Air Conflicts: Vietnam Ultimate Edition (PS4)
The Vietnam war was a traumatic and contentious period of American (and obviously also Vietnamese) history. Air Conlficts Vietnam attempts to portray this war in an even-handed manner, with cut scenes in between the missions showing American pilots longing for home and questioning the morality of their actions. Meanwhile, this is also one of the first games about the war that I’ve ever played that has given voice to combatants from the opposing North Vietnamese side of the war. While aspects of the presentation are somewhat progressive though, Air Conflicts Vietnam as a whole is a disappointment, with a thin story, basic gameplay and comically ugly, last-gen visuals.
From the start you’ll have a choice between two different campaigns in the singleplayer portion. The newest campaign of the two is exclusive to this new PS4 Ultimate Edition. In this campaign you explore the experiences of an American pilot as well as a North Vietnamese one as they reminisce between missions. This method of framing the story – as two old veterans coming together and explaining how a battle between them played out from their own points of view – is kind of unique and quite interesting. The method of storytelling is basic though, with long monologues delivered between missions by monotone actors, whose performances straddle the line between believably mundane and outright boring.
The storytelling and mission design is basic when the action begins too, with your objectives never deviating from: fly here – shoot this – bomb this – fly here – fly there – bomb that. The missions are just a disjointed series of tasks, and there’s never any sense of climax or resolution. When you finish the last objective, you are immediately taken to a static screen with your score, with barely a break in the music or any other indication that your mission is complete.
When you start your first mission you’ll immediately be assaulted with the ugliness of the game. Playing on PS4, I was shocked to see how much worse this looked than other flight sims like War Thunder. Indeed, it looks far worse than almost any recent flying game I can remember, with ugly, basic ground textures, weak particle effects and (the ultimate crime in any flight combat sim) poorly modeled planes. During the vehicle select screen each aircraft should be tantalizing and appealing, but I was often left cycling through to the end of the list and back to the start looking for the least unappealing plane or chopper.
The levels themselves at least show some variety, but there’s a lot of foliage that looks…. a bit off. The jungle just isn’t well portrayed in the game, and all the ground troops, vehicles and houses look like tiny toy models.
While all of this sounds pretty damning, the truth is I did have some fun with Air Conflicts Vietnam. Switching between the choppers and planes is refreshing, as the campaign does a good job of moving you between them when either one gets boring. Just when the slow, deliberate pace of the choppers begins to grate, it sticks you in one of the slippery fighters for a while, or even in a big gliding bomber. The soundtrack is also full of classic rock from the period, although it isn’t really integrated with the action very well making some serious missions seem more lighthearted and fun than they should be.
There’s also a clever gameplay feature where you can switch between different aircraft in real time during a mission. You might have four attack choppers and a troop carrier, and you will use the attack choppers to clear the ground forces then have to maneuver the troop carrier to land and drop its payload. Sadly, when you’re not actually piloting one of these aircraft it doesn’t really take part in the mission any more. You can’t count on the AI to complete any tasks, and even if your health is low, switching away from them will stop the enemy attacking them. Of course its also possible to switch into an aircraft that’s in an area hot with enemy activity, and suddenly you will feel every enemy turn to notice you and fire all at once.
And while this clever little idea doesn’t exactly work in practice, the actual combat is also a bit too loosey goosey. The fighter planes are very slidey but also curiously slow as they glide over the landscape with an other-worldy, ghost-like feel. It’s almost as if time has stopped for the little ground people looking up at your ugly fighter plane.
The choppers meanwhile are heavy and unwieldy, and the only reason that flying them isn’t insanely frustrating is that they have a kind of auto lock-on targeting that is mostly very effective when it works. Sometimes you need to rock back and forth a lot to get the targetting to understand what you want to shoot at, but the chopper missions are always quite easy anyway, as you can absorb a lot of damage and your health regenerates between objectives.
If there’s any real fun to be found its in the dogfighting with the jet fighters. The looseness means you can swing around fast, but your enemies can too, so each engagement is just tight circles. Eventually you’ll get them in your sights and the generous lock-on for your cannons and missiles will make short work of them, albeit without any real visual reward. Lock ons have no urgency and explosions are weedy. Multiplayer meanwhile is basic but functional, with very few people online to test your skills against.
And the truth is there’s unlikely to ever be many people online to play against. Because War Thunder. A game that looks much better and has a much better arcade flight model AND a huge and thriving community of real pilots to play against.
Air Conflicts: Vietnam is a game that just can’t justify its own existence. It’s got a few clever ideas, but it doesn’t have the scope or budget to threaten any of the amazing flight sims you could play right now for far, far less money. It also ranks as visually one of the poorest looking games on the new consoles and one of the least ambitious ports we’ve seen so far. The sad truth is that I wouldn’t play it if it was free.
1 misjudged campaign that made many people unhappy out of 5Air Conflicts: Vietnam Ultimate Edition (PS4),