There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as zipping through the air, flipping barrel rolls and hammering hot lead into airborne enemies as they try and retreat in fear. Unless you’re playing Kalypso’s Air Conflicts: Vietnam, that is…
Taking the role of Joe Thompson, a pilot for the US Air Force, you head off to battle in a war that saw Vietnam divided over communism. Joe is fresh to the fight, following in his brother’s footsteps, wanting to be just like him. The story is about the changes that Mr. Thompson undergoes as he progresses from rookie pilot to grizzled Nam veteran. It’s pretty much what you would expect from the subject matter and told via letters sent to home to document his tour. The voice acting that goes along with this has been slated elsewhere, but it seems to suit the era and fits perfectly with what actually went on in Vietnam circa 1965.
Gameplay consists of strapping into the seats of various aircraft, from jet fighters and bombers to choppers and support planes, all of which were actually utilised in the fight against the northern Vietnamese communists. This is where the problems begin.
On your first mission, you get to grips with the flight controls. How to maneuver, use your weaponry and using special features such as the bombing viewer. All of these things would be simple enough, if only it wasn’t for the very twitchy controls and the almost too tiny map space you have at hand. That would be acceptable if it was only contained to the beginning of the game, but unfortunately, it leaks into the full campaign.
Trying to get a bead on ground troops, AA guns and bases is a nightmare. I had to switch the dpi setting on my mouse down by a fraction so that my plane didn’t sway from left to right like a Glaswegian alcoholic with vertigo. Even then, pinpoint precision became more of a chore than simply aiming and firing. I understand that piloting is not an easy task, but Air Conflict: Vietnam was never meant to be a realistic flight simulator. It’s an arcade style air combat game and with the tag of arcade… It should be fun.
One mission has you taking out some anti-air guns so you can send in a support plane to defoliate an area. I found myself almost going into rage-quit as after obliterating everything on the ground and taking control of the chemical spreader, the AA guns had reappeared, tearing me to shreds as soon as I hit the yellow drop point. With the bad friendly AI and no chance to switch to an attack vehicle, I had to restart and try again, over and over until I figured out that I had missed some of the guns and began the mission all the way from the beginning again.
On the subject of air combat, that is actually quite a lot of fun. Swooping in behind an enemy to launch a missile up his exhaust and watch him spread into a firework display of ripped metal and blazing fire is still as good as most other games of this style. The communists are aggressive, smart and are often hard to get a lock on. They roll out of your reach, dodge gunfire and try and position themselves behind you. The only hindrance to the air-play is that you’ll quickly hit the red wall of a no-fly area, an immersion killer if ever I saw one.
Helicopters have slightly better controls, but not by much. You can jink, change altitude, fire air-to-ground missiles and even take control of the passenger mounted mini-gun for some earth churning mid-air murder. It’s just not as enjoyable as it sounds.
What I didn’t understand is why your AI controlled squadron mates don’t have any of the enemy’s skill. They tend to hang around at the start of the mission area, pulling loops and doing nothing in the way of offering fire support or distraction, making the whole game a one man show. They might as well be sitting on an aircraft carrier smoking and playing poker, leaving you to take out the entire Viet Cong on your lonesome.
The graphics are functional rather than beautiful, sparking back to 2005 more than bordering on a gap between generations. The aircraft are pretty enough but the landscapes, buildings and troop models are like something from the early PS2 era. I guess it doesn’t really matter since they all end up splattered across the paddy fields in a broken mess.
Sound is typical of what you would expect from a Vietnam game. Suitable engine noises, the rattle of gunfire and adequate sixties rock playing in the background, making the experience a little more tolerable. I didn’t hear anything of note though, a shame as you’d expect at least one Rolling Stones track to blare out while you lay burning, napalm waste to a civilian village by accident.
The single player campaign is playable, although not a lot of fun. With many other arcade style flight games around, this could easily be avoided all but from the most fanatical Vietnam war gamers. There are games of similar ilk from the 90’s that pull off the genre much better. Harsh, but sadly true.
The multiplayer was almost dead and what gameplay it did offer, was as infuriating as the campaign content due to the terrible controls. I can’t see it taking off as a huge hit for online play. If you like flight simulators, stay away. If you love arcade flying games, you may enjoy this a little bit more, although you’ll probably already have something in your collection that offers a lot more value for the $29.99 asking price.
Air Conflicts: Vietnam is available for download on Steam for PC, PSN and Xbox Live.