There was a brief time around the 2000s where there were a bunch of shooters based on historic events. Medal of Honor in 1999 kick started the craze of World War II-themed shooters, which lasted well into the late-2000s. During this time period, there were a lot of games based on conflicts new and old, most of them shoved off into the annals of obscurity.
During this brief period, there was also an unusual spike in Vietnam War games. Despite the Vietnam War being one of those pointless wars in retrospect, there were games that covered the conflict, usually in a sanitized safe “Americans vs. the Bad People” form. Basically, less like Apocalypse Now, more like The Green Berets.
There were a fair share of these games around that time. Stuff like Battlefield Vietnam, the Vietcong games, and Men of Valor. I’m gonna cover one of those Vietnam War games, and it’s by a developer that you wouldn’t expect have made a game like that, especially considering their legacy.
ShellShock: Nam ‘67 was one of the many Vietnam War-era games made during that brief period that kinda came and went. But it was one of the earliest games developed by Guerrilla Games, that Dutch studio that’s known for the Killzone series of games, and the critically acclaimed Horizon: Zero Dawn.
This was the only game released during that in-between phase in their career, after their brief Game Boy phase as Lost Boys Games, but before they were a cog in the PlayStation machine. In a sense, we’re going back to their humble beginnings with this one. I always like looking back at developers before they were well-known, and this one’s no exception.
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(Warning: Some plot spoilers follow.)
You play as a nameless soldier as they rise up the ranks from rookie to special forces, as you find “King Cong,” a general by the name of Ngo Diem who leads the Vietcong. There really isn’t much else to the plot, you’re dropped in parts of Vietnam, you kill Vietcong, you destroy a few sampans and tunnels, rinse and repeat. In this case, the set pieces are what makes the game interesting, rather than the characters.
Shellshock is a third-person shooter, which is unexpected considering Guerrilla’s pedigree for mostly making first-person shooters. Left click shoots, right click zooms in, Q to crouch, and there’s even leaning and diving to prone. You can hold a bunch of weapons, and you have a health bar that can be refilled by medkits. Shellshock does have a few tricks up its sleeve to make it stand out from its peers.
The Shellshock in the title isn’t just a clever name, it’s a game mechanic that involves your health. Repeatedly getting shot fills up the shellshock meter, which makes you more vulnerable to taking damage. This means running and gunning can be dangerous as they can take you down quickly if the shellshock meter is completely filled. It’s not really pointed out in the game too well, but I guess in the days before bloody screens and regenerating health, this works.
Shellshock has a rather clunky system for equipping weapons and picking up items, though. Pressing E will hover over items on the HUD, which you must then click left mouse button to actually pick up weapons or items. This also applies actions like climbing ladders, talking to NPCs, planting C4 bombs, and even defusing booby traps, complete with its own minigame.
In a sense, it reminds me of the clunky system of IO Interactive’s older Hitman games, where you’d have to fumble with controls to pick up or do certain objectives. For a game that’s meant to be action-packed like Shellshock is, it does seem annoying to have to stop and mess with the controls just to grab items or other weapons while in the midst of combat.
After a few levels, Our Hero is taken to a base camp to talk with other characters to shoot the shit and relax. There’s also a shopkeeper named Deuce that has items you can spend with chits that give you increased accuracy and infinite sprint, pinups of some of the ladies, and something called “R&R.”
I want to talk about the last part because it’s one of the more questionable parts of this game. Buying an R&R pass will give you access to another area where you can have sex with a random Vietnamese prostitute. While thankfully there’s no graphic depictions of said sexual conduct, it is rather off-putting considering the rest of the game’s content.
It doesn’t seem to do much to the player, it just feels superfluous, or maybe somebody at Guerrilla really loved that prostitute scene from Full Metal Jacket. I genuinely felt uncomfortable finding out that this exists in this game, and I’ve played a handful of games with rather unnecessary love-making scenes. I’m gonna move away from talking about the R&R for a bit to something lighter.
Also around the base camp is music, which lightens the mood a little. There’s a surprisingly large amount of licensed music for this game, stuff like Roy Orbison and the Small Faces. I felt this music wasn’t necessary considering it really only plays on the base camp, which you visit about 3-4 times in the whole game, and nowhere else.
On the bright side, at least the soundtrack is unique and fits the time period, there’s no “Ride of the Valkyries” or Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” here like there is in Every Other Vietnam War Story these days, so Shellshock: Nam ‘67 gets a gold star in that regard.
Our Hero goes through each mission with a squad of various characters, much like in rival series Call of Duty. Most of them have generic soldier names, but other more important characters are given nicknames that don’t really mean much and aren’t always explained.
With the exception of one or two missions, most of the game is handled with you fighting with a squad, though I ended up doing most of the combat myself, because my squadmates would take forever to get moving, or would just stand around while I roamed around aimlessly trying to figure out the next objective.
Most of the characters are fairly forgettable too, despite having a broad who’s-who of voice talent of the mid-2000s: Quinton Flynn, Josh Keaton, Dee Bradley Baker, Billy West, even Steve motherfuckin’ Blum voices a few important characters, including a Sgt. Ramirez.
Other than that, there really isn’t much else to say about Shellshock: Nam ‘67. It only took a few hours for me to beat it, and once I was done, I was okay with tossing it aside with the rest of my games. The game doesn’t have much in terms of replay value besides getting postcard pinups, and while there’s stats for how well you did, it doesn’t seem to do much in terms of replay value. The game doesn’t even have any multiplayer, which is somewhat of an anomaly considering online multiplayer was starting to be the in-thing by 2004.
When I played through Shellshock, I was getting a vibe from it that reminded me of another third-person shooter that also tried to show the horrors of war that was released several years later: Spec Ops: The Line. Being stuck in a warzone and seeing all this horrific imagery, complete with soldiers doing things without thinking them through, people torturing other soldiers, even cutscenes that feature mass graves and other horrific things.
Granted, Shellshock doesn’t get that deep and thought-provoking compared to Spec Ops: The Line and was released was back before games really started thinking about the consequences of player actions, so I might be giving this game a bit too much credit. On the other hand, it did make me hate a fair share of this game’s characters, including “Psycho” Kowalski, who not once, but twice kills a hostage to get intel. Thankfully he gets hit by a mortar and dies an explosive death late into the game, which I considered rather karmic.
Other than that, it’s a pretty forgettable game. Shellshock: Nam ‘67 is one of those games that existed in a sea of similar games released around that time, and pretty much got lost in the shuffle. I bought this a few years back, of which I covered in an old I Bought Stuff! Entry, and to be honest, I got my few bucks worth out of it.
It’s only available physically, as the licensed music is likely the reason it’s not available digitally anymore. But I wouldn’t say it’s really worth hunting down, even if you’re a fan of Guerrilla Games’ other work. Shellshock: Nam ‘67 is an interesting curiosity in a strange period when Vietnam War games were prevalent, but this is one of the few game that’s okay to skip.
Surprisingly, Eidos thought that the Shellshock franchise still had legs, and in 2009 released a sequel called Shellshock 2: Blood Trials, this time by developer Rebellion, makers of the Sniper Elite games and a bunch of other licensed junk that varies from “not completely terrible” to “how the hell did this get released?”. I haven’t played the sequel myself, but I’ve had friends who have played it say it’s a contender for one of the worst games of all time. Considering the developer’s pedigree, I believe them.
As for Guerrilla, Sony would give them a new lease on life and are still trucking today, with this just being one of the weird notable things in their game history. This does make me want to try out Killzone, though. Can’t be that bad, can it?