The Air Conflicts series has developed an impressive following on current-generation consoles. A heavy push with the release of Air Conflicts: Secret Wars back in 2011 saw the videogame being propelled to the top of a genre with very little competition. The likes of Top Gun and the once dominant Ace Combat had dealt only with the arcade spectrum of flight simulation on modern hardware, leaving the door open for Air Conflicts to capitalise on an audience that wasn’t otherwise being serviced. That it did, and it did it so well that a sequel followed. Also we received; we arrive at Air Conflicts: Vietnam: a considerable change of pace for the franchise.
A new era means new vehicles to pilot, new weapons with which to take on your enemies and new lands to defend and attack. Air Conflicts: Vietnam makes good use of all of these assets throughout its extensive Campaign mode – itself divided into a number of shorter campaigns – as well as its other single-player gameplay modes. The story sees you enter the role of Joe Thompson, a young pilot in the US Navy fighting for the ideals of his country. The videogame tries to develop the character and build a relationship with the player through the action, but in reality it falls flat; the story of the overarching war would always be more interesting and as such resources would have been better applied in the analysis of political agenda rather than one fictitious man’s personal growth.
In terms of gameplay the campaign doesn’t fare much better. Duration is one thing but the mission structure rarely excites, resulting in more than a dozen hours of travelling towards your target, taking a shot and wondering when Air Conflicts: Vietnam is going to put something interesting in front of you. Aside from the occasional sidestep into rescue missions and aircraft carrier assaults, it simply refuses to build upon the foundations set in the tutorial missions; longer doesn’t always mean better.
Small maps, unclear objectives, a poor checkpoint system and enemies that literally pop into action from nowhere: Air Conflicts: Vietnam has its fair share of problems. The fact that its missions are far from inspiring isn’t helped by this, and the option to replay missions will only be utilised by the Achievement hunters and the foolhardy. The single-player option is Instant Battle, which allows you to customise map, vehicle and enemy numbers in a one-off battle. There is fun to be had here given a control system designed for tight air combat, but it still pales in comparison to previous Air Conflicts titles.
The multiplayer gameplay is essentially a variation of instant battle for up to eight players online. Deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag rulesets are available, playing exactly as tradition dictates, and are less than remarkable. Finding a match can be challenging, and when you do it’s highly unlikely that you’ll consider all the waiting around having been worthwhile.
The technical aspect of Air Conflicts: Vietnam is far from impressive also, failing to compete even with Xbox LIVE Arcade titles such as Dogfight 1942. Striving for realism simply hasn’t benefited Air Conflicts: Vietnam as, frankly, it can’t compete with bigger budget titles also attempting to recreate the same machines and landscapes. In a direct contrast to the visual quality, the soundtrack is actually one of the most impressive features of Air Conflicts: Vietnam, with music of the Vietnam War era (or modern songs that are intended to sound like they were recorded in the 1960s) playing as a keenly juxtaposed accompaniment to the action.
Air Conflicts: Vietnam is not the successor to Air Conflicts: Secret Wars and Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers that fans will be hoping for. The mission structure is badly paced, the visual quality is poor and the multiplayer is practically impossible to play. Air Conflicts: Secret Wars set a high bar for flight combat simulation on current-generation consoles and Air Conflicts: Vietnam – despite arriving two years later – doesn’t even come close to the comprehensively entertaining package of its predecessor. There is simply nothing about Air Conflicts: Vietnam that could convince Electronic Theatre to recommend it to any gamer; instead the suggestion would be to pick up any earlier title from the series for a fraction of the price.