are also surprisingly long, although, as you'll see, I'm not going to complain about the time I got to spend not playing it.
The first-person shooter combat itself, which progresses from towns and ruins into jungle and cave systems, is frustrating and inexact. It's difficult to aim despite a range of sensitivity sliders, reloading takes ages, and every gun, grenade and ammo pack has to be manually collected by hitting a button when you run over it. There's an iron sights option, but it's no help in getting a bead on the mini-waves of troops and zombies being thrown at you. Throwing grenades is a complete lottery, and the explosive effect is roughly akin to a firework you'd take back to the shop for a refund.
And that's just on your end. The enemies themselves are shockingly basic. Soldiers shamble from blatant spawn points over walls and rock clusters and trip merrily into your crosshairs (assuming you can drag them round in time) without the wit for self-preservation or tactics, until such time as the game decides you've killed enough of them or you pass a secret line in the ground that stops them respawning. Despite their stupidity, they're also difficult to spot, spawning on balconies and buried amidst the trees, taking dead aim and hitting you with every bullet whatever the range, so you often have to retreat and use the damage indicator to judge where they are before clumsily engaging.
The zombies are a bit easier, since most of them are relatively docile, lumbering towards you and then leaping into canned pounce animations until you sink half a dozen M-16 rounds into their midriff or a single skull-shattering shot to the head. The main variations are zombies who leg it at you instead, which exhausts your ammo reserves quicker because aiming's so fiddly. If soldiers or zombies make it up close, you're sometimes called upon for a sequence of quick-time button presses to break their hold and incapacitate them. You'll be indifferent to the event and the result, but that's an improvement in the main.
The levels offer up a few set-pieces, but most are cack-handed sieges involving turret guns, which quickly run out of ammo and are no easier to aim. Stumbling through an overgrown mansion full of zombies about a third of the way into the game is vaguely compelling as you ration bullets for heads and then face off with a sort of super-zombie bearing a chainsaw, but for the most part the impact is absorbed by the shocking visuals and scripted routines. The defence of a creaky old church is typical of this: soldiers pour in through the roof and either jump down to engage or take up one of a few positions in the rafters to fire at you, and keep coming and following the same pattern until the game decides you've killed enough to use one of the NPC GIs to open a nearby door.
Every so often you're terrorised by the sight of a GI crawling halfway out of a hole, shouting at you in desperation, before they're dragged fiercely away into the dark where you have to follow, but like the poo-stick and swinging log traps that demand a quick stab of a button to evade, they're the sort of mediocrity that you'd frown about in a better game. They practically inflate the score here.
There is almost nothing to commend whatsoever. The audio is dreadful - plywood door-slam gunshots, cicada helicopters, dead silence just when the game needs audio, forgettable voice acting... Everything is low-rent. Indeed, sometimes the game just defaults. At one point, scrambling through caves on the fifth level, I walked out of an animal-mouth doorway into a room with rubble on the left, another animal head in front of me, and a blocked-off stone staircase to my right. Ten minutes later I walked into the exact same area and had to double-check to make sure I hadn't been spun round and gone back to the previous room. I hadn't. In between, I'd been assailed by the noise of zombies, only to realise I was safe: they were all stuck in walking animations grinding against the side of the hill I was standing on, so I picked them off one by one.
With no multiplayer, and only ten levels, the game isn't even very long, but I still couldn't bring myself to finish it. It's no surprise that Eidos has been very quiet about it in the run-up to its launch today: had it been released on PS2, Shellshock 2 would have struggled to live up to the original's 6/10 legacy. Up against World at War, Killzone 2 and Halo 3, it's a complete joke. The worst FPS I've played since Turning Point: Fall of Liberty.
2 / 10