Call of Duty: Vietnam – what Sledgehammer’s game could have been

By Dave Cook
26 June 2014 16:00 GMT

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare developer Sledgehammer Games was – at some point – working on a third-person entry to Activision’s franchise. The game was set in Vietnam, and for some reason it died a quiet death. VG247’s Dave Cook laments what could have been.

Concept art from Sledgehammer’s cancelled Call of Duty spin-off emerged earlier this week. It looked like this:


It’s pretty obvious that the shooter was set during the American invasion of Vietnam, but what isn’t clear is why, exactly, the project was killed off. Since the images surfaced we’ve seen many gamers expressing interest in the idea, and others who wish it was actually a finished thing.

I’m curious, so I mulled over what such a game might look like and decided to weigh up the case for and against this game existing, with a view to understanding why it is no more.


Pro – Call of Duty set pieces would shine in third-person

As we’ve seen with Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series and other third-person franchises, third-person shooters feature some of the most incredible, cinematic and vertigo-inducing set pieces in gaming. Say what you will about the Call of Duty franchise, but it’s hard to deny that it has some of the most expensive, mind-blowing set pieces in town, and as such, already has a firm understanding of how to keep us gripped.

Call of Duty as a series has sent us rappelling down the side of skyscrapers, shooting fools in space, climbing up sheer ice walls in Russia, flying through jungle facilities on wingsuits and more. Sledgehammer’s Vietnam shooter was already founded on prime action stock, so I can’t help but imagine what death-defying shit this mystery title would have had us doing. One thing is for sure; there will have been explosions.


Con – Past wars feel regressive

Now, this isn’t a sentiment I personally share, but I sense that many gamers would view a new shooter set in World War I or II as regressive, old, or just plain boring, and the same would go for a war from the 60s. Do the gadgets and high-tech weaponry seen in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare make it a better game than say, Battlefield 1942? Not necessarily, but it seems that shiny toys and complex gadgets are more attractive to the core demographic these days, not to mention their capacity to allow for new mechanics.

I’d like to see a new World War II game release on current hardware. In fact, I saw Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 running behind closed doors one year at E3, and it skirted around this issue by being super-violent and bloody funny. There’s no reason why Sledgehammer’s Vietnam off-shoot would be boring just because of when it was set, but I’m guessing Activision wanted to keep pushing new eras and themes.


Pro – Spec Ops: The Line happened

This tasty shooter from Yager is perhaps the best case for Call of Duty’s Vietnam off-shot existing. Spec Ops: The Line is a good game that you should sincerely try. There are better shooters out there, but this is an entirely passable, occasionally shocking experience that in some ways feels like a modern Vietnam story. It deals with brutal war crimes, the murder of innocents, suicidal missions against a seemingly unstoppable foe, and much more. Plus sand. Shitloads of sand.

It has set pieces and plenty of destructive chaos that would have sat well within the Call of Duty chronology. I’d say that Spec Ops: The Line is possibly the closest thing you’ll ever get to whatever Sledgehammer was working on, and I firmly believe that if Yager could make its third-person CoD-like shine, then there’s no reason for the Vietnam title to die. Except, of course, all the issues I’ve raised so far.


Con – It was set during the wrong war

Touchy one, this. The Vietnam war was quite atrocious for various reasons I won’t get into here, but it also went through a phase of being stylised thanks to popular cinema. That image of US helicopters bearing down on Vietnamese troops to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries may have been iconic in Apocalypse Now, but that was released in the late 70s. Do players these days give a toss about that? They’d be the ones buying this game, and I’d wager Vietnam is barely recognised as a long forgotten, long lost war.

I reckon Activision knew that Vietnam’s purchase among gamers had receded. We’ve already seen Guerrilla Games’ Shellshock: Nam ’67 try with this era, but it failed to resonate with the playing public or critics. Depicting terrible war crimes, capturing a woozy drug influence and using a prog rock soundtrack may have been authentic but that was all lost by general mediocrity. The ship has sailed. Black Ops was set during a similar era but it played it straight for a reason – and put U.S. heroes like John F Kennedy front and center.


Pro – Sledgehammer already made a stunning third-person shooter, sort of

It’s true, many of the core, founding and original Sledgehammer developers created and worked on the original Dead Space, a game known for its horror and creeping sense of dread. It was also a third-person shooter – although less-so than its predecessors – so it stands to reason that the team had at least a reasonable grasp on what makes third-person shooters work. I highlighted the horror angle because as I said at the start, the Vietnamese war was known for its severity and brutal nature.

You often see references to shellshock and post-traumatic stress bandied around with Vietnam war fiction. In Dead Space, Isaac Clarke is a man haunted by terrible visions, guilt and terror at every turn, so taking that tension and atmosphere into a Vietnam setting could have made for something striking indeed. I guess we’ll never fully know what happened to Call of Duty: Vietnam – as we’re calling it – but it’s fun to try and imagine what could have been.


Con – Would it still feel like a Call of Duty game?

That’s the question isn’t it? Would this game ‘belong’ in the canon? So ingrained are Call of Duty’s core mechanics and gameplay that anything other than that slick, buttery feel of a soldier sprinting lightly in your hands would feel slightly alien to the brand. Maybe Activision felt that Sledgehammer’s title was too much of a disconnect from what millions of gamers out there already knew? I would have liked to have seen them take a risk on this one however.

I reckon that a lot of people would have bought the Vietnam shooter just because it had the Call of Duty name on it. You have to start somewhere with new ideas, and I’m a firm believer that you’ll never know unless you try. Of course, this game probably would have cost millions to produce, so I respect that this was probably a costly gamble for Activision. It was also being made at a time where the publisher was trimming back its output to give each game greater focus. You’re forgiven Acti.

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