Vietnam War flight simulations are usually interesting because they’re rare. This controversial period in history saw pivotal policy changes in military aviation, with valuable lessons learned on the battlefield, such as the folly of excluding guns on early-model F-4 Phantom IIs or implementing unrealistic and debilitating rules of engagement.
Readers may recall previous “Airware” coverage of Air Conflicts: Secret Wars and its sequel, Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers. Air Conflicts: Vietnam (airconflicts.net/ vietnam) is the latest in the series. Both of its predecessors are flawed but use creative approaches at mixing simulation with history and storytelling. Like them, ACV loosely follows key historical battles and offers a broad cross-section of aircraft from the conflict. It also tries to show the war’s human side, through letters of combatants and also those at home.
It all starts with promise. Impressive graphics illustrate Vietnam’s jungle and mountain vistas. Detailed terrain includes trees, rivers, villages and numerous infantry. Aircraft selection is diverse, with both fixed and rotary-wing offerings.
Hope for a great simulation fades as the player begins training. Though bombing was an integral part of the Vietnam War, the interface to deploy ordnance is primitive in ACV. It seems to have been carried over from WWII sims, limited to a perspective that looks directly below the aircraft rather than forward with trajectory indicators—acceptable perhaps on the B-52, but unrealistic on fast movers such as the Phantom. Flight models are nearly oblivious to physics, and flying and dogfighting are wacky joystick-wrangling exercises.
Efforts to broaden the game’s entertainment and educational value sadly also fall short. The narrators reading the letters need acting lessons. While the game’s missions are inspired by historical operations, they bear only passing resemblance to the actual proceedings. In some cases the wrong aircraft appear in an engagement.
Given the expense and challenge of creating a serious sim, it’s understandable that the developers instead chose to make an arcade game, to reduce the complexity of the software construction and perhaps reach a larger audience. Regrettably, ACV is still disappointing, compromising the values a historical game could deliver and with minimal entertainment value. Players interested in a deeper simulation of this era should look into Yankee Air Pirate.
Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.