Vietnam shooters apparently need more than just Charlie creeping through the jungle these days. ShellShock 2: Blood Trails takes a sharp left turn away from its gritty, realistic 2004 predecessor, ShellShock: Nam '67, and throws zombie hordes into the expected mix of AK-47s and rice paddies. Combining horror with stereotypical first-person shooter combat does little to make the game stand apart from the crowd, however. While there are a few thrills and chills here, this is too much of a shooter-by-numbers to be engaging to anyone but the least discriminating twitch gamer, and both the 360 and PS3 versions are hampered with horrible controls.
The plot introduces ravenous zombies into what is otherwise a standard Vietnam War movie storyline about a kid experiencing the horrors of war for the first time. If you tossed Platoon and 28 Days Later into a blender, this is pretty much what you would pour out. You play as Nate Walker, a raw recruit who touches down in country and is immediately shipped off to a border base under siege by the Vietcong (cue the usual angst about war being hell). But then the game shifts suddenly from one stereotype into another, with Walker being introduced to his zombie brother, Cal. As you might expect, this isn't much of a family reunion. Just as you're coming to terms with a brain-chomping bro who won't be interested in eating turkey on Thanksgiving anymore, the VC crash the party. Your brother escapes, and soon you're running through the jungle to battle the zombie plague and figure out what the mysterious Whiteknight is before the godless Commies do.
You wouldn't think that the combination of the Vietnam War and zombies could be a loser, but, well, here we are.
Sound like a decent basis for a shooter? It is, and the Source-engine-based visuals are reasonably good, though a long way from something modern like Crysis. The look of the game is pretty much identical on both the 360 and the PS3, although the latter seems to be a fair bit murkier in corners. While you can crank up the gamma to sort of address this issue, it never completely works on the Sony console and you wind up flailing about in the dark too often. The level design is attractive too, even if it seems like you're running from one Vietnam movie set to another. One moment you're racing through a misty jungle, then you're dealing with booby-trapped VC tunnels, and then you're in a run-down village. You get the picture.
At least much of the scenery is chilling. Bloody trails are everywhere, and it seems like you can't walk two feet without encountering a beheaded soldier mounted on a wall, a buddy with his legs blown off, or some poor guy impaled on a bunch of bamboo spikes. The audio doesn't have anywhere near the same impact, though. M-16 and AK-47 fire can barely be heard at times, and there isn't any thump to the rat-a-tat-tat or explosions. There might be some bugs in the sound, because some effects like the swing of a machete cannot be heard at all on either console. Most of the voice acting is well done, however, at least by B-movie standards. The actor playing Walker sounds a lot like a young James Woods, which adds a bit of Hollywood class to the proceedings.