Vietnam - a hellhole where life can be erased by one careless move.
Into the nightmare world of Oliver Stone's Oscar-winning film (see Film-makers' Vietnam Victory with this review) steps a unit of American soldiers, some afraid, some just plain crazy, but all unprepared for what they are to find.
In this multisection licensed version of the film, a unit of five must make its way through six sections of Vietnamese landscapes, along jungle paths, secret funnels and mazes, and survive skirmishes in a bunker and a foxhole.
Each soldier carries grenades and a rifle with limited ammunition as he battles his way past hidden snipers, enemy soldiers dropping from trees and foot patrols, trying to avoid concealed booby traps that fill the first section of jungle paths and the Vietnamese village. In this region, the unit must collect a box of explosives and look for a bridge, eventually blowing it up. The soldiers must then make their way to a village, and search huts for a torch and map before entering an underground tunnel network beneath the village.
Besides normal directional movement, each soldier can leap upward and duck down to avoid enemy fire, and enter and leave village huts. When he enters the huts, the walls become transparent, revealing the objects within.
For every enemy plugged by bullet or busted by grenade and object collected, points are awarded, These can be added to considerably by destroying the bridge and booby traps and completing the section with as many men as possible still left alive. Each soldier can take four hits before being listed as killed in action.
But the morale of the unit depends upon how many men have been shot and the number of innocent Vietnamese civilians hit in skirmishes. And if morale falls too low, the unit is lost. By controlling one unit member and then another, the player can maintain morale by avoiding the imminent death of a seriously wounded man in the squad; food and medical supplies can be found and picked up, and are best given to those most in need.
When the entry into the tunnel system beneath the village is found, one soldier can enter. He must be constantly aware of potential enemies, who can suddenly appear brandishing guns or knives from the clammy water through which he wades. When enemies appear, the soldier halts and the player's control switches to his gun, which is aimed using a cross-haired sight.
After finishing off an enemy soldier, the American GI can move on to scour the rest of the network. A map showing his location is on the right-hand side of the split screen, and following it can lead to rooms. Each room can be searched and any objects found there - such as the box of flares and compass necessary for the next section - examined.
But caution is essential - some interesting crates conceal booby traps.
The tunnels' exit leads into a large bunker, the next sector of the unit's mission - the American soldiers are resting here for the night when the enemy Vietcong attack. The unit fires flares high into the night sky, each burst revealing the enemy's positions.
But the light is only temporary and must be used to advantage by quickly positioning a rifle's cross hairs on the semihidden enemy and firing.
When the flare dies and darkness falls again, the enemies' position is only revealed by muzzle flash. And if members of the unit squander their flares and ammunition they become sitting ducks.
As the next day rises, the five GIs are caught in an aerial bombardment of napalm fire - from their own side. Safety must be reached as swiftly as possible. Using the previously recovered compass, unit members must avoid streams of bullets, mines and barbed wire, and take out enemy snipers, to make their way through long tracts of jungle. And the route to safety must be chosen with care: take too long, and all is lost.
The Platoon mission is now nearing its end, but a final stage remains. One of the unit, Sergeant Barnes, has maliciously allowed another Sergeant to be killed by the enemy - and now tries to eliminate potential witnesses by firing on the rest of group from a foxhole. The crazed NCO is well dug in, but the others need that foxhole if they are to survive a napalm assault only minutes away. Machine-gun fire is ineffective against the foxhole, so it must be stormed using grenades, Five direct hits dispose of Barnes and save the platoon.
Joysticks: Cursor, Kempston, Sinclair
Graphics: each stage has a tremendous atmosphere of its own, helped by intricately detailed backgrounds and an effective use of colour
Sound: there's a superb title tune on the 128K version, but the hip-hop in-game tune is inappropriate
'I thought Ocean could never capture the feel of the film - but the programmers have overcome the problems admirably. It's all too easy to regard Platoon as a shoot-'em-up and it is to some extent, but if you play with that approach you get nowhere - especially in the first section. Every aspect is superbly done - there's [no] weak stage that lets the others down, there are no dodgy graphics - and even the packaging is fantastic. Platoon is one of the greatest film tie-ins on any computer.'
PAUL ... 92%
'It's all too easy to dismiss Platoon as an overrated shoot-'em-up, but though difficulties early in the game can be very frustrating, given practice and sharp reactions Platoon starts to reveal its rewards. The opening jungle stage is littered with traps and hazards to eliminate the novice player, each stage provides a different time-consuming challenge. The graphics are mostly colourful and detailed, the only fault being slightly jerky scrolling. One of the cleverest graphical tricks is on the second stage, when you've reached the village: whenever the player enters a hut the walls disappear to show the contents of the peasant abode. It's simple but effective, And the graphics in the following tunnel stage are particularly impressive. Ocean's claim that the game, like the film, 'focuses on the tragedy of war' is a bit dubious - it's primarily concerned with success through killing. But Platoon is not to be missed.'
ROBIN ... 91%
'Platoon is well-detailed and highly addictive - but be warned that it's also extremely difficult. As you complete each stage the graphics get more impressive and the gameplay faster; the tunnel stage is the best, as guerillas armed with knives and machine guns lunge at you out of the swamp slime. The excitement improves stage by stage and this highly colourful and well-packaged game is almost faultless.'
NATHAN ... 95%
Forget that old saying, 'War is Hell'... War is actually a computer program, and as anybody who has ever forked out for a 'game-of-the-film' knows - the first casualty of licensing deals is innocence!
How many times has the poor, naive punter, wandering into the quartermaster's software store, volunteered for the big one, the blockbuster tie-in, only to discover that when he starts active manoeuvres with his Spectrum, the game bears absolutely no resemblance to the movie?
So here we are back in Big Muddy - I really must get the landlord to see to that drain - tackling the first and possibly best of Hollywood's encounters with the jungles and paddy fields of South East Asia - though how those Irishmen got there I'll never know.
Yes, Platoon (the game) turns you into just the sort of killing machine that Platoon (the movie) made you so queasy about. Not literally, of course - I refuse to accept that machine code corrupts - but by reducing the agony of Asia into an exercise in run and shoot, the game ignores the real meat of the story.
But enough of the moralising, because some of you won't give a rubber grenade for anything other than how well it plays. Well, even you blinkered hedonists are likely to be disappointed. Sticking closely to the basic plot, the program breaks down into six sections, requiring multi-load on 48K machines.
You kick off in the jungle, a maze of paths rather like Hampton Court with hostile attendants. Find the supply of explosives which has carelessly been lost, then make for the bridges and blow them up, shooting Charlie before he shoots you and watching out for trap door lairs.
Next it's into the village to search the huts for a torch and a map, but don't accept any offers of tea because the wily VC are hanging around to top you. Instead, it's into the tunnels for section three, a split screen extravaganza with underground map - but before you take the Bakerloo line, look out for more of those subterranean guerillas.
If you've maintained a high enough body count, you can now bunk off to the bunker. As the enemy attacks you'll need all your flair to launch flares and illuminate the landscape before blasting away. Don't dare miss though, because the return fire is lethal every time.
Morning, and more jungle as you get the two minute warning of a warm welcome - your chums in the USAF are about to napalm your surroundings. This is another case of choose the right route and run like mad, avoiding every possible peril so that you can reach section six - The (Samantha) Foxhole - Oo-err!
Here you'll encounter that sly fox Sergeant Barnes, foxing around and hurling everything that he's got at you. Instead of thanking him for his generosity, you have to lob five grenades into his hidey-hole, after which you're 'it' - and he's a pile of raspberry jam!
Long and involved, yes, but satisfactory - not really. Platoon depends on that old stand-by of linking together a number of standard games, from mazes to shoot 'em ups, to produce a superior sort of Beach Head. But the whole doesn't add up to the parts.
Sure it's tough, owing in part to the fact that it's not always clear what's going on. General Gwyn Hughes put this down to limited jungle visibility and surprise attacks, which were major elements in Vietnam, but I prefer the attribute clash-theory! On this showing though, War is Dull as well as Hell.
Competent is the word I'd use for Platoon, followed closely by disappointing. A bit more imagination and attention to what the film was really about, may have made it great. As it is, only die-hard hawks need enrol. I'm burning my draft card.
Ocean's first big launch of 1988 proves to be as good a game as they've done for some time; in shockingly bad taste, it has to be said, but a good game nonetheless.
Oliver Stone's film Platoon, just released on video, is a brutal, bloody, foul-mouthed production. However, while the film, for all its faults has an anti-war message, the game itself trivialises it to an appalling extent. Rather than depicting the dehumanising effect of war (pretty difficult though I must admit in 48K), the game is a straightforward shoot-'em-up, in which gooks (that's Vietnamese to you boy) exist only to be gunned down.
The game is rather like a 1988 version of Beachhead; there are six sub-games, none startlingly original in itself, each based loosely on an episode from the film. These load in three sections on the 48K machine, or all in one on the 128K.
Part One is a jungle maze in which your aim is to find a bundle of explosives. You can move in and out of the background, the graphics of which are suitably sultry. There's very good use of colour where it would have been easier to do the whole thing in mono. The character design is good too, with clean sprite masking and smooth animation. Enemy soldiers try to gun you down, running at you along the paths, popping from foxholes or dropping from the trees. You can shoot them, duck under their fire or sometimes leap over them. Booby traps are strategically placed in order to blow you to bits, and you'll soon get through several of the fifteen lives available to you; five platoon members, with three lives each.
You can throw grenades using the space bar, and you'll automatically pick up the food, ammunition and medical supplies which improve your status. Mainly, though, this first section is definitely one for mapping fiends. The toughest part is spotting the trip wires. I kept blundering into them happily, and wondering what was killing me.
After collecting the explosives and making your way to the bridge, Part Two is set in a village where you have to fight your way through the huts searching for a torch and a map, before crawling into a tunnel network. In Section Three, the right hand side of the screen turns into a map, while a crosshair appears in the graphic of the tunnel interior. Using this, you zap the knife-wielding soldiers who spring up in front of you while searching for the flares and compass you need for the next section. The control mode - move, shoot or search - changes automatically according to what's happening on the screen.
Back to the jungle for Section Five, possibly the best part of the game. Here, you have to make your way along jungle paths strewn with barbed wire and other obstacles, following the compass bearing which will bring you freedom. V.C. snipers and mines bar your way to the top of the screen, and there are many false turnings.
In the last section (which I admit I haven't yet reached) you have to blow the renegade Sergeant Barnes (he of the horrendously scarred face) out of his bunker by scoring five direct hits with grenades.
Six enjoyable mini-games then, linked together by a strong plotline, and common factors such as your decreasing ammunition, the strategy involved in switching control from wounded to healthy men, and the morale counter which marks the end of the game should it reach zero.
In the most ambitious bit of packaging design yet, the game comes in a large format box with a poster, a photo, an audio cassette (Smokey Robinson's Tracks of My Tears from the film soundtrack) and even a competition to win a copy of the video.
Not long ago people just a little older than the average SU reader were fighting and dying in VietNam. You might argue that the game is justified because it's based on a film, but would Ocean feel justified in producing an arcade game based on a film of the Manson killings or the Hungerford massacre? If they genuinely wanted to convey the horror of war, why not include the scene from the film where a guerilla is clubbed to death?
I liked the game; it's well-presented, neatly programmed and as the manual claims "packed with fun and excitement" - just like the VietNam war itself. I suppose. The first casualty of war may be innocence, but it seems the first casualty of marketing is good taste.
Author: Choice Software
Price: £9.95 cassette, £14.95 disc
Reviewer: Chris Jenkins
Ocean's rumble in the jungle.
Vietnam's grip on modern American cinema is hardly surprising, but UK software spin-offs are rather tougher to figure out. Ocean's earlier foray into South East Asian celluloid - the brainlessly violent Rambo - was no better than the original film deserved, but Platoon is a different kettle of fish. How can anyone cram a movie that centres round the struggle of good versus evil within the US Army into an arcade game?
As you might have guessed, Ocean haven't really tried to: what they've turned out instead is a multiload jungles-and-tunnels slugfest not a million miles away from Gryzor, with the Viet Cong obligingly standing in for those nasty aliens. As you work your way through the differing perspectives and control methods of the game's six stages, you're faced with search and destroy tasks based on sections of the film plot.
In the jungle maze of the first stage you have to find a box of explosives and dynamite a bridge, while fending off VCs and dodging their booby-traps. By ducking, jumping and firing you can avoid enemy bullets while hitting home with your own - if you've got sharp reflexes and good timing, that is. Jumping can also get you over tripwires and spider-hole snipers, but a hand grenade will get the job done here if you can spare one.
Once you've found and used the explosives it's on to a very brief stage two where, still in that flattened perspective, you have to search a VC-sympathetic village for vital equipment, namely a map of the tunnel complex under the village and a torch to explore it by. VC attackers are interspersed with innocent villagers, the former thoughtfully wearing battledress so as to stand out nicely. Shooting villagers carries stiff penalties so there's something of a "Hogan's Alley" side to the action here, but mostly it's a matter of learning where the equipment is and getting to it. Once you've found the map, torch and the trap door into the tunnel system, stages three and four load in.
As you explore the flooded tunnels searching for VC weapons caches, attackers spring from the water wielding knives. Survival depends on reflexes alone: quick, accurate shooting is essential if you want to come through alive. The soldier's-eye view here heightens the tension but, as in the bunker defence sequence of stage four, the action is little more than target shooting and careful use of ammo.
Stages five and six are the last to load, offering another jungle sequence followed by grenade throwing. The scenario here has you blasting your own (very nasty) sergeant out of a foxhole so you can shelter there, but as elsewhere in the game the moral problems this involves don't get any further than the instructions: it's all just action once you're playing.
Film tie-ins tend to be a pretty miserable breed, but despite some gameplay grumbles Platoon does hang together pretty well even if it misses the point somewhat. The lives structure is interesting - for much of the game you switch between five different men each with his own health level to maintain. This helps add depth to some hectic arcade-ish gameplay, while there is a real sense of the plot advancing. But the game does trivialise a serious subject, and you may find some aspects of it stick in the throat: the Viet Cong weren't Martians or robots to be shot out of hand, and it's disturbing that they should be treated as such. Who's next? The Contras? The French resistance?
Reviewer: Andy Milton
C64/128, £9.95cs, £14.95dk, Out Now
Spec, £9.95cs, £14.95dk, Out Now
Amstrad, £9.95cs, £14.95dk, Imminent
Predicted Interest Curve
1 min: 40/100
1 hour: 50/100
1 day: 50/100
1 week: 45/100
1 month: 30/100
1 year: 5/100
Spectrum, C64, Amstrad £2.99
The blockbuster film tie-in of 1987 blazes a trail of blood, sweat and violence onto the budget battleground, with the player taking the role of a raw recruit in Vietnam, desperately trying to escape both the oncoming Viet Cong and a barrage of Napalm from his own side.
The game is split into six levels, ranging from a romp through a maze of Vietnam jungle to a shoot-out with the enemy and a final blast though mine-infested wasteland. The player must use a number of gaming skills if he is to survive and escape.
Platoon is as good now as it was then, and with its cheaper price it cannot fail to shoot up the charts. It's addictive, has fantastically atmospheric graphics and sound throughout, and most of the sections could easily make it as a stand-alone games themselves. In short, a title which you'd be absolutely loopy to miss out on.
Spectrum 48/128 Cassette: £9.95, Diskette: £14.95
WAR IS WELL
The debut release of Platoon on the Commodore 64 earned it 92% in Issue Three of THE GAMES MACHINE, and now Choice Software delivers Ocean's Vietnam film licence on the Spectrum.
The five sections of Platoon pit the player, an American 'grunt' soldier against enemies on both sides: the communist Viet Cong and the crazed American Sergeant Barnes. The gameplay ranges from straightforward shooting to a demanding, mappable arcade adventure set in tunnels bored by the Viet Cong troops.
Choice Software's Spectrum Platoon team consists of S Pearce and D Lyttle; David Whittaker helped out with the music and sound effects. (Choice is also responsible for the Amstrad and 16-bit conversions.) 128K-Spectrum-owners get the entire game in one load, but 48K-owners have to endure three loads.
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