With a prayer for accuracy from the artillery-gentlemen on the hill, Hoàng Đăng Bình and his allies in the Viet Minh 204th regiment charge forwards to liberate Đông Khê from French colonial forces. Over the next hour the dedicated band of heroes liberate prisoners, assault bunkers, hold off waves of attackers, and finally liberate a small town from occupation. It could have been a level in any Call of Duty or Medal of Honor game, and that is the most fascinating part of playing 7554.
I may be terrible at First Person Shooters, but diving into Vietnam’s only major historical videogame production is worth my repeated (probably avoidable) deaths. From the Battle of Hanoi in 1946 to the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ in 1954, 7554 provides the perfect fodder for exploring how non-western companies and governments navigate historical memory and the business of selling videogames.
7554‘s availability makes it one of the few non-western, non-Japanese historical war-themed games available for consumption outside their own domestic markets. This gives 7554 a unique and interesting seat amongst the many domestically produced propagandistic games that have been appearing around the world for nearly 20 years. (My repeated attempts to track down playable versions of Chinese produced wargames for the home market are a testament to the difficulty in finding anything working).
A brief overview: 7554 takes place during the First Indochina War, or the Anti-French Resistance War, placing the player as a Việt Minh fighter attempting to oust the French Colonial forces from their homeland. The game does its very best to present the conflict in purely those terms, with the focus on the Việt Minh’s tactical and strategic decisions over any attempt to engage with the political component of the conflict. It makes sense, 7554 was developed with help from the government of Vietnam, and they were very clear about what could and couldn’t be represented, according to the developers.
For instance, there is no multiplayer in 7554. Chiefly this is due to the fact that there cannot be any instance of shooting Việt Minh soldiers by the player. This extends much farther to the fact that the French forces on display in 7554 don’t include any of the 10s of thousands of Vietnamese who fought against the Việt Minh. Instead the French Forces are comprised of white and black Frenchmen, clearly indicating the colonial nature of the player’s opposing forces.
Materially, the game does an excellent job of portraying the hodgepodge of weaponry that would have been available to both sides. Weapons of Japanese, French, American, German, and Soviet make are all scattered throughout the game. The missions themselves play out in well done environments and are generally playable, though feel trapped in a world made in 2003. This is no real fault of the developers. They were working with the tools they had at hand a managed to make an interesting game with it.
Scattered throughout 7554 are key moments, usually cutscenes, that show the main characters or their comrades performing over the top heroic deeds. This initially struck me as hammy. But the more I played the more I realized that this is exactly the same kind of thing players see every time they boot up Call of Duty or any of the other myriad of shooters from the decade of the 2000s starring American soldiers. The propaganda is definitely tailored to the audience, with over the top heroics in 7554 replaced with awesome shows of technical force in later Call of Dutys.
There is a lot to talk about with this game, and I might make a second piece once we reach the conclusion of the main campaign. For now, I’d highly recommend checking out our Let’s Play if you have any interest in how this game portrays the conflict.
Images from Hiker Games Website http://www.hikergames.com/vi/game/pc/7554-69.html