RISING STORM 2: VIETNAM Review
The depiction of the Vietnam War in media is rather analogous to fighting in the actual conflict itself, as works concerning the conflict tend to crop up in short, brilliant bursts, only to fade back into obscurity before the smoke can even settle. Starting a few years after the US officially pulled out, “Vietnam Movies” were in vogue. THE DEER HUNTER, APOCALYPSE NOW, PLATOON, and FULL METAL JACKET all released within a decade of each other. But since then, no film about the war has been produced that rivals the hubris of those genre pillars (sorry Mel, you shouldn’t have done THE PATRIOT and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST if you wanted us to remember WE WERE SOLDIERS.)
Gaming never really saw a proper Vietnam title until the early 2000s, when the market was suddenly flooded with them during the brief lull between the shooter genre’s obsessions with World War II and the War on Terror. CONFLICT: VIETNAM, MEN OF VALOR, SHELLSHOCK: NAM ‘67, and BATTLEFIELD: VIETNAM were all released within the same year, and just like the case with their film counterparts, there hasn’t been a significant interactive take on the conflict since. That being said, none of these Vietnam games left the footprint in gaming that Coppola or Stone’s magnum opuses did in cinema, owing largely to mediocrity in design. The lopsided, hot-and-cold nature of the conflict didn’t lend itself at all to the corridor shooter formats of the time, and like the Civil War or World War I, was written off as unadaptable.
In the tradition of its peers, RISING STORM 2: VIETNAM may very well be forgotten by gamers in short order, but coat me in napalm and pass me the lip balm if it isn’t one of the most absorbing online experiences I’ve played in years. Antimatter Games and Tripwire Interactive’s antithesis to BATTLEFIELD 1, which twists history to fit genre standards, RISING STORM 2 is unbalanced, unforgiving, and completely unapologetic in its adherence to authenticity. Despite the first person perspective, this is distinctly a war game as opposed to an action shooter, as close to the real thing as a video game can come without transitioning into a full-fledged simulator.
Well, as close as a video game can get anyway.
RISING STORM 2 drops teams of up to 32 players into the boots of either the US forces or their North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong enemies. Appropriately enough, the odds are distinctly stacked in the Americans’ favor in a straight up fight: their space age rifles outperform the North’s antiquated weapons and their air superiority grants them both devastating bombing runs as well as helicopters for transportation and fire support. The communists are hopelessly outgunned, but they have tricks of their own to hold their own. Northern troops generally carry less gear than GIs, and therefore make much less noise during movement, allowing them to ambush the invaders. They also have access to a variety of booby traps and tunnel networks that allow them to deny large swaths of ground to the Americans without necessarily having to defend it.
Needless to say, each army requires a totally different mindset in order to succeed, meaning the learning curve is double that of most other shooters. On top of that, your soldier in RISING STORM 2 handles with much more weight than in most AAA titles, so the run-and-gun killstreaks you see in the likes of Battlefield and Call of Duty are simply out of the question here. Most guns kill you outright, and wounds that don’t immediately end you need to be bandaged lest you bleed out. Short, controlled bursts are the only way to guarantee a hit, and you’ll quickly learn that your weapon needs to be propped against the ground or the ledge of a wall if you don’t want your aim to sway off target. Your screen will often turn black suddenly, only for the game to reveal that you’ve been shot in the head from over a hundred yards away by a sniper you had no chance of spotting. RISING STORM 2 does everything in its power to deglamorize war, and consequently, you will spend a long time learning the ropes, regardless of your FPS experience.
Ultimately, it’s teamwork and communication, not individual player skill, that wins the day in RISING STORM 2. Each faction is led by a commander, a player who sits in the back lines coordinating squad movements and off-map support. They give orders to squad leaders, who in turn provide the commander with coordinates that they can target with artillery and airstrikes. Squad leaders are the only characters capable of providing their squad members with midfield respawn points, so it’s up to the regular grunts to complete objectives while keeping their officers alive. To win RISING STORM 2’s battles, each cog in the team must move precisely how it is supposed to at the right exact time.
Using strategy in a multiplayer shooter isn’t exactly groundbreaking, though, so it’s the asymmetric nature of the Vietnam conflict that makes RISING STORM 2 stand out from the crowd. In addition to the aforementioned logistical divide between the two armies, each side also finds itself saddled with contradictory goals. The Americans are almost always on the offense, yet their respawn system, which requires living sergeants to spawn off of, requires a more conservative play style. Vietnamese forces can afford far more reckless maneuvers, but their vulnerability to American explosives and flame weapons makes holding static positions for them a nightmare. These limitations force each side to probe each other for weaknesses before committing to a decisive strike, leading to a tense game of cat-and-mouse where the balance of power is constantly shifting. It’s a daunting process that can go wrong in a multitude of ways, but when a plan is executed to perfection, there are few more gratifying sensations.
RISING STORM 2 isn’t without its problems. The official launch map selection is rather barren, and only three of the six maps for the larger game modes support vehicles. There is a squad-sized skirmish game mode, but RISING STORM 2’s strengths don’t shine in this smaller setting. And while both target verification and friendly fire are key features of the game, the cosmetic customization available for your avatar often makes it a little too hard to tell American and Vietnamese players apart. The heat of the South East Asian jungle would understandably make anyone want to take off their shirt, but it should still be pretty cut-and-dry to differentiate the world’s most well-funded fighting force from a militia of rice farmers. In the grand scheme of things, however, these gripes fail to detract from the driving tension of RISING STORM 2’s battles.
My main concern with RISING STORM 2 is its longevity. A multiplayer-only title, RISING STORM 2 will die if its player base leaves, a prospect that is far more realistic for a niche indie title of its caliber than the massive corporate juggernauts it shares the market with. But as long as the servers remain populated, this is a hot ticket for anyone looking for a break from the Battlefields and CODs of gaming. At $25, RISING STORM 2 is a steal, one that any shooter fan would be remiss to let pass.