Online gaming goes rock and roll.
Now we've got the business of shooting Nazis in the face out of the way, it's only logical that gamers should want to spend hours online working out where the Yanks went wrong in South East Asia. Whatever Napalm smells like first thing in the morning, EA wants to make sure we breathe it deep into our lungs.
In what is tantamount to the first rock and roll online game, Battlefield Vietnam was shown off for the fist time to slavering journalists at 'Camp' EA and the game has surely, along with Half Life 2, already secured the future of PC gaming as we know it.
BF on acid
Despite being acknowledged as one of the greatest multiplayer experiences in the history of humanity, never mind gaming, BF 1942 wasn't much more than 'quite good' in the visual stakes. Let's just say that Digital Illusions' Canadian studio has made up for that in the sequel with a whole new engine that depicts the Vietnam jungle as the kind of claustrophobic hellhole that every Lysergic Acid Diethylamide soaked Hollywood movie nightmare threatened it would be.
For the (in)sane of brain, and the geek of speak, think sweat sodden dense tropical foliage rendered in jaw dropping detail, specular lighting falling dynamically on every intricately crafted weapon, the bump-mapped surfaces on the tread of your Jeep's tyres, and even the perilously thin straps of your inhumanly heavy pack. It's terrifying trench warfare played out to the backdrop of late 60s rock music, the jarring rattle of automatic weapons, the roar of Hueys walloping overhead, and the desperate screams of the unfortunate many. So Hollywood.
Like it or not, the misery of a generation is now being trivialised for your entertainment, people. But that's OK, The Man says, because death sells, and anyway, it was ages ago, so it's fair game to resell human misery for our kicks. Harsh, ethically questionable, but essentially true.
We're pure evil
Anyway, being morally bankrupt has allowed us gamers to enjoy just about anything without so much as a flicker of conscience, and with that in mind, Battlefield Vietnam is a quite sensational example of the potential of warfare as entertainment.
It's wise to admit that no-one outside of DI's Canadian studio and EA has actually played BF Vietnam yet, but the physical evidence is pretty compelling so far, but you'd have to be the worst kind of Daily Mail bigot to not be able to admire the craft, passion and potential once you see this in motion.
Based on the stunning achievement that was BF1942 (admittedly woefully under-rated in EG's 2002 poll) , the gameplay once again consists of a series of team based combat duels across vast maps, with each team hoping to grind down the other by means of carefully co-ordinated sorties into the heart of each other's territories.
Conflict is a concept as old as life itself, but - as ever - the key is context, and Vietnam's a setting that's not really been used to its full potential yet. Sure, there have been a couple of jungle-based FPSs, notably Soldier of Fortune II and, more appropriately, Vietcong, but both merely teased us with pointers of the tension and drama of leafy frolics.
But like we said, EA's positioning this as a "Hollywood experience", so any hint of real human misery, excreta-tipped booby traps and the like are sidelined in favour of more conventional, or more sanitised at least. Think Hueys roaring across the skies showering Napalm on the NVA, think Vespas with armed passengers unloading lead off the back as they roar past shocked victims, think huge piles of booby trapped logs raining down a hill onto a trenchful of hapless soldiers.
Even at this relatively early stage, the ideas that DI showed off are already looking uniformly impressive. How about mobile Landing Zone points that you can dig up and airlift via your chopper wherever you please? Or the ability to airlift tanks to their destination, which can still fire while in midair and crush their victims on landing? Or cruising upside down, barely feet away from the jungle canopy, in a Mig 21 like some psycho fighter pilot?
Come on baby, light my fire
What absolutely takes the piss - for me personally at least - as such a music spod, is EA's plan to license 20 plus 'Vietnam inspired' tracks from the late '60s era to use in the game. But rather than lamely pipe the music around randomly, players will be able to blast out an as yet unknown play list as they're flying around the maps in their Hueys. And it gets better. Other players within earshot will be able to hear the strains of "Light My Fire" or whatever (here's hoping) as the chopper rains Napalm down onto its fleeing victims. Speechless.
Those expecting a tunnel-based affair will be in for a surprise, however. Given the need to accommodate vehicle based combat, DI has instead created trench-based environments that "create a highly claustrophobic world", which is obviously still wide enough in parts for you to drive through it. Not always claustrophobic, then.
In the more leafy bits, though, it's a superbly realised environment with an undergrowth rendering system that does a splendid job of allowing players to go prone and remain largely hidden. Occasionally, DI kicks back and goes all Platoon on us with abandoned temples and the like. If you're keen fans of Vietnam movies, you can bet they’ve pinched certain bits of them, however obscure.
Apparently the maps are more varied than you might imagine, with the Ho-Chi Minh trails contrasting with the city streets of Hue. We didn’t get to see these first hand, but if they're anywhere near the standard of those knocked up for the demo, they’ll be a worthy contrast.
More bragging rights for PC owners
In terms of the number of maps and weapons in the final game, DI has yet to "lock down" how many it will be supporting, but revealed the game will be demoed via a free multiplayer map prior to its Spring 2004 release. 64 players will, again, be supported, but the game will be strictly PC only, so Xbox owners can stop crossing their fingers.
Despite some obvious compromises and typically flagrant rewriting of history, Battlefield Vietnam has enough potential to go straight into your most wanted list. In the meantime, get ready for another superb add on pack for Battlefield 1942, entitled The Secret Weapons Of World War II. We played it for ages; it’s out in September, it's ace, we'll tell you about it next week.