Here's a great idea. Dedicate significant amounts of money and time developing a game. Make it a first person shooter - they tend to be popular. To ensure it doesn't get any notable coverage at all, release it at the same time as Half Life 2 and Halo 2. Sometimes you have to wonder what they are thinking.
From the outset it should be pointed out this is not a bad game. Far from it - sometimes it genuinely is involving, addictive fun. Most of the basic design such as menu's are all laid out well - the tutorial teaches everything you need to know without being too boring. The dialogue is mostly interesting and does a good job of making you think about the Vietnam War.
This is clearly the point of the game - to make you think about the Vietnam War. Radios in tanks play songs from the time, dialogue is happy to lean away from racial harmony and all in all, it makes you want to reminisce about a war you thankfully were not involved in. The only issue with this is that the scripting clearly wants you to believe this war was both noble and justified, to the extent of actively criticising the media for suggesting otherwise at the time. It does not go unnoticed that this game is actively attempting to make everyone support an unpopular war and consciously being released into the current world situation. A brave use for a video game, but one that will leave an odd taste in the mouth's of many people who are against action in the Middle East.
It is a game though and - while it may suffer from American patriotic garbage a little too often - it does have some things of interest to bring to the table. Holding down the left trigger brings your soldier to a halt, and narrows the cross hairs to make shots more accurate. Cleverly though it also makes the left analogue stick now give you the option to lean, something that can be very useful when hiding behind the many trees in Vietnam. Another that works a little less well is bandaging. Shots that hit your character cause damage and make you bleed, putting a scarlet amount of damage onto your health counter as well. This can be removed by standing still and holding down a button to bandage. If you don't bandage yourself the scarlet slowly becomes darker resulting in more permanent damage.
Healing is another odd aspect of the game. As expected you can heal by picking up medical kits which is fine. You can also be healed by picking up canteens of water. Having never directly participated in any war this may be realistic, but getting shot several times and being on deaths door only to get back up to full strength after drinking six or seven canteens of water seems more than a little strange. In most games this wouldn't be an issue, but when trying to immerse the player in the experience, things like this jar.
The weapons seem to be reasonably realistic (not that I have had any experience with any of them) and have a nice solid feel, with most being different enough to warrant using. You are limited to carrying four weapons, obviously in an attempt at realism, but rarely will you have any tricky decisions over what weapon to drop. This is a game with a serious body count, so naturally plenty of bullets are going to be fired. Unfortunately ammunition seems to be in short supply, often leaving making you search for more around fallen soldier, potentially a fair way back in the level.
The gameplay itself is neither wildly exciting nor excruciatingly dull. It finds a middle ground and stays there. Enemies come in droves, and never behave intelligently - happily leaning out around trees and getting a bullet in their stomach, leaning out again seconds later. Team mates suffer from the same awful artificial intelligence - it's possible to watch them stand a metre away from an enemy, with neither hitting the other until the player intervenes, ruining any belief in the enemy or your team. While this is obviously a bad thing, the invulnerability of your team members means missions can never be ruined by team members dying. It also means you cannot kill your team members - unrealistic but beneficial to the game on the whole. Most missions are straight A to B affairs and you will rarely have to think.
Graphically it seems that only grey, brown and green were available to the developer, and even when compared to first generation Xbox games, they are in no way impressive. While this is to be expected for a game set mainly in dense foliage, a little more vibrance wouldn't have gone-a-miss. Load times are also frequent and long, shattering any illusion you had of being in the world the game is depicting.
Checkpoint saving systems can be implemented extremely well. You only have to look at Halo to see an example of this, but Men of Valor doesn't pull it off at all well. When you die - and you will - you restart from the last checkpoint. This is reasonable. However, in true 16-Bit fashion you only have twelve continues before you are thrown back to the start of the level. This wouldn't be that annoying if the game didn't happily throw checkpoint markers at during a fire fight - making it impossible to survive more than 10 seconds into the new checkpoint. There is no option to go back to the previous checkpoint, so you are often forced to play the level from the start.
Multiplayer is well covered: co-operative split-screen, split-screen deathmatch, system-link and Xbox Live multiplayer modes are all included. The emphasis on hiding in the grass and pouncing on intelligent opponents certainly makes for fun games, something that the single player campaign is lacking. The multiplayer is certainly nothing original but is a nice inclusion. Dragging anyone away from Halo 2 seems highly unlikely though.
All in all, Men of Valor is a pretty average game. The generally uninspiring visuals and formulaic missions do little to keep you enthralled, but the entertaining multiplayer modes give you a reason to come back to the game. Probably the best Vietnam game released so far, but that isn't saying much.