Developer 2015 is probably best known as the group that created the massively successful Medal of Honor: Allied Assault for Electronic Arts in early 2002. The Medal of Honor series has arguably not been the same since 2015 left the halls of EA behind. Their new game is Men of Valor, a name that seems pretty close to their previous game, although it is set in a different war.
Men of Valor easily takes the spot as the top Vietnam War-based game this year. There have been quite a few Vietnam FPS or 3rd person shooters to come out this year, but after playing and reviewing a bunch of them I can easily say that Men of Valor is the top one so far, but there are still some problems that rear their ugly head in this release. Let’s get down to semantics.
The graphics section is a tough one to score. Men of Valor gets high points for actually making me feel as if I am in the Vietnam jungle versus the sparse foliage of Shellshock: Nam ’67 or Conflict: Vietnam and having some nice looking vehicles in the game, but it gets low points for having a jumpy framerate for a lot of the game, both in cutscenes and the main game itself.
This game easily has top notch graphics as you move through the jungles and even while riding on a helicopter. You can easily hide yourself in the jungle both in the crouch and prone positions. There isn’t any animation in the trees and plants, but at least they are there and they give you the sense that you are in the jungles of Vietnam. There is also no pop-in that I have seen in the game. To offset the framerate hits that would probably occur in more open environments, 2015 has created a broad, but narrow area for you to move in toward your goal. To be honest, this is a close quarters type of combat, so the inability to move far and wide from your squad doesn’t necessarily hinder the game.
The bad part of the graphics section is that there is a jumpy framerate in this game. I noticed early on even during a movie that the game jumps a lot. Then I got into the game and noticed the framerate drop a lot when the rest of your squad is around you and when you’re moving through dense foliage. Also during combat the camera can jerk a bit and take you off the aimed shot you were going for.
In the end, the good outweighs the bad in this section. This game looks so good, it just would have been great if 2015 could have made a game with at least a semi-constant framerate going.
If there was one thing 2015 was really known for with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault it was the sounds of the game. It is obvious with Men of Valor that 2015 has taken great care in recreating the sounds of the weapons, vehicles and the general sound of the Vietnam jungle. Add to this the fact that the game is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and you’re in for an aural treat. When you go through the training mission your last stop is to set a smoke grenade for the airplanes to napalm. When the planes come in and light up the base the sound is simply excellent. Reminds me of listening to movies like Platoon and Apocalypse Now.
When you get into a large-scale battle with the VietCong it is amazing to hear as bullets fly by you and the enemy barking out orders to their friends. 2015 has done a wonderful job of bringing the sounds of war into your living room (or wherever you play) and this is easily the best part of this game.
Control in the game is good, but it seems as if 2015 hasn’t gotten past the general Medal of Honor control set transported onto the Xbox controls. In many ways, the control is done in by the framerate drops when you are in combat situations. While going through training you will learn how to do everything in the game. The most important ones are how to do aiming with the L trigger so you can zoom in somewhat on your attackers and how to bandage yourself up with the B button. With the aiming you’ll find it to be quite easy in the training mode, but once on the field you will find that the framerate is going to work against you getting a good aim at who you want to shoot.
The controls are of the standard FPS variety, but they are just not as easy to work with as games like Halo 2 or other hard-line FPS games are.
2015 does something special here in that you take the role of an African-American soldier named Dave Shepard, affectionately called “The Shepard” by his squadmates. Shepard loves to write home to his family about what is going on in Vietnam in-between missions. The letters are nice to hear as Shepard reads them, but in many cases the letters having nothing to do with what Shepard has or is about to do on the field. They are about more general terms and they tend to make me quite bored as it really isn’t advancing the story in any way.
Men of Valor is a squad-centric game, although you have no control over your squad since you are only a Private First Class. In close quarters combat your friendly AI can be extremely dumb and move in front of you shooting at a VietCong. Amazingly, it seems your friendly AI squadmates are invulnerable as I never saw anyone die outside of a scripted killing. Speaking of scripts, it is obvious that Men of Valor is a highly scripted game. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given how scripted Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was or the whole Medal of Honor series has been. Scripted events often take you out of the realm of realism, but in this game you are obviously in a foreign land where any enemy could pop out at any time and start shooting at you. However it would be nice to see some sort of randomness to the whole thing instead of a “hit this general area and things will happen” type of situation.
Men of Valor also falls short in the AI realm. Both your team and the enemy’s AI are not the smartest on the planet. I talked about the friendly AI moving in front of your fire. They also have the ability to just rush forward instead of taking cover when there are obviously a lot of VietCong already shooting at the squad. Then again, since they are invulnerable they really don’t have much to worry about, do they?
The enemy AI isn’t all that better. You can literally take them out if you stay far enough away and your squad doesn’t rush in to things. You can also be very close to them and they will miss on point blank shots. Now I can understand the VietCong were a very citizen-based army, but it shouldn’t be that hard to hit point blank when they are hitting me quite well from a ranged shot, you know? They will also often go right by you looking for enemies hidden in the forest. What I found most funny was one time I stood up and didn’t move and the VietCong walked not 2 feet in front of me and didn’t notice me.
The single-player campaign is certainly better than the other Vietnam games that have come out this year, but the loading times in-between levels is just unbearable. They take so long you could literally fall asleep while waiting for them to load. The game can take well over 15 hours to beat and the levels themselves are quite lengthy.
There are also multiplayer options, both via split-screen and Xbox Live. You can play with a friend cooperatively through the single-player mode on a single Xbox much like the recently released Halo 2. There are also several multiplayer options on Xbox Live for up to 12 people. I played a few games of this and it was a bit fun, but not nearly as fun as other Xbox Live games are, whether they be FPS games or games of another type.
As I said above, load times are unbearable on this game and that may turn off a lot of people. What stands out in this game is that it is a good, long campaign and the sound is just top notch. I’m going to doubt many would go through the campaign again given the framerate drops, but some people may find this game more intriguing for replay than I did.
I think the game will find a lot of legs in the multiplayer modes along with the fact you can play co-op with a friend on the same Xbox through the campaign mode. This game has one of the better multiplayer sections for a war game out there, although it may not be able to stand up to UbiSoft’s offerings from Tom Clancy’s world.