Available : Nov. 15, 2002.

Platoon © Strategy First
Preview by Dennis Sloutsky

This week we were lucky enough to receive a beta copy of Platoon from Strategy First. In case you don't know what the fuss is all about, Platoon is a tactical 3D real time strategy game developed by Digital Reality, the guys behind Imperium Galactica series, and based on MGM license of a movie with the same name. And just in case you've been living under some large rock for the last 15 years or so and don't know what Platoon the movie is, it's a critically acclaimed (and actually my favorite), gritty, realistic and shocking war movie about the Vietnam war made by Oliver Stone. Just like the movie the game follows one main character's story inside the hell that was called Vietnam war, his rise to the top in the chain of command and the daily struggle of him and his men to survive. There's a nicely done story behind the game, but I won't give it out just yet.

Platoon has a very realistic feeling about it - and there are a lot of reasons for that. For one thing, the game's 3D surroundings are just like in the movie; the nature looks wild and beautiful, the jungle forests look dense and virgin. As your squads move through the jungles, very realistically recreated by the way, the field of sight ahead of you is only 13 to 18 meters. Your soldiers might walk through them and not notice that there's a "gook" 5 feet away from them. The game has coverage bonuses (just like in the Close Combat series), so setting an ambush in the jungle is definitely preferred over camping in the open, which the VCs skillfully use. One thing that you'll realize right after the game's start is that an individual soldier's life isn't worth much, as it's always easy to get into an ambush and get killed in a matter of a few seconds (depending on the difficulty you play at, of course), and the only way to master this game is learn to use coverage bonuses for your advantage, preferring jungles over bushes and bushes over rice fields. You will also learn that while lying prone on the ground you have a much higher chance to hit the enemy and escape his bullets, as well as a lesser chance to be detected by him than while standing up, and that crawling instead of walking will help avoid early detection. Stealth is especially important, since at certain points you can sneak up on the VCs from behind, while they actually wait for you to pass on the road in front of them. The NVA/VC forces themselves are usually very smart, choosing an excellent cover and waiting patiently for you to get into their line of sight and get you somewhat close to them, and only then start shooting - at times they will even pursue you if you're running away and they're confident there are more of them. At times you won't even see where they're shooting from, since they're lying prone in the jungle while your soldiers serve as target practice for them standing or moving in the open.

The weapons used in the game are authentic: the Americans use M14 and M16 rifles, M60 heavy machine guns, RPGs, grenades, claymores and more. There are some Sherman tanks in there in the later missions, and even air and artillery strikes that you can call for. The NVA on the other side have access to handguns, AK 47 rifles, RPGs and mines, as well as bunkers and more. The NVA also have the numerous superiority at all times. The units that you might command in the game include tanks, riflemen, machine gunners, snipers, grenadiers and medics - all corresponding to the real units that were used in the war. Your soldiers have a stamina stat which decreases down to 0 while your units move, and when it gets there they can't run anymore and move slower than usual, which makes the game even more realistic. There's also an option to pause the game at all times and give your soldiers new orders amidst the heat of battle.

The game is fully 3D, Shogun or Medieval style. The camera controls are used by pressing control and right mouse button to span camera around and zoom in or out (the mouse wheel can also be used for zooming though) and by pressing the control and left mouse button to change the camera angle. The environments like I've mentioned it before are very realistic - Digital Reality has analyzed thousands of actual photos from Vietnam in order to recreate them. And because of that, some of the missions correspond to real battles or events that took place in the Vietnam war, operation Shiny Bayonet might be a good example of one. Missions are very varied - while some consist of routine patrolling and eliminating all resistance type of thing, there are others where you have to take out a bypassing armored division or clear out some bunkers, or even saving a POW. The game maps are huge, they vary anywhere from 60 to 250 squared kilometers. Add to this the fact that NVA soldiers might be hiding under every tree so you'd have to proceed carefully in order not to get your team annihilated in the first few minutes of the game and that your soldiers move at a real-life speed, and you might get an idea of how long it might take to complete one mission.

A real treat in the game is the music: if you've seen the movie you'd know that the music was very good and played a huge part of creating its atmosphere... Well, here Platoon definitely lives up to its MGM license. The music is really awesome; very well composed and is using traditional Vietnamese instruments. It's also dynamic, changing according to the situation you're in. It manages to create a great suspense atmosphere, just like something you'd expect while moving in jungles and expecting to see an enemy any minute - or the enemy to see you! The game sounds are also nicely done, with AKs actually sounding like AKs, and M16s like M16s (Well, even though I've never served the army, the countless hours spent playing Counter Strike must be taking their toll on me).

So how does Platoon the game fare comparing to the movie you might ask? I would say very well. Even in its current beta stage I can honestly tell you that this is a game that I've really enjoyed playing (and will go play for some more after posting this preview). Stay tuned for a review of the game that should appear on our site as soon as Platoon hits stores. In the meantime you can read the interview that we've conducted with the game's producer a few days ago, check out the game's screenshots which include some brand new screens taken from the game by yours truly and see its official trailer.