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Platoon Review

publisher: Strategy First
developer: Digital Reality
genre: Strategy

PIII-600, 256MB RAM, 500MB HDD, 32MB 3D accelerator
ESRB rating: T

release date: Nov 19, 02
» All About Platoon on ActionTrip

November 29, 2002
Zvezdan "GTS" Obradovic

The Vietnamese war was a frequent inspiration to movie directors who wanted to tell their own tale of this less glorious part of the American history. Some of these movies were utter crap, some were successful, and Oliver Stone's Platoon (made in 1986) is still considered to be the best film about this topic. The video-game market was less enthusiastic about this war, so that we only had a chance to see a couple of video games dealing with the Vietnamese conflict ever.

Whatever the case, the Hungarian based developer - Digital Reality and Strategy First decided to bring us a new tactical RTS that takes place from late 1965 to 1968 and presents some of the most tragic events of this war: the operations "Shiny Bayonet" and "Pershing", as well as the Pleiku campaign.

You assume the role of Martin Lionsdale who is just on his way to his first trial of fire. The story develops through the cinematics and Martin's thoughts and letters he sends to his wife, which adds a human touch to the whole game. The campaign has many versatile missions (all of which can also be played as single missions) and they range from destroying all enemy forces on the map and attacking a camp, to finding stolen rice, securing a convoy or evacuating soldiers. Each mission has several goals for you to fulfill, but most important of all, you mustn't let sergeant Lionsdale get killed (if he dies, the mission is over). The missions can get too hard at times and will sometimes require you to go through a pretty big map with only five or six men. Depending on the mission type, your platoon will include a medic, engineer, commando, or a sniper. All of these will be absolutely crucial at a certain point, so you better not lose any of them. The common infantry is the only unit type you need not worry about as you get new infantry at the beginning of each mission. You won't always have to kill everyone on the map in order to win the mission, it is even better to avoid such a scenario at times. Unit leaders will advance in combat and get new abilities like the ability to plant mines or summon air-strikes. Each unit has a specific weapon that will affect unit stamina and speed; for instance, your mortar and HMG guys will always be at the end of the line. The only two vehicles you can control are the M113 armored transporter and M48 Patton tank...

Platoon basically is a strategy, but some of its features as well as the lack of some other features that would typically be expected in a strategy game will severely influence gameplay. First, this is a strategy void of any building and resource management. On the other hand, you don't even have to take care of the weapons and ammo, as you will always have unlimited ammo, and the same weapons you had at the beginning of the mission. Having all this in mind, it is obvious that gameplay only comes down to going about and shooting anything that moves. The developers wanted to let the players focus on combat rather than micro-management, but they went a step too far. The only really good thing gameplay-wise is the fog of war which will prevent you from running rampant.

There is also one major thing that literally butchers gameplay; in Platoon, your soldiers will not respond to enemy fire even if the enemy is standing three feet behind them and firing. To make your men return fire, you first have to "tell them" to turn around. I am aware that they are unable to shoot if they cannot see the enemy, but wouldn't it be only normal to turn and see where the fire is coming from if somebody shoots at you?

I don't even remember the number of times when I had to micro manage my men so that they would face the enemy, and even when I did, I had to order each of them separately to lie down... and whilst I was doing that the enemy decimated my forces. Not to speak of the situations when the enemy attacks would come from several different points. After some time, all this becomes quite tedious and makes you want to stop playing Platoon - for good. And in order to make this decision even firmer, the developers decided to leave out the SAVE option. Yes, that's right. In order to save your position you have to complete a mission. I would therefore, recommend you to keep pausing the game, issuing orders, unpausing the game, and so on... which would make the game more of a turn-based strategy. Still, this in itself wouldn't be so bad (I could name a few examples of such successful hybrids) if the game had any sort of AI whatsoever. These brilliant features make this game a masochist's wet dream (though the developers promised a patch that would let you save the position in game). Once the Vietnamese soldiers spot you, they will stand and shoot at you until one of you gets killed. The enemy will tend to appear all of a sudden, and will always see you before you see him (which is acceptable as they are playing on their home grounds, but if this is supposed to represent a challenging AI routine I would advise the developers to think long and hard about how a believable AI should behave in a modern PC game), and thanks to the terrain characteristics, I had a lot of trouble figuring out where they are shooting from most of the time, a problem my moronic troops did not really give a damn about. The only display of relative intelligence came from the APC driver which chose to drive around rather than over his squadmates. Path-finding works fairly good, not that that is important thanks to other things I mentioned. Realistic damage model is not really one of the trumps of this game; for instance, if your platoon stumbles upon a mine, several of your soldiers will probably fall to the ground, and then, seconds later, get up as if nothing had happened. This doesn't really resemble a real-life situation, in which you would most probably get scattered over a reasonably large area. Speaking of which, the game also lacks blood. Completely. It is practically impossible to tell the difference between a lying and a dead soldier, as soldiers simply do not bleed in this game. Ommiting blood from a war game is plain silly. OK, maybe EA managed to pull it off in MoH: Allied Assault, but that doesn't mean that other war games should blindly follow their lead.

The interface is simple and informative, and makes all necessary options easy to access. I simply loved the idea to present the data of terrain configuration, and thus help you plan your approach route. The higher the terrain coefficient, the less exposed your men will be to enemy fire when going through it. The two basic things you have to take care of in combat are your soldiers' health and stamina. Health is preserved by avoiding enemy bullets, grenades and mines, and as for stamina, it will decrease the more your soldiers march or run. When your soldiers get tired of running they will automatically switch to walking, and if you tell them to rest for a short time, their stamina will come back. This will dictate your tempo of moving across the map and it also adds some realistic segments to the game.

The graphics are quite possibly the best aspect of this game (when you set the LOD on max). The high-quality 3D surroundings and the rich vegetation will instantaneously take you to the Vietnamese jungles. The animation is superb, and the game engine features beautiful dynamic shadows, and weather effects. The explosions are very effective thanks to the excellent particle effects, but unfortunately there is no damage model... an armored transporter that hits a mine will still look as good as new. The soldier models are varied and very good, and they also include the unavoidable black sergeant going "Sir, yes Sir". The camera can be rotated freely using the mouse and the WASD keys, but it is sometimes quite impossible to see a part of the terrain from a certain angle, which can in turn affect the outcome of a battle. The game is not a hardware hog, but the frame-rate can drop when there is a lot of action on screen. The game doesn't include a map editor.

The sound effects are slightly monotonous, but together with the graphics, they create the perfect Vietnamese ambient. The Vietnamese soldiers will speak... well whatever language they do speak there. The only thing that bothered me is that the soldiers keep repeating same boring phrases, which can get tedious and downright silly in certain situations. The music is very good and quite becoming.

For those of you who like to exterminate each other, the game features a multiplayer mode with four maps. For some bizarre reason, however, I simply couldn't start a server on my machine, so I cannot tell you more about it. Games like this are usually great in multiplayer, and I see no reason why this one shouldn't be.

What am I to conclude? This was an interesting idea, combined with versatile mission goals, good sound and graphics, and authentic atmosphere, but unfortunately also with a number of features that were done so lousy that they'll make you scream in anguish after spending just a couple of hours with this game. Platoon is not for the faint of heart, but for all the wrong reasons.


5.7   Okay

Authentic atmosphere, excellent graphics and animation, a practical interface with terrain characteristics;

Micro managing your soldiers is terribly tedious. There is no save option, and virtually no AI! The game could've used a more realistic damage model. Although the mission goals can be fairly versatile, the gameplay itself comes down to walking around and shooting everything that moves.



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