Shock and Awful
When the first Shellshock was released for the last generation of consoles it didn’t make much of a splash. Despite being based on the Vietnam War, utilizing a third-person perspective, and perpetually trying to showcase the horrors of war, it never managed to set itself apart from the rest of the extremely crowded war-based shooter genre. It’s been over four years now and Eidos has given the series another chance, this time with a fairly strange and absurd premise that desperately screams out for gamers’ attentions.
Shellshock 2: Blood Trails is the answer to the question that no one was asking. What if there were zombies in the Vietnam War? While this may sound like it has the potential to make for an interesting game, Blood Trails definitely isn’t it. This is perhaps one of the few documented cases in history when the addition of zombies fails to inherently make something more interesting.
You will play through the game as Nate Walker, a soldier sent into Vietnam to recover a mysterious cargo known as Whiteknight and to investigate the disappearance of the last team that attempted to achieve this same goal. In the game’s opening cinematic players are introduced to Cal, Nate’s brother, who was previously a part of this now missing team. He is chained to a table, screaming, and appears to have become a mindlessly violent zombie. Of course, Cal manages to break free from his bondage and escape from his captors before Nate can find out what happened, leaving no alternative but for players to chase after him for the remainder of the game.
This terribly uninspired story unfolds itself throughout the game’s plethora of randomly incomprehensible cutscenes. Some of the game’s cinematics will make sense, picking up where the previous level left off, explaining what is going on, and then leading you into the next level. However, there are others that seemingly defy logic, as well as challenge the player to make up their own versions of what has transpired.
One example in particular has Nate onboard a boat with four other characters, three are normal human beings and one is an “infected.” Inevitably, the infected character turns into a zombie and attacks the other passengers, taking one of them into the water. This was how the cinema ended. The next level begins with the remaining two characters running across an overhead rope bridge, with you standing on the shore next to a flaming, half-sunken boat. Is this the same boat from the cinema? How did it catch on fire? Why are you still standing next to its useless husk when your companions have clearly gone on without you? Based on the game’s clever dialogue and interesting narrative (read sarcasm), I suppose the story is probably best left to the player’s imagination anyway.
Making matters worse, the transition between levels is not only frequently confusing and/or disorienting from a story standpoint, they also serve to impede the player. When playing Shellshock 2, players are able to carry up to four weapons at a time. These include a pistol, a larger gun (usually a shotgun or some sort of rifle), a melee weapon, and grenades. While there isn’t a huge amount of variety as far as weapons go in the game, some are definitely more useful than others. Because of this, when you get a weapon that suits you and works well, you naturally want to hang onto it. Unfortunately, every time a level ends your weapons are taken away from you, even if there is absolutely no gap in time according to the linking cinematics. This becomes very frustrating when you go to pull out your trusty machete and realize that you are holding a tiny combat knife instead.
Weapons continue to cause problems throughout the game, not just with their unexpected disappearances but with virtually every aspect of their existence. Players cannot simply walk over similar guns or ammunition and hope to collect it. Instead, you’ll need to look directly at a weapon and press a button to pick it up. Things can get even more confusing if you aren’t keeping strict tabs on which guns are currently in your inventory. If you pick up a dissimilar weapon, you’ll instantly drop whichever one you were already carrying. Since the game doesn’t clearly note which guns you are carrying or what specific gun you are trying to pick up, attempting to gain ammunition in the heat of battle frequently devolves into what feels like a firearm-based version of hot potato played with the ground.
Even with fully loaded guns in hand, the actual act of dispatching enemies doesn’t work as well as it should in a first-person shooter. Using the game’s iron sights feels incredibly sluggish and rarely seems accurate. Firing at nearby enemies is often frustrating due to the combination of the slowness of the controls, frequently respawning enemies, the quick and erratic movements of attacking zombies, and the sheer amount of damage necessary to take them out without scoring a hard to come by headshot. Even at a distance there are some serious issues with poor hit detection that can keep what seem like respectable shots from finding their marks.
Aside from the sloppy gunplay, the only other action you can expect from this game comes in the form of quick time events (QTE). These will actually occur quite often, usually instigated by hidden traps or enemies that are unavoidable for the most part. If the QTE is caused by a trap, you’ll likely need only to quickly press one specific button in order to dodge an otherwise fatal blow. However, when fighting off an enemy you’ll need to swiftly and successfully press a series of buttons in order to survive (nine when playing on normal difficulty).
While the game’s level design is the very definition of linear and it does often seem to place checkpoints directly preceding these QTEs, it certainly isn’t always a guarantee. Successfully making your way through large firefights just to get killed by a swinging log covered in spikes because you’ve pressed the wrong button, or taken too long to press the correct one, can get quite maddening. This is especially true when you are forced to play back through the same firefight multiple times just to get another shot at it.
If you are looking for a shooter, you would be much better served picking up one from the multitude of better shooters that are already available. There are plenty of better options out there, no matter what your system of choice may be. With its iffy gunplay, often frustrating gameplay, linear level design, short completion time (four to six hours max), clichéd and uninteresting story, and complete lack of multiplayer, only the most desperate of players should attempt to squeeze any enjoyment out of this lemon. While I would’ve loved to have played a great survival horror/ shooter based around the Vietnam War, Shellshock 2 simply felt like it hadn’t quite fully ripened yet.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
While the environments and characters don’t look terrible, they aren’t amazing either. However, you will see the same zombie and Vietcong soldier character models reused more times than you’ll care to count. 1.7 Control
Aiming your gun is sluggish at best, requiring a button press to pick up ammo is obnoxious, and having your weapons automatically switch when ammo has been picked up is infuriating. 2.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Although much of the game’s dialogue was poorly delivered, some decent ambient sounds and classic Vietnam era tunes help to keep your ears happy. 1.6 Play Value
Shellshock 2 is incredibly short, largely unsatisfying, and even painful to play at times. 1.9 Overall Rating – Avoid
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.