Enduring the most dangerous job in the jungle.
By Ted Pollak
I jumped back into the saddle last night playing Arma 3 with Vietnam War Mod, a realistic open-world military tactical shooter video game from Bohemia Interactive. Complete gratification requires a lot of patience, and the way I play, everything can fall apart, leaving me to walk away a loser after an hour plus of “work.” But it is satisfying to be in the stress and the realistic atmosphere of the gameplay.
The tension is palpable in a six-man Special Forces team “over the fence” in Laos or Cambodia with hundreds of enemy fighters within three miles. (IRL they would use 12 men most of the time, but I choose six because it’s hard to manage AI in large numbers, and IRL there were sometimes thousands of hostiles around them.) A human can step into the shoes of any AI as a co-op player if you allow it.
Movement is slow—walking, crouched, or crawling speed is adjustable. It has to be or you will be seen or heard. The jungle is lush and diverse with elephant grass, bamboo, insects, and realistic terrain. The graphics are better than most new games, especially the lighting which has almost a ray traced quality. The sounds are immersive.
Using a TrackIR head tracker from NaturalPoint to scan left and right on the 34-inch curved Alienware 1440, the field of view is totally realistic, as gentle movements through the foliage make unavoidable small sounds.
The rain begins to fall and a mist rises. We stay away from trails. A snake slithers by my boot. All communications are hand signals or hushed voices. The AI has basic voice communication scripts for immersion. I stop every two or three minutes and just listen.
I hear faint casual conversation in Vietnamese. Two minutes later, I can see a few NVA walking down a trail. I debate whether they are “sappers” and on their own, or a point element of a larger force.
I cannot be sure because the mission scenario is randomized. Enemy patrols have variable numbers, locations, weaponry, and backup. The time of day, weather, objectives, support… all randomized. it never plays the same.
We let them pass. Not worth the risk after so much work on the objectives we completed. The objectives can range from observation and planting listening devices to prisoner snatch, to rescue, to destroying equipment caches, etc.
We continue toward the extraction LZ over one last ridgeline. There are not many places to land a helicopter in the jungle. Exhaustion is real. Your gear weight is precisely correlated with how fast you run out of steam, forcing you to rest. Special Forces carry 80–90 pounds. And if you don’t get into big fights (we had luckily stayed stealth the entire mission, meaning no shooting), you are carrying all that stuff out. Mostly ammo weight. Could I drop some to lighten up? Yeah, but we only do this if we are being chased, just as they did IRL.
We can see the clearing from the ridge about 300 yards away. We hear a shot in the distance to our left-back. And then a double shot from another direction. These are not aimed at us. They are signal shots. We are being tracked, and they use the shots to vector the pursuit, but they probably don’t know exactly where we are. We call the helicopter. In a few minutes, we can hear the echoing of its blades off the mountainous terrain. I have the AI on a mode where they do not shoot unless they see an enemy pointing a weapon at the team. The AI has many behavior modes you can put them in.
The team medic all of the sudden cracks off two shots from his CAR-15 and reports he took out a scout. I reposition the team (the formation of the team has many options or you can order people into specific places, specific stances, specific field of fire, etc.). Within 10 seconds, all hell breaks loose, with the team going full auto as approximately 30 NVA engage us from about 150 yards. The grenade launcher guy is lobbing rounds into the tree line. But there are too many. And more are on the way.
I go prone open the tactical map and get on the radio. I need to do this quickly and precisely. When you are in this interface, you can still get shot. Nothing stops, pauses, or waits. 105mm howitzers soon cut off their advance with decimating white phosphorus blossoms of smoke. We use the break to move toward the LZ. But can’t make it there without another stand. Back on the radio and being vulnerable. One of the AI is hit and calls for medical attention. I abandon the radio and order the medic to attend to him via the AI interface. This has taken two guns off our line while the procedure takes place. Depending on the wound, the player (or AI if ordered) can bandage themselves, but only a medic can bring one back to fully-effective fighting level with good aim (wounds induce weapon sway) and movement speed. Assuming it was not fatal, of course.
Back to the radio and being vulnerable. Vectoring in a Cobra attack helicopter. The tactical map requires the user to direct the attack line of the air asset, requiring consideration of terrain and friendly and enemy positions. More time to consider the situation, more vulnerability, more stress.
Hoping not to have to move to secondary LZ. The helicopter will not land if the LZ is too tight or too hot. Sometimes it leaves and you have to hike out to another area… all the while possibly running into more trouble.
Boom, boom boom… rockets from the Cobra buy us more time and we dash the remaining 50 yards into the waiting H-34 Kingbee as we can hear the brrrrpp of the Cobra’s Gatling gun coving the liftoff.
Mission accomplished with no KIA.
Hell yeah, that is gratifying! 85 minutes of mission time.