"Once the shock value wears off, you have a mediocre shooter on your hands, soldier"

Shellshock: Nam '67 had quite an interesting advertising campaign, and the marketing department probably had to get quite creative to distinguish it from the surge of Vietnam War games coming out at the time. The back of the box promises "Unnerving realism" and "Character growth", and it hopes to explore the "chaotic, atrocious and unconvential warfare of Vietnam". You'll soon learn that it fails to deliver on 2 of these 3 promises, and once the shock value wears off, you have a mediocre third person shooter.

Story:
It's 1967; just at the height of the Vietnam War. As one of 3 possible nameless fresh recruits, you're sent in country along with your friend, Psycho. You'll spend your time fighting VC and NVA, trying to take down a legendary VC leader nicknamed "King Cong". The story is an equal mishmash of just about every Vietnam War movie made in the '80s. Elements of the plot steal from "Apocalypse Now" and "Full Metal Jacket", while many of the characters seem to be ripped directly from "FMJ" or "Platoon" (I swear one of the characters is a dead-on recreation of Dafoe's role in "Platoon"). You've got your hard-ass sergeant, your incompetent lieutenant (who calls on air strike on his own squad), the psychotic one, the smart-ass, etc - basically every trope you can think of.

That's not the say the story isn't interesting - the developers have chosen to trivialize many parts of the war, painting a black and white depiction with American GIs saving the day while similarly delivering the message that the war was brutal and futile... make up your minds, guys. If there's one thing worth mentioning, it's that the story is told through pre-rendered cutscenes designed to resemble old news footage from the '60s, and it was a nice touch.

Graphics:
Even for its time, Shellshock was an ugly, ugly game. Character models look cobbled together and their animations feel forced and primitive. You'll be fighting the same 3 enemies for the entirety of the game, and kill hundreds of them. You'll probably snicker at the fact that just about every female in this game is well-endowed. The levels themselves are pretty large, and the jungle foliage is thick. Ruined cities and temples are appropriately eerie and ominous, and fighting in tunnels is especially claustrophobic. If there's anything to be said about the graphics,
the level design is great but everything else is fairly sub-par.

Sound:
Like any period game, Shellshock just has to have a licensed soundtrack, and have it it does. All of the songs were from 1967 or earlier, and include artists such as The Monkees, Roy Orbison, John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley. The voice acting is above average, but not noteworthy. The developers have chosen to have the enemy speak in accented, broken English, throwing boring taunts such as "Go home, GI" or "I will kill you!". Your character is a mute, so that's disappointing, but all of the other voice work isn't too bad, and the cliched dialogue is delivered with gusto. Weapons sound great, and nothing helps this game's atmosphere more than hearing bullets whizz by your head.

Gameplay:
Right away, you'll probably notice that Shellshock isn't at all realistic. The only claim to realism that it really has is that you can only carry 2-3 weapons at a time. Everything else is arcade fluff, but that doesn't hamper the fun too much. Every mission boils down to accomplishing a varied amount of objectives (variations of go to Y, blow X up, kill everyone at Z). The mission design is fairly cookie cutter. You'll usually be accompanied by a group of invincible squad mates who do a pretty decent job of obliterating everyone in sight. Theoretically, if you could get them to follow you all the time and would wait long enough, they'd probably do all the killing for you. As it is, they already take care of a significant chunk of the enemy, leaving you to do important stuff like flanking gunner positions or blowing up weapon caches.

You'll fight scores of VC/NVA throughout the campaign, with the last few missions having you face them about 50 to 1. They're fairly brainless, sometimes taking cover but usually just standing out in the open, taking potshots. They're not bad shots, so you don't want to stay in their sights for too long. However, should you take damage, you won't lose health immediately. Instead, Shellshock employs a mix of regenerating health and permanent health loss. When you start taking hits, you'll fill a "shock" meter. When this meter fills, your health drops, but if you take cover for a few moments, the shock meter will empty and no permanent health loss is suffered. Should you die, you'll probably have to replay a large chunk of the game - it's very stingy with checkpoints.

No war game would be complete without an authentic period arsenal. Staples such as the M60, M14, M79 and M16 are here, as well as the AK47, TT33, PPSH-41 RPG-7, etc. Most of the guns are easy to use and combat is usually both easy and fun. No matter what weapons you use, you shouldn't have too much trouble taking down enemies, and probably the most fun thing about this game is the ludicrous damage model. Just about any weapon will cause gratuitous limb loss, and it is very satisfying to toss a grenade and watch VC explode into tiny pieces. There are two major flaws, though: sniping and stealth combat. Sniping is quite a difficult feat to accomplish, since the scope bobs so much (yes, even with lying prone) that if you don't purchase some aim-steadying drugs (more on that later), you'll find it very difficult to land headshots. Next, the stealth combat is simply atrocious. Everything you do - even crawling ever so slowly, creeping up behind somebody - attracts everyone's attention, and it's much easier to accomplish stealth missions by killing everyone.

As you progress through missions, you'll earn your keep through "chits". You'll make a meager amount from completing objectives and killing enemies, but the main source of income comes from looting corpses for war trophies. These include flags, badges and intel documents which pay off big time. The money isn't really spent on anything useful. In between missions, you'll visit your base camp. There, you can buy a nifty flare gun, some drugs that will enhance your running speed or steady your aim (available only on the mission you buy it in, so you gotta keep buying them to use them again), naked pictures (with censoring on the nipples, of course) or sex with hookers (which boils down to watching a hut shake for 10 seconds). The base camp itself is a nice addition, letting you run around and talk to various characters, as well as try out various weapons at the gun range and finding what's best to take with you.

As mentioned before, the game promises "chaotic, atrocious and unconventional warfare". This boils down to watching gruesome cutscenes of innocents being slaughtered, or enemies being interrogated and shot in the face. Some parts of the game take inspiration from "Apocalypse Now" by having bodies hanging by the ropes or heads impaled on sticks, and nothing says classy like watching a civilian getting executed.

Summary:
Short of re-enacting My Lai, this game tries to be as offensive as it possibly can, but once it wears off there's not much else to the game. It's about 4-6 hours long and has 11 missions. If you can overlook its various flaws, you could probably have a decent time.
Pros:
+ Good story presentation
+ Decent gameplay, if dumb and derivative
+ More "Vietnam movie" than history (could be con, depending on your point of view)
Cons:
- Crappy sniping and stealth gameplay
- Idea of difficulty is to overwhelm you with enemies and be stingy with checkpoints
- Basically a ton of false advertising (just about everything on the back of the box is BS)


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/28/08

Game Release: ShellShock: Nam '67 (US, 09/14/04)


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