“The whole era is really cool”. Bjorn Johnsson is talking about Vietnam. I'm thinking I don't agree – it was an era of misguided politics and death on an international scale – but then I look up and catch a glimpse of one of Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam's character models. He's an American Engineer, he's wearing a camo green t shirt, and has a playing card in the brim of his helmet. Yeah, this whole era is really cool.
The Vietnam war has been pored over by cinema but left near-untouched by games. DICE were one of the few developers to have set a game in the timeframe, their 2004-released Battlefield: Vietnam taking the core of Battlefield 1942 and adding a few decades and a lot of tress.
In truth, DICE have taken the same approach with this version of Vietnam. A bulky add-on rather than a new game, the pack comes with four new maps, as well as a locker's worth of new guns. Returning favourites like the Medic's M60 machine gun are joined by era-specific weapons, as well as some cribbed from the Second World War. You might find yourself using a 1940s-made Soviet PPSh machine gun – exactly as the tech-strapped Viet Cong soldiers would've done.
Some of the fancier items from Bad Company 2 have been scaled back to make space for the new back-story. C4 has become a reassuring bundle of TNT, and the assault class's underslung grenade lancher has turned into a seperate armament that fires in much the same manner. Beyond that, there's little difference between game mechanics on paper.
Get into a game though, and the variation is apparent. The map I played had few of the open spaces Bad Company 2's desert maps presented. Trees and bushes interrupted views: I started as a sniper-rifle toting recon class and had to keep changing my position and re-sighting my rifle as I lost targets in the foliage. The Vietnam war was primarily a jungle conflict, so it makes sense that I did most of my conflicting in the jungle. Tearing through leaves, I regularly found myself staring straight at an enemy as confused to see me as I was he. The resulting skittering burst of fire was shot from the hip in blind panic – a convincing approximation of the actual experience, if Hollywood's vision of events is to be believed.
More time in Vietnam's Vietnam though, and I started to rack up Battlefield moments – little vignettes of unconscious skill or accidental luck that get your friends to shout “shit yeah!” down the squad chat channel. Playing a Rush game-mode, defending one of the round's final objectives as a medic, I took cover in a wooden pillbox. In front of me were my colleagues, training their weapons down the hill as I hurled medkits at their toes. I turned around for a second, squeezed off a few rounds from my M60 before the dull thuds of three explosions made me flip round. My entire squad and more lay dead on the hill we were defending, popped by a trio of grenades. But I was alive, and I had a hypodermic needle full of life elixir. I ran from my hole and began jabbing frantically. The assault was on, the grenades the precursor to the enemy team's push, but I was made of magic, ducking bullets as I pushed my syringe into every friendly corpse I could find.
We managed to hold them off for a few more minutes, their assault withering from every angle. Vietnam's maps have a sense of verticality lacking in most of BFBC2's vanilla maps. They feel like jungle scarred by war, and have ridges and gullies in which to attack, defend, and die.
Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam is a tweaked BFBC2. But like Bjorn said: “it's just cooler.” See for yourself below.