The Oh Dear Hunter: Tunnel Rats 1968

By John Walker on August 17th, 2009 at 11:30 am.

This is what about 90% of the game looks like. Except gloomier, and not at this jaunty angle.

It’s all too easy to mock Uwe Boll. But I’m not afraid of a lack of challenge. The long-time film director, famous for his tax-loophole-advantage-taking reinventions of game licenses, has become one of the more celebrated anti-heroes of the internet. Equally known for his vociferous and sometimes violent responses to criticism as he is for churning out unutterably awful films, he and his movies are a lot of fun to loathe. And then came Tunnel Rats. Apparently renamed 1968 Tunnel Rats for its cinematic release (I confess I have not seen the improvised Vietnam film), it was not based on any game license. However, Boll planned to reverse the process, and hired Replay Studios – they responsible for the terrible Velvet Assassin – to convert it into shooty-pixels. Bravely, like a brave soldier, I bravely played it.

I’d not read any reviews of it before starting, and while I’d heard lots of people suggest it was rubbish, I wasn’t sure whether any of these claims were based on fact rather than assumption. First-person shooters are pretty tricky to get wrong – they can easily be mediocre, but a mediocre shooter tends to offer an amiable enough afternoon of target practise, if nothing else. Perhaps it would offer some of those classic Boll motifs – hilariously hammy dialogue, improbable scenarios, and an obsession with caves.

It has all three, I’m pleased to report. However, it manages something else I wasn’t expecting: to be one of the most stunningly awful games I’ve ever experienced. Which, bearing in mind my earlier comments, deserves some kudos. Tunnel Rats: 1968 (as the game is called) is excruciatingly, bewilderingly bad, such that the predominant thought while playing was: How? How is it possible to make a game this egregiously bad, one that so fundamentally doesn’t understand even the basics of what a game is meant to be.

I should say at this point that I’ve not completed the second level. How dare I? It’s a very short game, at around five hours, and I’d hoped to complete it before writing anything. However, this wasn’t to prove possible. But we’ll get to that.

Don't be fooled. Get up close to anything and it looks rubbish.

You play Brooks, a young US soldier in ‘Nam, charged with clearing out the Vietnamese tunnels – hence the title. Right at the start your entire platoon is wiped out, leaving only you alive to wander the corridor-shaped jungles in search of claustrophobically underground tunnel corridors, shooting any enemies you may be lucky enough to find. On repeat. Brooks isn’t entirely delightful, foul-mouthed and racist, and apparently haunted by confused memories of his own childhood. It’s clearly an attempt to create an edgy, shocking soldier character, who gradually unravels as the game progresses. The result, thanks to some of the most awful writing and acting outside of a daytime soap, is a petulant and hateful little idiot. This is the only game I’ve ever played where the one-hit-kill traps that so frequently bug out left me thinking, “Well, at least I suffered.”

There’s not an original idea to be found. So as you might expect, right mouse does iron sights, left mouse fires. Shoot at enemies. Move on until you find more enemies. The only obstacle on your path (beyond catastrophic bugs) are traps, which consist of either trapdoors in the floor, or tripwire-triggered grenades. These can be disarmed in two ways: trapdoors by pressing “use”, and tripwires via a QTE thing that asks you to press either the left or right mouse button in a vast gap. Aim for a slightly smaller (and equally unmissable) gap and you’ll collect the grenade that goes with it. And that would be it. Well, it would be it if you really could just press “use” on them. Instead there’s the additional challenge of finding the arbitrarily assigned pixel with which you can interact, forcing you to aimlessly wave your reticule all over until you get lucky. This is especially fun with the trapdoors, covered by some sort of dust texture that mysteriously vanishes at the same time as you deactivate them. However, click away from the mystery pixel and the dust will clear anyway, but leave the trap live. Oh boy, it’s so much fun to fall for that trick over and over! Especially when the last randomly placed checkpoint was the other end of the tedious tunnel network! So much fun!

Imagine all the racist names you could call him! Sigh.

Brooks must be quite a sickly child. Falling from the bottom rung of a ladder (obviously no game gets ladders right, but Tunnel Rats takes getting them wrong to impressive new depths of incapability) will lose him a fifth of his total health. Equally jumping down a couple of feet from a rock can be near fatal. I’m not sure they should let young men with brittle bone disorders into the army in the first place.

Fortunately, he takes out his inadequacies on the corpses of everyone he finds. There’s a deeply peculiar feature where health is increased by collecting trophies from dead bodies. From the men on your side it’s their dogtags. From the Vietnamese, it’s… their ears. How lovely. Once again this requires a pixel hunt, which is made ever-so-slightly more difficult when searching American soldiers, what with their not wearing a dogtag. Ears you might imagine would be easier to spot, but little logic is applied. In fact, so gloriously illogical is this that you can chop the ears off soldiers who don’t have heads! Isn’t that your favourite thing you’ve heard about a game ever? It is mine. So much so that I found a despicable source of entertainment from deliberately killing everyone by blowing up their noggin, just so I could enjoy watching the ear-being-chopped-off spurt of blood appear from where there might otherwise have been a head.

A cloud of brown dust from his alien insides.

I say blood. Despite the game’s gore content being high enough to feature beheaded corpses and collecting severed ears, the blood in the game looks more like old rust. Shoot an enemy and if you’re particularly lucky you’ll get the visual register of a puff of dull brown somewhere near them. They won’t physically react, of course. Mostly they just stand stock-still, firing with utter perfection toward you. Here an earlier decision comes into play: did you choose to play on Easy or Hard. No Normal is available here, giving the impression that the developers intended to make the game either too easy or too hard for the average player. Play on Easy and you don’t need to much worry about getting hit. Despite your fragility jumping, bullets sticking in you is a minor complaint. Although there’s quite so many health kits around that even if you do take too much of a pounding, you’ll not worry. At one point in the second level I was carting around sixteen of them, which is impressive for a man who can only carry two guns. The guns, by the way, are mostly fine. There’s no reaction from those you hit, but they fire fine and all. The only issue would be the iron sights. If you want to aim accurately, stick to the regular crosshair, which stands a far greater chance of hitting the target than the ambiguous and unhelpful zoomed in version.

There’s some spectacular bugs. Walking through walls is a dull example of how it goes wrong, but far more intriguing is the inability to throw grenades. Die at one point in a level (which you will thanks to one of the other bugs) and Brooks will only mime throwing them. Nothing is released, your grenade count stays the same, and despite seeing him pull the pin, sadly he fails to blow himself up. However, the best bug has to be the ability to jump up vertical surfaces.

David Attenborough said on the radio the other day that snakes lived underground at one point during their evolutionary development. See how smart this game is?

This would be how I was unable to progress past the end of level 2. Here you’re tasked with reaching a helicopter that has a radio, and releasing a smoke grenade to signal for help. Near the beginning of the level you can see the helicopter balanced precariously at the top of a cliff above you. “I’d better get to the helicopter to see if the radio still works,” said Brooks. Remembering something I’d been taught at the start of the game, where I’d been able to climb a rocky thing by jumping onto a crack, I wondered if the same rule would apply to this cliff face. It did. Although I strongly suspect it wasn’t meant to. I impossibly and amusingly jumped my way to the top, and used the helicopter radio, spoke to someone, and then went off on my journey to find a smoke grenade. “I’d better get to the helicopter to see if the radio still works,” said Brooks as I walked him down a slope.

A collection of more insufferably awful tunnels later, and I’d at last stumbled upon the smoke grenades. Finding an exit ladder Brooks told himself, “I’d better get to the helicopter to see if the radio still works.” Oooookay then. I emerged right where it had fallen anyway, so headed over just in case. But the helicopter, lying on its side on the bank of a 1mm deep river, was now immaterial. Walking through it, there was no longer a radio with which to interact, and nothing else to be doing. The smoke grenades sat tantalisingly as a graphic on the screen, three of them, impossible to use. There’s no key for them. There’s no way to assign one. And all Brooks will tell me, between insane flurries of foul racist gibberish, is that he’d really like to pop by the helicopter to see if the radio still works.

Restarting the level… that’s not an option. The game saves for you, and there’s no option to even convert a checkpoint save into something permanent. Perhaps the developers were aware that no one would ever, in a billion years, want to go through anything in the game twice. But indeed no, because completing a level shows you your various scores for particular aspects in one column, alongside the astonishingly optimistic second column for an all-time high score. I cannot imagine there is a copy of Tunnel Rats anywhere in the world that has different numbers in either column. But my point: Only completed levels can be replayed from the opening menus – menus that, to divert once again, can only be navigated with a keyboard and completely random set of keys. (Alt to reassign, Alt Gr to set to default!) – and since it’s not possible to finish level two, I’d be forced to start the whole game over again. And you know what? No.

This was my view when walking through the helicopter to see if it still had a radio.

While Uwe Boll clearly had nothing to do with coding the game, his name is proudly displayed as it loads (and loads and loads and loads), and it seems very in keeping with the shambolic, almost mystifyingly awful ways of his movies. German developers Replay Studios (link currently doesn’t work, and perhaps never will again) have recently been rumoured to have collapsed after going bankrupt. However, they never even admitted to making the game on their website when it was up. This was one of their smarter decisions.

It’s, um, on Steam for £16. If you’re at all tempted I recommend you take the money and shove it up your nostrils until your brain haemorrhages.

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40 Comments »

  1. Howard says:

    Yeah, that about sums up my experience exactly when I played this a few months back upon its release. The grenade bug, the fiddling with “hunt the pixel” interactions and the ghost helicopter were all present and correct for me too.

    The sheer amount of effort that must have been needed to accomplish a game this shoddy really does boggle the mind… =)

  2. nine says:

    Wow! So bad you didn’t want to replay the first level? That’s… quite amazing really.

  3. vasagi says:

    is it possibly that uwe boll is in chaoots with lars von tier and its all abit of a joke?

  4. Paul Moloney says:

    “lars von tier”

    Breaking the Waves: The Video Game!

    (Loved the end of that movie just for its mindfcuk quotient.)

    P.

  5. zipdrive says:

    It’s interesting to see how bad games can be. I find it amazing developers can go to huge lengths to accurately model, say, the sounds of weapons, when other, basic, things are completely broken.

    Have they heard of a top-down design approach? First make sure you get start, progress and end a level, then work on the trap minigame…

  6. Irish Al says:

    Perversely, this review makes we want to play it.

  7. Theoban says:

    Obviously it’s a masterpiece, who else but Boll could make a game that accurately simulates the horrors of war? Shooting, killing, we’ve all done that in games. But when has there been a game that made one feel like you were suffering, confused and bewildered, like a young soldier thrown into battle?

  8. dan says:

    @IrishAl: bit presumptuous of you to speak for all of us. I don’t want to play it.

  9. theleif says:

    I thought Postal:The Movie was fun.
    There. I’ve said it.

  10. Tim James says:

    Very clever of him to add the year as subtitle for the game. He knows his medium.

  11. Lightbulb says:

    tl;dr

    Whats the score out of 10? Thats all thats important about a review after all…
    —-

    These sorts of games actually make me quite sad. I mean some team of people worked on this thing. Did they just not give a damn or did they do their best? If they did try then I can’t help but feel sorry for them…

    Whatever I do I try to do my best, I’d be heart broken if something I worked on was this bad…

  12. Davee says:

    “However, it manages something else I wasn’t expecting: to be one of the most stunningly awful games I’ve ever experienced.” What? You didn’t expect a movie-license game based on a low-budget movie by Uwe Boll to be worse than other move-license games? I’m ashamed, Mr Walker. Altough I’d like to see if this scores lower than the 19% score given to some Terminator-game a few years back in the PGC magazine.

  13. Jetsetlemming says:

    I agree with Irish actually, I find a strange enjoyment experiencing the worst of the worst game experiences (as long as I don’t have to pay for them and wasn’t expecting an actually good game of course). They’re interesting learning experiences. Like reading Mein Kampf when you’re thinking about writing an autobiography as a lesson in What Not To Do.
    I don’t suppose Tunnel Rats tells you “You’re Winner!” after completing a level, does it?

  14. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    @theleif:
    true dat, Dave Foley and Coppola are cool and some of the pictures presented are so realistic (Post office clerk, policemen.)…and Far Cry, that German guy seems perfectly fitting there and *spoiler*
    I was moved when the Good Super Mutant died

  15. Fat says:

    I remember trying this at a friend’s house. We couldn’t work out how to get past that first trip-wire trap, lol. Game seemed terribad, anyway.

  16. Paul Moloney says:

    “But when has there been a game that made one feel like you were suffering, confused and bewildered, like a young soldier thrown into battle?”

    Some old games did that if you left a joystick accidentally plugged in.

    P.

  17. Chris Evans says:

    My god this game is awful, I played it a few months ago for a review on The Reticule, I hated every moment of it. It was so distasteful and everything was just bad.

    I too had that problem with the traps =/

  18. Zerotime says:

    I was under the impression that Uwe Boll made movies in eastern-European locations less for tax reasons and more because you could pay your entire cast of actresses a handful of pocket change between them to spend an entire film topless.

  19. kwyjibo says:

    The actual film is meant to be quite good – the only thing of Boll’s worth watching.

  20. Super Bladesman says:

    Sounds more entertaining than this game does :D

  21. airtekh says:

    This game was the last one Ross Atherton reviewed for PCGUK before he left.

    What a terrible going-away present.

  22. vasagi says:

    uwe bolls movies WERE an illaborate tax break trick untill 2005 how he’s getting away with it now is unknown ¬.¬

  23. bansama says:

    Like Rag Doll Kung Fu, this is one game I would never buy if it were selling for $1 in a Steam sale.

  24. Kotti says:

    I played through this game a while ago, that’s pretty much what I thought of it. You should have probably mentioned how insane hardware it requires, my pc isn’t great, but it can run Assassin’s Creed on pretty good settings smoothly. Tunnel Rats… 800×600 and everything set to minimum, rarely got over 20 fps. Then there’s the blood, which looks like sand (maybe it’s my version, but it most certainly wasn’t red blood). And the crappy guns, on hard the only reasonable way to kill anything is a headshot. You got the grenade thing a bit wrong, you can throw one grenade before he starts mimicing, it won’t explode, but at least you can see it fly. But hey, at least the ending was somewhat satisfying!

    By the way, in the second level you don’t have to go to the chopper and get the smoke grenades. In the empty looking area there is a tree stump which you can use to jump out of map – right next to the level exit.

    Is the walking through walls bug only in some specific locations or does it work with any wall? I’m planning on doing a speedrun so it would be nice to know.

  25. Kotti says:

    Woow, that comment turned out a bit longer than I first intended.

  26. ascagnel says:

    My hometown (Hoboken, NJ) has a small film festival every year. Last year, they showed the Postal movie as the main event. It went horribly. The mayor left after the first 10 or 15 minutes, and looked like he wanted to punch Boll in the mouth. Families had brought little kids and were left running when the opening scenes showed Dave Foley’s “Little Dave”.

    Some friends and I stayed through the movie, booing. Most fun I had that summer. By the end, Boll probably wanted to box us.

  27. Clovus says:

    There’s not an original idea to be found. So as you might expect, right mouse does iron sights, left mouse fires.

    pfff… what hacks! I, for one, demand new, complex, unintuitive controls for my FPSs.

    Heh, jk, I got your point. Really though, if the controls weren’t like that you’d certainly complain. I remember some old FPSs that had “aim” coded to “Z” or something crazy.

  28. Nero says:

    Wouldn’t expect anything less from something Uwe Boll put his name onto. Great read and even though I had no interested before I’m even more not interested in it now.

  29. Smurfy says:

    The only function of games like these is so that developers such as Pandemic can go “Well, at least I’ll never make a game that bad!”

  30. l1ddl3monkey says:

    “Isn’t that your favourite thing you’ve heard about a game ever? It is mine.”

    It was certainly the funniest.

  31. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    vasagi:
    Nazi gold, of course!
    *winks at ascagnel*

  32. juv3nal says:

    “Breaking the Waves: The Video Game!”

    You kid, but…
    http://www.slashfilm.com/2009/06/17/wtf-lars-von-triers-antichristthe-video-game/

  33. Nick says:

    I accidentally rented the movie without realising it was his till the opening credits. I was most upset.

  34. FupDuk says:

    “If you’re at all tempted I recommend you take the money and shove it up your nostrils until your brain haemorrhages.”

    That made me laugh out very loud, thanks :D

  35. Aphotique says:

    Growing up with video games, I always wanted someone to take those games that I love and film them. Take your liberties or don’t, but bring those wonderful stories to life. They’ve done it with books and comics, so why not video games? Unfortunately, it just seems to be a rather untapped source of material and Uwe Boll is the only person trying to tap into it regularly. Now, I abhor his attempts, but I still watch them because I can at least appreciate the source material, and there just isn’t anything else out there.

    Video games are my hobby, my addiction, my love and I’m actually quite alarmed by something like this. It isn’t just Boll that does it, however. A lot of people have started pushing games based on film over the last few years and combining that with the general lessening of powerful, well thought out, and well written stories being told through the medium saddens me. It has me worried because the video game is a pretty unique medium in which you can tell a story in a way that no other medium can, but the majority seems to be leaning away from the unique and a future I genuinely cringe at.

    Still, at least Boll’s films functioned. Regardless of how awful the trip was, you had a beginning and an end barring the spontaneous combustion of the projector. This game however doesn’t even give you that little satisfaction. Fascinating.

  36. Nutterguy says:

    Does Bol just translate to fail in English?
    Also a very small and self hating part of me kind of wants to play this, for free of course.

    Nah I’ll play more Tee Eff Tooooo!

  37. Max says:

    For shame, Valve, for putting this on Steam and soiling your catalog of games.

  38. Jim says:

    Noticed the front cover of this game, the choppers on it are UH-60′s whereas in the 60′s the army only has Hueys. Good to see historical accuracy at least is a priority, even if gameplay, graphics, fun etc isn’t.

    http://img2.pict.com/cd/ad/d0/628477c520e8ae47804147ccca/ZPe9a/tunnel.jpg

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