What happened today is just the beginning

Proving what a sizzling-hot topic it’s been over the years Wikipedia’s Vietnam war movies category lists 177 unique entries. From the moment the conflict ended anti-war movies revolving around the subject began to emerge so when Oliver Stone’s Platoon poked the hornet’s nest once again in 1986 it shouldn’t have been considered all that controversial. After all, The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979) had long-since stolen the limelight from all those comic book mentality, gung-ho action films that sought to glorify the heroism of America’s involvement in the 19 year skirmish, dissipating the heat of any backlash.

Martin Sheen takes a journey into the heart of darkness in Apocalypse Now

No matter, Platoon had its own ground to break, being the first Vietnam movie to be written and directed by a bona fide ‘nam veteran. Someone who had been there, actually chosen to put his life on the (front)line as an infantryman and earned the right to execute the melodramatic, cliched ‘thousand yard stare’ notoriously associated with the ‘Resistance War Against America’, as it was commonly known amongst the Vietnamese.

What made Stone stand out is that he already held a scholarship at Yale University, yet forfeited it to enlist in the United States Army with a view to aiding his comrades in Vietnam. Highly unorthodox for someone of his social and educational standing. ‘Grunts’ are typically underprivileged with few career opportunities, hence easy pickings for manipulative recruiters.

Chris Taylor: (narrating) Well, here I am, anonymous, all right. With guys nobody really cares about. They come from the end of the line, most of them, small towns you never heard of: Pulaski, Tennessee; Brandon, Mississippi; Pork Bend, Utah; Wampum, Pennsylvania. Two years’ high school’s about it. Maybe if they’re lucky, a job waiting for them back in a factory. But most of ’em got nothing. They’re poor. They’re the unwanted. Yet they’re fighting for our society and our freedom. It’s weird, isn’t it? They’re the bottom of the barrel, and they know it. Maybe that’s why they call themselves grunts, ’cause a grunt can take it, can take anything. They’re the best I’ve ever seen, Grandma. The heart and soul.

Filtered through the prism of military service, Stone’s patriotic idealism would soon give way to mistrust and remonstration. To that end Platoon doesn’t take any great strides to explain the situation in which the 25th Infantry Division find themselves, or the political milieu back home. Rather it concerns the individual personal experiences of the soldiers who endured tours of duty on behalf of Uncle Sam for reasons many hadn’t even stopped to ponder. Naturally this serves to accentuate the futility of the inevitable losses.

(King is writing a letter to his girlfriend)

Francis: It ain’t D-E-R-E, it’s D-E-A-R. And ‘Sarah’ ain’t got no two Rs, King. Damn, you dumb!

King: It don’t make no difference. She know what I mean. She don’t read too good nohow.

Augmenting its gritty, visceral realism and heartfelt raw emotion Platoon benefits from a stellar, recognisable cast. Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, and Charlie Sheen star, ably accompanied by a supporting roster that also includes several interesting cameo actors such as Oliver Stone himself who plays ‘Alpha Company Major’ (below, right), and Johnny Depp as Lerner (above).

More so than the crusade against the Viet Cong, Platoon focuses on the internal rivalry between warring factions of the same US unit. Namely the morally righteous Sergeant Elias, and morally bankrupt Sergeant Barnes who isn’t only severely scarred on the outside.

 

Caught in the middle is ‘fresh meat’ recruit, Chris Taylor, played by Charlie Sheen representing Oliver Stone’s autobiographical surrogate. Originally Stone daydreamed of Jim Morrison playing the lead, with the screenplay set to The Doors’ music, yet when he didn’t respond to the offer it was a case of ‘back to the drawing board’. Jim died in 1971 long before this early draft known as ‘Break’ would become Platoon, which I’m sure you’ll appreciate complicated the possibility of Stone’s dream becoming a reality.

“In ’69 I wrote it. It was another version of it – a very mythic version. The character dies in Vietnam and goes to the Underworld. A lot of mythology. I couldn’t deal with Vietnam yet in a completely realistic way at that point. And I did send it to Morrison because it had a lot of Doors music in it. And he had it in his apartment in Paris when he died. It was returned to me in 1990 when I made The Doors. Very bizarre.”

– Oliver Stone, Entertainment Weekly interview (May 2011)

Initially at least, to Chris, anyone with more than a few month’s worth of combat experience under their belt is seen as a veteran worthy of reverence. As such he’s torn between pedestals and the ‘warriors’ who occupy them, which is why it’s so tough to come to terms with the notion that one of them doesn’t deserve his respect or admiration.

Chris Taylor: I guess I have always been sheltered and special. I just want to be anonymous. Live up to what grandpa did in the First War and Dad in the Second. I know this is going to be the war of my generation.

Eschewing the wider political motivations of the war, Platoon is preoccupied with the depths to which ordinary men will sink when pushed to the brink of sanity and presented with unfettered opportunities to devolve into savages. Those entailing violence for the sake of entertainment or sport, rape and so on.

On the contrary Platoon is simultaneously hopeful in that it hones in on the extreme lengths to which good men will go in order to take the moral high-ground, to shield the sanctity of humanity under supreme duress. It spotlights the courageous mavericks who recoil from taking the path of least resistance, since without the preservation of a basic moral compass we are all doomed.

Whilst NCOs Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Elias (Willem Dafoe) run the show, officially Lieutenant Wolfe (Mark Moses) is in charge.

Lt. Wolf: Excuse me, Seargeant. But in front of the men, I think it’s necessary for me to give the orders.

Sgt. Barnes: (sarcastically) Yes, sir.

Highly educated, yet timid and militarily naive he represents the chaotic incompetence of the established chain of command. Clearly hailing from a silver-spooned background, Wolfe has bypassed the usual essential rites of passage to take charge of the squad, despite his lack of leadership flair and earned respect. He’s a clueless toff is what it boils down to. Hugh Grant in a combat helmet playing soldiers while daddy goes out to work earning big bucks to command board rooms.

Sgt. Barnes: (to Lt. Wolfe after giving wrong target grid for mortar-fire) You ignorant asshole! What the f**k coordinates you giving? You wasted a lot of people up there with your f**ked-up fire mission! You know that? You know that? Ah, s**t!

We can imagine him far from the battlefield sharing tea and scones in a pristine conservatory dining room with the elite guild who normally would never have to dirty their hands with the mud and bloodshed that affects those who literally bathe in it. Yet ironically here he is on the front-line, a higher ranking parallel to Taylor. Two anachronisms in a pod, I mean squad.

Chris Taylor: (narrating) Maybe I finally found it, way down here in the mud. Maybe from down here I can start up again. Be something I can be proud of without having to fake it, be a fake human being.

Complex themes unsuitable for computer game translation you might imagine. Nevertheless, the surface detail alone is sufficient to inspire a military-based action shooting game, and who better to take charge of the adaptation than movie-game license specialists, Ocean?

Two years after the movie’s US theatre release – though synchronising neatly with the delayed VHS home video – Ocean delivered the goods. Well designed and published the goods really. Choice Software (also responsible for New Zealand Story and Daley Thompson’s Olympic Challenge) took care of the technical development duties, whilst it was jointly designed in-house by Simon Butler and Mark R. Jones.

You’ll find some of the original design documents and concept artwork devised by the creative duo scanned and uploaded to Mark’s Facebook page (but also archived at Moby Games since it’s impossible to find anything on Facebook the day after it’s been posted because it’s horrible and should be put out of its misery). A rare nostalgic treat for Ocean fans made possible by Mark’s penchant for never chucking anything away.

One thing these salvaged gems reveal is how much of the initial plan materialised for inclusion in the final game, and what had to be left on the cutting room floor due to time or hardware limitations.

Also note that they contain numerous references to ‘gooks’, a derogatory term (or ethnophaulism) for people of East and Southeast Asian descent that you’d be strung up for using in official schematics today. How times have changed. I’m sure in this case it was just habitual shorthand picked up from war movies, and no malice was intended.

Platoon takes the multi-genre mini-game format approach Ocean came to be associated with, thus includes platforming segments as well as first and third person shoot ’em up stages. Officially (for promotional purposes) it was categorised as an ‘arcade adventure’.

Ocean left no host computer system unturned; it was released for every conceivable platform in common use at the time, even stretching to a console variant for the NES.

Assuming the role of a “raw young recruit in a platoon of five” it’s our duty to guide the outfit through the Vietnamese jungle to vanquish the Viet Cong threat. We can safely assume we’re playing as Charlie Sheen’s character, Chris, although it’s never explicitly spelled out, probably due to licensing issues.

Moreover you’ll notice from the box art that Ocean were careful not to include photographs of any of the cast, only anonymous silhouettes of patrolling soldiers, and an approximation of Willem Dafoe’s iconic death shriek. Whatever, it all hangs together very well, and there’s no mistaking which movie the game is based upon. This isn’t a complaint.

Regardless of who received the most screen-time or most poignant soliloquies, Elias and Barnes are the natural leaders. However, since they both die in the movie they wouldn’t be the logical choice to serve as the game’s protagonist if it’s to have a typical hero’s happy ending. Furthermore, they’re closer to parental figures, whereas Platoon the game would likely benefit more from making the ‘kid’ the star.

Oliver Stone was nineteen when he enlisted in the army. N-n-n-n-nineteen, nineteen, n-nineteen, nineteen. He’d just turned twenty when he flew to Vietnam. T-w-w-w-wenty, twenty, t-wenty, twenty. Today he’s seventy two… (snip – Ed.)

Sorry, Mr Hardcastle made me do it. It’s a royalties thing.

Looming tall between us and our oasis-in-the-jungle chopper ride back to freedom and civilisation (well, America anyway, hoho, wink) are six interconnected missions that combine gunfights with exploration, and object scavenging/deployment. At the risk of making light of war, it’s a challenge almost as tough as the genuine article. It really is ridiculously, insanely tricky to even get beyond the first mission without cheating.

Our tortuous pilgrimage begins deep in the sweltering heat of the bug-ridden Vietnamese jungle …filmed in Mount Makiling on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Stone’s $6.5 million budget was slightly more ample than Ocean’s, even though it was considered paltry by Hollywood standards.

As in the movie, Charlie and co. face booby-trap trip wires, and covert guerrilla and NVA sniper opposition. Snakes, centipedes, red ants and leeches too, although I haven’t seen any pixelised interpretations of those so far.

Turning the tables, what the game brings to the pot party that isn’t in the silver screen source material is pulse rifle and death scream sound effects taken from the Aliens movie. No, really, it samples audio from James Cameron’s 1986 sequel to Alien.

Chris Taylor: Somebody once wrote, “Hell is the impossibility of reason.” That’s what this place feels like. Hell.

Our defence is the standard issue machine gun packing limited ammunition (the M16A1 in Chris’ case), plus grenades, also rationed. These would be of the M26 high-explosive fragmentation hand variety. I possess an encyclopedic knowledge of firearms accrued through years of dedicated military experience, which explains why I have this information at my fingertips. Honest governor. 😐

Sgt. Barnes: Yo! Saddle up! Lock and load!

As our compatriots are wounded – physically and spiritually – we can use the alt key to cycle between them to make the best use of our resources. Each can take four hits before perishing, while moral – measured with a separate bar – ebbs away each time a private accidentally slays a civilian. A dearth of moral is equally as likely to end the game as the complete loss of health.

An interesting mechanic you didn’t see too often in early action-orientated games, and so relevant here it should be noted. Of all the wars in living memory Vietnam was the one especially plagued by dwindling levels of moral amongst the troops. No wonder really; half of them didn’t have the faintest clue why they were there or if they were achieving anything. Low moral leads to depression, and depression leads to suicide. It kills far more men today than bullets, at least in the western world.

Chris Taylor: Day by day, I struggle to maintain not only my strength but my sanity. It’s all a blur. I have no energy to write. I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong anymore. The morale of the men is low. A civil war in the platoon. Half the men with Elias, half with Barnes. There’s a lot of suspicion and hate. I can’t believe we’re fighting each other when we should be fighting them.

On route to the villages nestled at the heart of the jungle we must be on the look-out for abandoned TNT left by the last squad to have passed through. Perhaps they forgot to take it with them because dead men can easily get sidetracked by such practicalities?

Alternatively it could be a Commie ammunitions stash (as in the movie). Whatever the case may be, this is critical to fulfilling our next objective; destroying the bridge we need to cross to progress to the next area, ensuring we’re not tracked.

In the manual it’s recommended that we plot the layout of the jungle on a DIY map, although with no pause button at our disposal we’ll need one of those friend thingies to delegate the task to. It’s good advice since most of the screens are interchangeable with no obvious way-points for navigation. Also, if you know where you’re going there will be fewer opportunities for the jack-in-the-box VC to spring an attack without warning.

 

Constituting the villages are makeshift wooden huts populated by the local civilian farmers… or have they been commandeered by the NVA? Maybe we should assassinate them before they kill us just to be on the safe side? Perhaps even go a little cuckoo and shoot the floor to make them hop? Particularly the one-legged ones who aren’t all there mentally either.

“I knew that if I had the chance,
I could make those people dance…”

Scratch that, it’s bad for karma (and good taste). Don’t look at me like that, it’s in the movie (the foot-shooting scene I mean). It’s supposed to be twisted; even the good guy loses it at one point and this is the upshot. Ruthless, machine-like killers carrying out evil deeds wouldn’t evoke anywhere near the same levels of disgust and incredulity.

Bunny: (Coaxing a villager’s pig to come to him) Hey, piggy, piggy. Hey, pig!

(shoots pig at point-blank range and laughs)

‘Bunny’ (Kevin Dillon) is certainly psychopathic in the truest sense of the word so serves as the antithesis to all that remains wholesome and optimistic. Close the gulf between Chris and Bunny and the discord your sense of reason refuses to accept becomes almost tangible. Quite the deviously inventive mind game Stone plays on us there.

Bunny: You know, Junior, some of the things we done, man… I don’t feel like we done something wrong. But sometimes, man, I get this bad feeling. I told the Padre the truth, man. I like it here. You get to do what you want. Nobody f**ks with you. The only worry you got is dying. And if that happens, you won’t know about it anyway. So what the f**k, man.

Staying alive by juggling our infantry’s resources (medi-kits, food and moral) we must scrutinise the contents of each hut in search of practical tools and a way out of this deathtrap.

Once we’re armed with a torch and map and have located the hut harbouring the trapdoor we’re ready for the next challenge. Or, you know, an agonisingly slow demise. We may as well be playing Russian roulette with our mental as well as physical well-being.

(Manny has been killed and the platoon is looking for revenge)

Chris Taylor: The village, which had stood for maybe 1,000 years, didn’t know we were coming that day. If they had, they would have run. Barnes was at the eye of our rage. And through him, our Captain Ahab. He would set things right again. That day, we loved him.

Another maze awaits, this time set in an underground network of tunnels. It’s a mission we must face alone as our backup stand guard on the surface. I have no idea why… it says so in the manual, I’m just the messenger. Is anyone else feeling lonely all of a sudden? Regardless, now being a one-man band means we have only a single life with which to fulfil the brief.

Sgt. O’Neill: Bob, I got a bad feeling on this one, all right? I mean, I got a bad feeling. I don’t think I’m gonna make it out of here. You understand what I’m saying to you?

Sgt. Barnes: Everybody got to die sometime, Red.

Even in the underworld there’s no time to recuperate; the enemy lie in wait, lurking around every corner and somehow even beneath the stagnant water surviving without straws for oxygen. Raise the alarm and they surge from their soggy graves like mindless zombies, lunging at our fragile hero, daggers poised to deliver the fatal incision.

 

An arrow on the map mirrors our current location, also indicating the direction of travel. Navigating the never-ending, claustrophobic labyrinth we must target VC opposition with our gun’s cross-hair and explore the rooms in search of useful objects, as in the jungle. Some boxes we stumble upon will be booby-trapped, while others offer lifesaving medi-kits, a compass or flares. Why the latter items are worth pocketing will become apparent when we reach the next stage, although not everything we squirrel away has a function.

 

We eventually reach the never-ending labyrinth’s exit (sorry, artistic license, you know how it is), finding ourselves caged in a ‘foxhole’ bunker.

 

Long after sundown, the interminable hum of crickets in ascendance, it’s impossible to discern the approaching VC threat from their equivalently pitch black environment. Notwithstanding the ignition of a flare, hurled in their general vicinity.

They provide sufficient illumination to transform the soldiers into silhouettes that can then be targeted. Inevitably there’s a catch; any muzzle sparks will reveal our position to the enemy so we must ensure they are wiped out ASAP – if not sooner – upon drawing attention to our presence.

 

Sgt. Elias: I love this place at night, the stars. There’s no right or wrong in them. They’re just there.

Assuming we live to witness the next sunrise we’ll set off in search of Sergeant Elias, who has by this stage almost ascended to sainthood. Mimicking the events of the movie we’re informed by Barnes that he’s already dead so there’s no point pursuing him. In fact Barnes himself shot Elias multiple times in the chest to prevent him from testifying against his ‘comrade’ for the unprovoked murder of Vietnamese civilians.

As the platoon is airlifted to safety without him, Elias is spotted on the ground fleeing from the marauding VC army like a traumatised, wailing banshee. Miraculously he’s not dead, although with the odds stacked insurmountably against him, the cavalry too distant to be of assistance, he may as well already be stiffening inside a zipped body bag.

Elias absorbs the terminal shots that will send him to an early grave as he reflexively grasps for the heavens as though begging for salvation, forgiveness, or both.

 

Samuel Barber’s solemn, emotionally draining ‘Adagio for Strings’ could easily be heaven’s response. It’s a heartrendingly pitiful elegy for the loss of humanity and exploration of the uncertain fate of civilisation. Well, to me and in this context at least. The same composition has been engaged for dozens of purposes, eliciting a variety of connotations and emotions in each instance. Melancholy, uplifting, magical, timeless.

It’s feasibly the one single image in movie history that defines the Vietnam experience as fervidly as the Phan Thi Kim Phuc ‘Napalm girl‘ photo captured at Trang Bang in 1972. The one that depicts a naked nine year old girl running in terror from the napalm attack that scarred her for life.

Ocean’s manual paraphrases an abridged version of Taylor’s ‘awakening’, albeit concluding that Barnes is “indirectly responsible for the death of Elias by not aiding him”. Well that’s quite generous considering Barnes assumed Elias was dead having repeatedly shot him with a Colt Model 653P. The gun isn’t remotely relevant. I just get a kick out of knowing that every item of weaponry in the movie has been documented and published online.

Chris Taylor: He killed him. I know that he killed him. I saw his eyes when he came back in.

Rhah: How do you know the dinks didn’t get him? You’ve got no proof, man.

Chris Taylor: Proof’s in the eyes, man. When you know, you know. You were there, Rhah, and I know what you were thinking. I say we frag that f**ker tonight.

A radio transmission informs us that the area is to be razed by napalm airstrike within two minutes, impelling a desperate scramble for the nearest foxhole. Compass bearings relayed we make a frantic dash for safe harbour, clambering over barb wire, shimmying around landmines and swerving snipers’ whistling bullets as we sprint at breakneck pace into the screen from a third person perspective. Clearly the construction of this section was heavily influenced by Contra.

As before the path to freedom isn’t linear so trial and error and a reliable memory are essential. Don’t stop to breathe, we haven’t got time.

Arrive at the final destination and we discover that Barnes has beaten us to it and he’s aware we know he’s guilty as hell. To conceal his lurid secret he intends to bump us off so we must kill or be killed.

 

Winding up a prolonged grenade-slinging finale requiring five direct hits we slay the crazed human monster. With Elias’ callous murder avenged we secure Barnes’ safe-hold, conferring immunity to the imminent airstrike.

In the movie a vaguely similar scenario unfolds reaching the same conclusion. Barnes is about to kill Taylor when he is rudely interrupted by the airstrike, knocking him unconscious. When the dust has settled Taylor awakens and spies his opportunity to put down Barnes. Barnes – critically injured and incapacitated – instructs Taylor to call in a medic. Taylor has other plans. Barnes recognises the intent in Taylor’s eyes and goads him to “do it”. Taylor – who not so long ago measured in civvie-days would have hesitated – now pulls the trigger without delay.

 

Airlifted to asylum in a UH-1 ‘Huey’, this time homeward bound, Taylor sweeps over the decimated landscape for the last time as the heinous impact of haphazard aerial assault is laid bare.

A bittersweet departure for the survivors who will never escape the haunting images and memories burnt into their tormented souls. Sweet like aspartame. Sweet poison.

A carpet of charred, bloody bodies litter the forest floor awaiting unattended mass entombment. There lies their eternal chasm resting place. An unmarked bulldozer-filled grave; an industrial machine, hired by the Military Machine. A priest-less ceremony will soon commence, presided over by the spirit of prospective mourners, for now oblivious over 8000 miles away.

It’s a cinematic atrocity I’ll take to my own grave, forever rooted in my subconscious with the immaculate evocative clarity of that first harrowing encounter.

Chris Taylor: (voice-over) I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days as I’m sure Elias will be, fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called possession of my soul. There are times since, I’ve felt like the child born of those two fathers. But, be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach to others what we know, and to try with what’s left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life.

As for the game, well it was hardly ever going to encapsulate the raw gut-wrenching emotional turmoil of the award-winning movie now was it?

Don’t write it off just yet. In terms of reception, the press unequivocally raved about the 8-bit adaptations. Zzap awarded the C64 version of Platoon a final score of 94% in February 1988, declaring it “A superb combat simulation, and simply the best film tie-in to date – not to be missed.”

C&VG were similarly blown away by the Spectrum, Amstrad and C64 iterations, which all received outstanding 94% grades and glowing endorsements in May 1990.

“A highly addictive game with loads crammed into it – Platoon is a winner!” (C64)

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Colour is used to good effect, and the gameplay is as engrossing as the 64 version.” (Spectrum)

 

 

Alternative title screen artwork by Slider

“A brilliant game which perfectly re-creates all the action and excitement of the film. Don’t miss it!” (Amstrad)

 

On the contrary it didn’t translate quite so well to the Amiga, as reflected by the comparatively mediocre review scores. Compute’s Amiga Resource for instance felt it worthy of just 65% when in August 1989 they put Platoon through basic training (much like the movie cast were to ‘keep it real’).

“A translation of a movie, Platoon works about as well as these things usually do, and better than most. We can also respect Data East for not making the game as bloody as some others might have done.”

Data East published Platoon in the US so that explains the reference to the Japanese video game and engineering company. So they hadn’t been smoking any of Rhah’s ‘special’ cigarettes after all. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure Data East weren’t involved in programming the game.

Commodore User were even less impressed when they put Platoon through its paces in November 1988. Winding up their 59% review they concluded…

“Platoon gets progressively better, and no-one can deny that it is a tough and lasting challenge. The thing about the 16 bit version is that it fails to use the extra capacity of the Amiga. “Where is the sampled Tracks of my Tears then?” sniffed Gary Whitta, and I thought, yeah, where is it? Improved graphics and a few samples could have at least tarted this up some. The first casualty of a conversion is innocence.”

Amiga Power’s Stuart Campbell – to my surprise – was quite partial to Platoon. 73% was his verdict in June 1991 upon assessing the budget re-issue. At £7.99 – down from £24.99 – it does begin to look like a much better prospect.

“One of the better games in this month’s batch of re-releases, and not of a game type that there’s many of on the Amiga. Well worth getting.”

As noted by Commodore User magazine, I think the generally poor response to the 16-bit interpretations of Platoon can primarily be attributed to Choice Software’s failure to capitalise on the Amiga’s more advanced auditory and graphical capabilities. Reproduce an 8-bit game on a 16-bit platform verbatim and it’s unlikely to be embraced with open arms, even if the gameplay happens to be stunning. Presentation counts.

Aesthetics and acoustics aside, it’s a simplistic title that probably should have remained an 8-bit exclusive, assuming it wasn’t feasible to enhance the mechanics to a degree worthy of the platform so as to entice gamers with higher expectations. Accelerating the action by a factor of ‘hold onto your ears or they’ll be seared clean off’ to artificially boost the challenge only serves to repel players.

Judging by the design documents there was plenty of scope for building upon the solid foundations laid by the acclaimed 8-bit game. For instance there are allusions to refuelling a jeep, deployment of rockets, a two player option, stamina management, a computer controlled backup team (following the player’s lead), attack choppers delivering critical supplies, weapons marquees, food tents, medic huts, and clearing undergrowth with a machete.

Release deadlines likely led to design shortcuts and a bare-bones structure. Fickle buyers are as much to blame as marketing departments; it’s a circular dilemma. Timing is everything with translations of licensed IP.

Where was the collectable Budweiser power-down? Try James Pond if you’re feeling deprived.

Still, what remains offers a fair bit more variety than many single-genre games, and I’m impressed with the effort made by the author of the manual to immerse the player in the story. It’s a heck of a lot more absorbing than the usual “shoot bad guys and try to keep your blood on the inside” box-ticking affair. Although no acknowledgement is tendered I suspect this was the work of Simon Butler. He’s more eloquent than many people give him credit for and I know how much he likes the word ‘ensconced’.

It’s the control-oriented drawbacks that aren’t so comfortable, sabotaging Platoon’s appeal beyond redemption. Despite enemies attacking from above and below we can only shoot horizontally, bullets travelling parallel to the foliage. Grenades similarly have a curbed reach making them ineffective in many situations. Adversaries spring from nowhere permitting little opportunity to react, whilst tripwires can be tricky to spot until it’s too late.

As is to be expected for the era, the game is hobbled by the obligation to choose between sound effects or music, and second disk drives must be unplugged for the game to operate. I’d like to suggest this was a deliberate endeavour to echo the incalculable waste that defined the Vietnam war, but sadly I suspect 1988 technology was the more likely culprit. 😉

By way of compensation, if you appreciated Motown music and were a Smokey Robinson fan you would have been delighted to receive a complimentary ‘Tracks of My Tears’ audio cassette single with your copy of the game.

If not you’d still have a high quality glossy poster to hang on your wall to help you relive the traumatically provocative movie you were too young to have watched when it was first unveiled. It’s lucky we adhered to the age restriction regulations because otherwise the harrowing scenes might have invoked nightmares that would only intensify upon discovering that Platoon wasn’t just a screenplay Ocean saw fit to distil into a goofy kid’s toy.

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