Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog


Shellshock 2: Blood Trails (Xbox, 2009): Now With Enhanced Zombie Flavor
August 7, 2010, 10:57 pm
Filed under: Shellshock 2: Blood Trails (Xbox, 2009, England)

If there were such a term as an “Underdog Gamer,” I guess I would be it. Anyone and his 12-year-old brother can fawn over the next Halo-killer, gush over Killzone 8’s graphics, or wax philosophical about the characterizations of Alex and Gordon’s grandchildren in the latest and greatest HalfLife 16 episode. That’s easy. A blockbuster game is, after all, a blockbuster. Being a raging fan of a triple-A action title is like…well, it’s like eating a box of chocolates. Not too difficult.

What’s not easy, however, is playing low-budget games and earnestly looking to see if somewhere–anywhere–a redeeming quality is lurking underneath the second-rate graphics or stiff game controls. And as the unofficial president of the Underdog Gamer’s Club of Losers, let me say that I’ve spent countless hours playing crappy games, and I’ve come away thankfully finding some real gem-moments of gameplay. Not whole gems, but some gem-moments. Let’s call them crap-gems.

In that vein, I am glad to say that “Shellshock 2: Blood Trails” (which is consistently rated “poor” by critics) does, indeed, have a few redeeming characteristics that make it worth playing–as long as you’re the patient type. (Maybe not worth buying, but worth playing.) Before getting to the “why,” allow me to readily admit to never having played the original “Shellshock: ‘Nam 67” (2004) which is a straight-up Vietnam-era shooter. That’s not a game I’d care about. But Shellshock 2’s Vietnam-era-shooter-NOW-WITH-ADDED-ZOMBIES…well, that’s something I can get behind. And get behind it, I did. Here’s why:

What Shellshock 2 lacks in just about everything (said graphics and gameplay, dynamic color and lighting, as well as awkward body animations and almost nonexistent facial movement), it makes up for in TENSION. Shellshock 2 is actually a relatively tension-filled game, and tension is what you want from a war-horror-fps, right? Of course, part of this tension may be unintentional because a good deal of it comes from the fact that the game unfairly piles hordes of undead Vietcong on top of you while shorting you in the ammo and aiming departments. (Yeah, I actually grabbed part of my controller with my teeth and gave it a good munch in frustration at trying to aim correctly [which, by the way, didn’t help at all]–I was forced to complete one section over a dozen times through no fault of my own.) But in some cases, the very shortcomings of a budget-game, while creating frustration, can also make for a very tense atmosphere. That strange mix of dynamics is what “Shellshock 2” has in abundance. In fact (and I may have my tires slashed by the SH fanboys for saying so) the slow-burn tension in this game, for me, far surpassed the tension I felt playing “Silent Hill: Homecoming” recently. Just saying, is all.

The other element that Shellshock 2 does right is the story. It’s a good story about a scared kid conscripted into war and wondering why his soldier-brother Cal has become a whacked zombie running through the jungle trying to…find him? infect him? eat him? And there are other, competing forces attempting to nab your brother as well; it just so happens that Cal was the last person alive to see Whiteknight (a code name for some experimental war weapon that the Army stupidly lost in transit), and as Cal zigzags through the jungle, he seems to be creating rabid zombies of anyone he comes into contact with–presumably an effect of having been in some close proximity to Whiteknight. Anyway, the voice acting is effective, generally. The characters are paper-thin, but the story is actually strong enough to propel the player through the game; any story compelling enough to stop me from tossing my controller into the lit fireplace due to stiff gameplay…well, that has to say something positive.

And let’s face it: You become familar with the stiff controls after a while–we are human beings and adapt fairly well to trying situations, don’t we? Additionally, the graphics aren’t THAT bad. Some of the tougher-to-create textures and effects are lacking in quality, like fire, explosions, and heat signatures. And my gaming rig was barfing up framerates when there was too much fog or smoke on screen. Oops. But the lush jungle, the rickety rope-bridges, the ruined Vietnamese apartment buildings and restaurants, the bombed churches, the riverbeds and mountain ranges–all of them work well enough in the context of the game. The graphics engine is trying its best to illustrate some draw-distance, though many of the areas do feel claustrophobic–but again, it’s a horror fps, folks. In-your-face zombies packed into cramped quarters…isn’t that sort of what we’re paying for here?

But ultimately I’m just a rah-rah guy for the underdogs; so if you are the type of person who will only go and see a flick that cost 4 billion to make, or play triple-A titles that garner 90-point Metacritic scores…well, best for you to steer clear. You don’t have the experience to understand how exactly to appreciate a schlocky underdog game like “Shellshock 2” anyway.