Men of Valor Xbox Review

More so than any other medium, video games have the ability to let players experience something they would otherwise never be a part of. It can put them anywhere, and with Men of Valor, that's Vietnam. In a flood of wartime shooters, Valor stands out for its intense and thought provoking depiction of the war and the issues surrounding it. It's one of today's games that prove what a capable story telling device they are.

It's not about running in and shooting enemies, even though that is what the game entails. It's about evoking an emotional response, and trying, the best way they can, to put someone in a brutal, uncaring destination. It shows multiple sides, from the media, the protestors, the Vietcong, down to US soldiers who step over the lines of their authority as the enemy begs for their life. It's unflinching in a shower of blood and death, while the loading screens sport depressing quotes and statistics from the war.

It's a shame then that the actual game is lackluster. Any sense of believability, realism, and intensity is thrown away as enemy troops charge right in at your squad without firing, only to kneel in front of you to reload. The AI is abysmal, and while fellow soldiers do their part in the battle, it's against an enemy that's been programmed to be too stupid to survive. Their cover is rarely ever sufficient, and usually expose their heads for a clean shot.

The enemy is comprised of a few bland soldiers and villagers, and that doesn't change as the game goes on. You'll be firing on the same set the entire game, complete with blurry unconvincing textures. They're excellent marksman, able to detect anyone, even when perfectly camouflaged in grass. That kills the tension as players wade through forests and tall grass, and eliminates the need to slowly crawl across the ground to survive. These should be nerve-racking journeys, yet they're as generic as any other first-person shooter.

There are very few action set pieces. The game is content on keeping things simple, much unlike other games in this sub-genre. Very little here is overdone or unbelievable, and it's interesting how the developers have tried to pull away from the usual gaming clichés (especially with health and weapons) only to be forced into using them anyway. Combat brings forth racial slurs and strong language, adding to the immersion and realism. It moves away from heroic interpretations of action titles, always keeping the player in a group. There are no one man armies, nor are you in control of anyone. It's a refreshing change.

Actual licensed music from the era brings general calm, and as you're thrust into a combat situation, things change quickly. This is a unique way to shatter feelings of safety, though for as good as it is, the epic quality soundtrack just feels out of place. For all the attempts to recreate actual battles, the necessity for a Hollywood soundtrack during fights seems to go against everything the developers were striving to capture.

There's certainly enough merit to Men of Valor to make it worth playing. It seems to be constrained by the usual video game pitfalls, and while that works against it, it manages to pull off more than a typical Hollywood production ever could. There are those moments you truly feel involved, as tension mounts before you're spotted and you only have one chance to make the shot count. This is what the entire game should be, and sadly, it's not.

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