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An American is drafted by the military during the Vietnam War and is sent to a secret base near the tri-border of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. He's greeted by a soldier in a gas mask and injected with a mysterious vaccine. Body bags are strewn all over the base. The soldier tells the new arrival that a special ops team went into the jungles of Cambodia to recover a secret cargo known only as "White Knight." Only one member of the team survived, and he's gone mad. The new recruit is brought into a room and sees the survivor, a rabid shell of a man who's covered in blood and strapped to a bed. The recruit suddenly realizes why he was brought to the base - this survivor is his brother. The blood-soaked lunatic suddenly rips free of one of his bonds. The recruit steps forward, the brothers clasp hands, and there's a flash of light.
At this point, you should turn off Shellshock 2: Blood Trails and return it. It's all downhill after this mysterious opening scene. The first level of this first-person shooter begins right after this scene, with you still in the room where your brother was being held. Now your brother's gone and so is the soldier who accompanied you into the room in the first place. Wait, what the hell happened? You wander through a room or two and get jumped by a Viet Cong soldier, who you beat to death after an extended quick-time event. Apparently the VC attacked the base and your brother escaped. Rather than going through the trouble of making coherent cut scenes, the game just jumps forward in time a lot and hopes that the blob of story text from loading screens and your objectives screen will adequately fill you in.
Not knowing what the hell you're doing is a common occurrence in Shellshock 2. You spend most of the time wandering through jungle shooting VC or zombies (I'll explain later) until you find a boat or helicopter waiting for you. The pilot will say "Quick, climb aboard!" and you'll do so while wondering why the hell this vehicle is waiting out here in Bumblefuck, Cambodia for you. Before you can ask the pilot for an explanation, the vehicle will be blown up by an ambush and you'll run off into the jungle to find another helicopter or boat (which will then be destroyed in another ambush). There's many segments where you're just killing wave after wave of enemies (all spawning in one or two spots and taking the exact same route to you) with no idea whether you're supposed to be fleeing or if the game's going to abruptly open a door for you once you rack up another dozen kills.
A weak story can be overcome by strong gameplay but Shellshock 2 is a terrible shooter. I'm surprised there isn't a PS2 version of this game because that's what the visuals look like - a Playstation 2 game. Most of the maps are bathed in darkness but it can't mask the fact that the environments look like crap. The textures are bland and uninteresting and the copy-and-pasted structure of maps will make you think you're walking in circles. The characters look slightly better but their animation is as jerky as marionette dolls and there's a small number of different skins for each type of enemy so you'll get sick of looking at them quickly. Despite the fact that this game's visuals aren't close to the maximum capabilities of a PS3, Xbox 360, or newish PC, it still manages to drag in frame rate at times.
The visuals and sound are so bad that you barely know when you're in a fire fight. Explosions from rockets, fuel barrels, and grenades are simply puffs of black smoke and little trails of light. Gunfire sounds, one of those things that even the worst shooters manage not to fuck up, are bizarrely muted. A shot from an M-16 sounds like a door knock. Enemy gunfire will hit you with a soft "zip". You might not even realize that you're being shot if not for the flashes of white on the corner of your screen. Similarly, the only way you'll know a zombie is clawing you is that the screen shakes a little and there's blood splatter. Shooting them isn't all that satisfying, either - they'll either slump over, lose a poorly-rendered limb, or get their head blown off in an exaggerrated spray of raspberry jam.
Every little game mechanic produces a mixture of disappointment or frustration. Instead of picking up ammo and weapons when you walk over them, you're forced to find them on the ground and manually grab them. Reloading is unexpectedly tricky; sometimes you'll only load a single shell and you'll need to press the button again to fill up your weapon. When manning a machine gun to ward off advancing foes, the game won't tell you how hot the weapon is until you've overheated. In addition to the quick-time event melee encounters I mentioned earlier, you'll also run into booby traps set up by the VC such as spike pits that you must avoid with a timely button push. Every little decision made in the development of this game seems, well, wrong.
And yes, there's zombies. White Knight, like every other mysterious disease or super natural force in a video game, turns people into zombies. When you're not fighting VC, you'll be mowing down these infected. I did find them a little more fun to fight than the VC, if only because the game throws a lot of them at you and they actually come after you instead of sitting behind rocks taking potshots. They get old quick, though. The best the game can offer in terms of enemies are the three minibosses scattered throughout the game - masked dudes who dual-wield machetes and slowly pace after you until you plug him with fifty bullets (give or take). Mixing the supernatural and the Vietnam War is an interesting premise but the supernatural side of the story begins and ends with these half-assed zombies. There's no horror here to speak of; you regenerate health when you're not taking damage and even if you run out of ammo, you can spam your melee button and pummel several zombies in one swipe.
The only possible way I can see someone trying to defend this skidmark of a game is by saying, "Hey, it's only $40 - that's $20 cheaper than most new games!" I'm glad Eidos realizes this game's shit and isn't going to bilk you for the full $60 but frankly, you're not getting your money's worth no matter what you pay for this game. Even if it was free, it's certainly not worth the five or so hours it'll take you to blow through it. If you have the slightest inclination to play this game, please e-mail me and I will gladly provide you with a list of action games that are not only cheaper but leagues better than this game. If I see you holding this at Blockbuster or Gamestop, I will slap it out of your hand.
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Publisher: Eidos Interactive