War is a subject that’s as fascinating as it is horrific. Hundreds of thousands of people coming together to kill hundreds of thousands of other based on the orders of a few dozen sounds so strange on paper, yet it’s also what settles the future of millions. It’s no wonder that such an event can influence entire generations whether they’ve seen combat or not. It’s those who haven’t set foot on the battlefield that I take interest with however. They’re the ones who typically create the art that reflects the experiences of the soldiers coming home from one of the most traumatizing times in their lives. Sometimes they manage to get it right and create a haunting look at the physical and mental turmoil caused by war.
Other times they make an NES game based on a movie to make a couple of bucks.
There was a huge boom of Vietnam based games after people got bored with the WWII setting brought about by games like ‘Medal of Honor’, ‘Call of Duty’, ‘Company of Heroes’, and ‘Day of Defeat’. I can only assume that people got bored with maps based on lush French countrysides, the industrial regions of Germany, and the tropical locations of the Pacific theater. Instead they wanted jungle, rice paddies, and depression (Americans didn’t particularly feel like heros during this war). In the era of first and third person shooters, this makes a twisted sort of sense. We got bored with one war, so we moved on. But then I remembered that ‘Platoon’ existed and I just HAD to take a trip down that memory lane.
HERE’S WHAT I REMEMBER:
I remember playing the shit out of ‘Platoon’ at my cousin’s house when I was younger, and yet I remember the movie with far more clarity than I remember the game. Keep in mind that I saw the movie once almost 20 years ago, so it doesn’t make much sense why I can’t recall more than a few moments from the game. Even now as I try to remember different stages, for some reason the picture in my mind morphs into ‘Operation Wolf’.
Let me try to paint a picture of what’s going through my head. First I picture a soldier in the jungle (no shit, right?). This soldier wanders along a path and can choose from a different path in a nonlinear fashion. It might be a maze. I remember that there was a path to another area, but I don’t remember if other paths led to other areas. Next I remember an airfield…I think? Maybe it’s a village? Or a POW camp? No wait, that’s ‘Operation Wolf’ again. After the…thing…I then remember doing it all over again. The wandering through the paths in the woods, the airfield/village/different video game, then once again it loops. I’m not sure if this game actually has looping stages or if this is just my mind slipping into a terrifying limbo.
Normally going into a game, I remember most of the details enough to build some expectations. This time, however, I have nothing but questions. Can you shoot? I don’t remember shooting anyone, but it’s Viet-fucking-nam, what else are you expected to do? Is the game in segments? Is that why I remember there being different parts, or is it the years of substance abuse? Is the game racist? I mean, there was a certain amount of quality control for the NES, but the 80s and 90s weren’t known for their tact when it came to different races in pop culture.
HOW DOES IT HOLD UP?
Though I don’t remember much about the game, I can definitively say that it’s terrible. It was most likely terrible then and it’s terrible now. I’d go so far as to say that it’s even worse today because I actually have memories of it now. What makes it so bad? Let me count the ways.
First, any game that’s not a fighter where ‘up’ is the jump button can go to hell. Compound this with the fact that the paths you need to take require you to press ‘up’ to proceed to the next screen. Anytime you try to do something and end up jumping twenty feet into the air like an asshole, it’s a shit control scheme. And yes, you shoot up twenty feet into the air, because apparently the laws of physics in Asian countries like Vietnam are the same as ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’.
And gods help you if you need to jump for anything because enemies spawn from the trees and they ALWAYS spawn next to you. Jumping over a trap? FUCK YOU! Falling man just hit you in the head! Did you just get back up? FUCK YOU AGAIN! Another suicidal Vietnamese man decided to fall on your back! Oh, and that trap that you were avoiding? FUCK YOU THRICE! Getting knocked down the second time triggered the trap and it KILLED YOU because it’s instant death!
You might think that you could just memorize the enemy placement and plan ahead, but nope. EVERYTHING is RNG. If an enemy is walking towards you and you don’t want to deal with them, just walk back a bit until the pixels are off screen and the game forgets anything was there. Beware though, an enemy might spawn from above or behind you, or even below you! Don’t duck to shoot though since you’ll miss. You’d better be standing because…reasons… or you could jump to the tops of the trees, hit another randomly spawned enemy, and fall on a randomly spawned trap. Sometimes you get lucky and the enemy and/or trap will spawn harmlessly in a tree, buying you precious seconds before you become annoyed again.
If you like maze style dungeons like the ones that were popular in the 80s, then you might get something out of ‘Platoon’. I watched a TAS video of this game after I did my tour and realized how much trial and error I managed to avoid. After navigating a jungle maze not knowing what to do, you had to collect supplies you didn’t know about to enter a tunnel maze you had no idea existed. Once you left that maze, you get an overhead action segment that’s repetitive and dull. At the end of the game you get a wonderful recreation of the scene where Willem Dafoe throws his arms in the air after being shot, left for dead as the helicopter meant to rescue him leaves.
And by “recreation” I mean a soldier raises his rifle in triumph. You know, because Vietnam was just a backstory for action heroes and not something that affected an entire generation.