When you know next to nothing about a game prior to it arriving in the post, you tend to go into it expecting the worst. It's hard not to wonder why said game hasn't received the usual pre-release press tour and why only a handful of screen shots, and even less video footage, have been released. The latest game to fall into this category is Eidos and Rebellion's Shellshock 2: Blood Trails, a first-person shooter sequel to the third-person shooter made by Killzone dev Guerrilla Games for PS2 and Xbox.
That game wasn't exactly brilliant, but it's often easy to get some sort of enjoyment from an FPS, unless that FPS is Turning Point. Sadly for Shellshock 2, while it's better than the aforementioned alternate reality WW2 FPS, it's only better in the way that we imagine a broken finger is better than a broken hand. You don't really want either. There aren't that many shooters set in Vietnam, so we had hoped for an at least mildly entertaining blast. What we received is a game with wonky controls, terribly bland level design, visuals only just about what you'd expect on the PS2, a complete lack of combat excitement and zombies. We usually love zombies, so the fact that we've pointed them out to be a negative here should speak volumes.
With only a small amount of explanation as to what exactly is going on, the plot, which involves the playable character and his brother, is pretty hard to get involved in. Everything seems quite Jacob's Ladder, where the soldiers become killing machines as a result of a drug. In Shellshock 2 the soldiers seem able to withstand more bullets than in the psychological thriller, and are nearly always covered in blood. While the very early levels see you fighting purely against the Vietnamese, it's not long before the church you're defending is engulfed by these zombie soldiers and from then on it's headshots all the way.
After an opening level that is dull in the extreme, in terms of lighting, location and what goes on, things do improve, but not to the degree necessary for this to be anything near recommendable. One of the biggest problems is how sniper-like the enemies are. You'll enter a new location and instantly be bombarded with fire from what we assume to be laser target equipped enemies. Trying to shoot them is an exercise in frustration as you have to fight against the imprecise controls and the distance these enemies often are from your location.
What we found to be the best option is to run into the open to get their attention, then retreat to somewhere near the start of the map, take cover and then pop out to take them out one at a time. This was a tactic that did the job against the less than smart normal soldiers, but the zombies proved to be frustrating for other reasons. These guys charge at you and don't let you get away, and there are times when there are too many for the inadequate controls to take. Even blasting them from close range with a shotgun isn't enough to down them in one unless it's a headshot. So, when you get surrounded it's essentially game over.
There are other things that come across as bizarre too. Weapons from downed enemies are sprawled across the floor, but you can't just pick up ammo by walking over them - you need to manually choose to pick it all up. It's a minor issue on its own, but do it over and over again over the course of the ten levels and it becomes hugely annoying. Even what we believe to be the most entertaining level in the game was blotted by a boss of sorts that defied sense. This seemingly normal zombie enemy, save for a bag over his head, was able to take endless shotgun rounds to the head until finally falling. With no on-screen indication of how injured he was we just kept blindly shooting him in the hope he'd eventually go down.
There's little to commend about the presentation. The water's nice, but for the most part you'll be trekking through low-poly areas that appear to be textured by assets made for the last generation of consoles. The frame rate doesn't even hold steady, which, given the lack of anything exciting going on is shocking. Some of the voice work isn't bad and the soundtrack is perfectly adequate, but on the whole it's hard to believe a developer with such a strong back catalogue put out such a sloppy game. To make things worse for PS3 owners, there is no Trophy support either - something we thought every game had to have these days.
Without any multiplayer to speak of the single-player campaign is all there is to consider when wondering whether to hand over your cash. To put it simply: do not buy this game. Had this been released five years ago it would still have stood out as a poorly made FPS, so released into a market with the likes of Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 sitting pretty on store shelves, and Killzone 2 due any day now, it's hard to see any reason to add this to your collection.