The last thing I expect to find in an arcade flight shooter is an immersive story campaign that targets my sense of ethics and morality. This is not to imply that it is impossible to successfully achieve this goal, but merely that there is little room for error in delivering the message. Air Conflicts: Vietnam struggles from the start to break this mould of arcade shooters. It avoids the oncoming fire of boredom for brief periods of gameplay but it never fails to veer entirely off course.
Air Conflicts: Vietnam’s six to eight hour-long campaign places you in the cockpit of numerous helicopters, fighter jets, and even B-52 bombers as you execute a range of missions based on real operations from the Vietnam War. Players embark on a tour of duty that follows USAF pilot Joe Thompson and attempts to appeal to our sense of ethos by interweaving a continued questioning of the purpose for the war itself.
Interspersed between clunky missions that follow the war’s timeline are brief monologues of family members reading letters to the game’s main pilot, Joe. These offer little more than corny dialogue in half-hearted attempts to make the game a political statement. It’s cheap and any competent player will see directly through it. A simplistic flight simulator is hardly the vessel to tackle the complex issues that arise when discussing the Vietnam War, and the game gains nothing from taking this approach. I can understand where the developers were coming from, but the execution never pulls off the right tactical maneuver.
Air Conflicts: Vietnam’s campaign suffers terrible losses towards its overall appeal thanks to the poorly handled narrative, but nosedives through severely disjointed gameplay. In fact, the game will often make you switch into a different vehicle and repeat similar actions after seemingly completing a mission. Did you shoot down those MiG fighters that arrived after you carpet bombed a base? Good. Now, go carpet bomb another base and maybe, just maybe, you might get to shoot down some more MiGs.
Every objective you are tasked with feels like a haphazardly compiled mess that lacks any sense of flow. This makes it a continued struggle for the game to remain fun as you constantly juggle back and forth between various aircraft.
Air Conflicts: Vietnam proves its merit during the dogfights that erupt in the skies of Vietnam when you control one of the game’s many jets. There is an extremely satisfying sensation that takes over after you survive an intense dogfight thousands of meters in the sky. It’s just too bad that the rest of the game doesn’t have that type of spark.
With a single undisclosed difficulty setting available for its single player campaign, the game’s largest problems arise from a lack of clear objectives. However, if this is a realistic portrayal of air combat in Vietnam it may actually do justice to leave players with an impossible objective that never defines precisely what you should be doing.
Design issues will also leave you flying helplessly as you search for the way to complete your objective as you take damage that manifests from the sheer terror of war. Your pilot screams, “Incoming fire!”, but you won’t find any bullet tracers or even enemies on the battlefield. Bugs are scattered throughout the title, and when combined with the obstructed guidance of mission objectives, it makes you question whether you should have dodged drafting the game altogether.
Air Conflicts: Vietnam does offer up a multiplayer mode in an attempt to expand its life. Two teams of four face off in the skies and battle it out in basic modes such as deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag. Unfortunately, the odds of finding an actual match to play are slim to none. I waited for three hours to set a game up, but I was never able to Join one. As a result, it seems that jumping into the multiplayer component will bring you face-to-face with a deserted aeronautic scrapyard where nothing is left to salvage.
There is, however, one saving grace that exists in the form of Instant Action mode. Jumping into this allows you to spawn an instant dogfight in the skies. It is satisfying to be able to get a quick fix of aerial combat but it will only hold your attention for so long before you are ready to move on to another experience.
Unfortunately, Air Conflicts: Vietnam fails to achieve its ultimate objective of creating an arcade flight shooter that conveys the basic idea that, “Wars are fundamentally wrong.” In spite of its amazing 60s soundtrack and engaging combat, the game ultimately crashes and burns in the blurred jungle landscape that is displayed through PS2-era graphics. As such, if you’re looking for a questionable war to fight, then Air Conflicts: Vietnam is prepped for takeoff.
This review is based off an Xbox 360 copy of the game that we were provided with.