Following hot on the heels of an excellent conversion of Konami's Combat School comes another game with military overtones, this time based on the film which heralded the 'war-is-hell' revival in 1987. Platoon concerns the exploits of a platoon of raw recruits in Vietnam, and the game follows the film reasonably closely with six sectors, loaded in pairs which correspond to various points in the story.
This is a simplistic scrolling arcade adventure in which you have to negotiate the maze-like jungle and find the Vietnamese village. To prevent a large enemy patrol following you, the bridge has to be blown-up, using the explosives found deep in the heart of the jungle. Armed enemy guerrillas patrol the jungle, some leaping from the trees, and snipers appear from trap doors in the floor and take a pot shot at you.
Your platoon comprises five men, which is effectively five lives as you only control one man at a time. A man is lost if he hits a tripwire and gets blown up. Each hit depletes the platoon's morale, and should it reach zero then all is lost.
Having successfully destroyed the bridge and found the village you have to search six huts and find a torch, a map and a trap door. Two huts contain booby traps (which you only find out by losing a man), while another houses a Vietnamese guerrilla who has to be shot on sight.
Morale is reduced if you shoot any of the unarmed villagers, which is easily one if you're not concentrating. Once the torch and map are in your possession, you can go down the trap door and onto the next section...
The Tunnel Network
The objective in this section is to find two boxes of flares (no, not the Mike Pattenden corduroy variety) and a compass for the next two sections. The screen is split in two, with a portion of the map displayed to the right of the first person perspective view of the tunnel network - an effect not too dissimilar to that in Lucasfilm Games' The Eidolon.
There are ten locations to search, some containing ammunition and medical supplies, others featuring useless items such as a cup of cold, putrid tea. Once again the guerrillas attempt to thwart your progress. Some simply appear in the tunnel and open fire, while others swim under the water and pop up when you least expect them - dagger in hand and your death on their mind. As soon as a guerrilla appears, control is transferred to a crosshair so you can shoot him. However, ammunition is in short supply, so your shooting has to be short, accurate bursts.
Having found the tunnel exit, you find yourself in a foxhole. It's dark and the enemy are closing in for the kill, so you have to shoot them before they shoot you. To shed a little light on your immediate surroundings, you can send up a flare, although they are in limited supply and should be used sparingly. When the requisite number of guerrillas have been shot, it's on to the next section...
Another trek through the tortuous Vietnamese jungle, time time with a different objective and a different viewpoint. You have two minutes to reach a safe spot before the area is blown to smithereens. There are basically four routes through the jungle, although only one seems effective, as you run out of time when using the others. The jungle is split into a number of flip-screen locations, with barbed wire, mines and boulders to avoid. Enemy guerrillas run back and forth across the top of the screen, shooting at you as you attempt to run deeper into the jungle, and snipers occasionally fire from the trees. Look or sound familiar? Well, suffice it to say, this plays very similar to a scene from Konami's Gryzor...
The Final Section
The treacherous Sergeant Barnes is hiding in a foxhole and has to be eliminated. It takes five direct hits with your grenades to dispose of him, which isn't as straightforward as it sounds as he keeps a constant stream of bullets and grenades flowing in your general direction.
The graphics are generally neat and effective, and the music is atmospheric. Mind you, the atmosphere would have been greatly enhanced with a few more suitable sound effects. For example, breathing and heartbeat sounds in the tunnel sequence, and some cicada sounds (What you do mean, you don't watch Wildlife On One?) in the first jungle scene.
The six sections aren't particularly difficult to complete in their own right, although they are all playable. However, as a whole, Platoon is taxing. Not because it demands dazzling arcade skills to complete it, but because it requires plenty of perseverance. You only get two lives on the later sections, so if you make a mistake you have to start from scratch, and this can prove quite frustrating.
Also mildly irritating is the fact that you have to collect the torch and map to proceed to the tunnel sequence, and you have to collect the flares and compass to play the later sections. It would have been neat if you were allowed to progress without these items, and thus had to cope without them. The tunnel sequence would be a mite trickier in the dark, without a map, and the bunker scene would be a bit more interesting with less or no flares!
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed playing Platoon. It's a competent blend of game styles, and Ocean have succeeded in producing a game which closely follows the plot of the film. I would have preferred a more long-term challenge, say three or four more involved sections to complete, without having to continually replay earlier sections. Still, this is without doubt one of the best film tie-ins to appear on the C64 which bodes well for Ocean's next tie-in, Robocop.