Vietnam War, like all wars in history, is greatly covered in almost all types of media, and video games are no exceptions. Lost Patrol was among the first games that focused on the Vietnam War, but it covered it in a very unique way.
Developed by the duo Ian Harding and Simon Cooke (Shadow Development), and released by Ocean Software around Christmas of 1989 (MS-DOS version in 1991), Lost Patrol had interesting development history. Initially, Lost Patrol was conceived as a Cinemaware game, but with more action-oriented gameplay. The designer Ian Harding, eventually sent the concept to Cinemaware and six other companies, until Ocean Software picked it up, in early 1989. Ocean Software at the time decided to move to 16-bit market, and the game was originally intended as the sequel to their 1987’s game Platoon. and was initially named as Platoon II. The most problems during the development came from Ocean itself, as they wanted something with more arcade elements and wanted to mold the game that way. On the other hand, the developer duo wanted more deep, a realistic game with some aspects of text adventures. Eventually, Ocean Software will ease up, and let the duo create the game that they envisioned. Ian Harding spent a lot of time at the library, reading about war atrocities, watching war films and researching every aspect of the war.
Lost Patrol is set in 1966, when a U.S. helicopter returning from R&R in Saigon, crashes somewhere in Central Highlands. There are seven survivors and some of them are wounded (this is randomized every time). Finding themselves with no radio and on low supplies, seven survivors must cross 58 miles of enemy territory and reach the nearest U.S. outpost: Du Hoc. Because you are deep in VC territory, you can expect booby-trapped terrain, ambushes, minefields and of course a lot of VC. You control a 29-year-old, Sergeant Charlie Weaver, who takes command of the survivors. You must get to know your team, as certain situations may require a skilled soldier. You must also keep an eye out on resources, such as rations, ammo and most importantly morale. Morale can drop due to numerous reasons, like pushing the squad too far with no rest, losing battles, retreating, etc. This can lead to soldiers questioning your leadership, deserting you or the worst-case scenario, killing you. Also, if Weaver dies at any moment, it’s game over, and you must start over.
You control your squad on a strategy map, which is dived into sectors, and the squad is represented by a small red “X” on the map. Here you may issue various commands, like how long to rest, when to eat, whether to walk cautiously or double march and so on. When you encounter an enemy you will be presented with an action sequence.
Lost Patrol features several action sequences, that you will encounter on your journey. This may range from:
Hand-to-Hand combat sequence happens when you encounter a lone VC soldier guarding supplies or arms. You must defeat them in combat before the time expires. If the time expires, your soldier will be considered MIA and abandoned by the rest of the squad.
The battle sequence is encountered when the VC patrol assaults your position. You must defend your position all while preventing them from neither overrunning or killing you. In this section, you can also use grenades, or set the rate of fire (normal or heavy).
Grenade sections are encountered when your squad comes in contact with one or more NVA machine gun nests. They are too well-entrenched and must be destroyed by throwing grenades at them to move on.
Sniper section requires you to eliminate one or more enemy snipers. You must use the telescopic sight of your rifle to find and eliminate the enemy sniper, by looking for the flashes of enemy fire.
Minefield sequences are found near places such as VC bunkers. You must navigate the minefield by stabbing the ground before the time runs out.
Also, there is an option of retreating, but this is almost always risky. While on the surface Lost Patrol may seem like a compilation of arcade sequences, there are surprisingly deep moral dilemmas in the game. You can find yourself in a position where you can encounter local Vietnamese and Montagnard (in the mountains) civilians, and this includes villages marked on the map. There are several options available, ranging from avoiding them, interrogating them or killing them. You can talk to them in a friendly manner or choose hard interrogation, and type keywords for more info. Also, if you push them too much during the interrogation, villagers may turn hostile and open fire on you. The game will never tell you which villages are friendly or hostile, and some may offer you shelter or food, while others may poison your squad or fight you. Lost Patrol manages to create the feel of fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, and creates a realistic, believable atmosphere of the Vietnam War. There are cutscenes before every encounter and in certain situations. They cannot be skipped, but are excellently animated and make you feel like you are in a Vietnam War movie.
Lost Patrol had amazing graphics and music at the time. The graphics were created using Deluxe Paint II, with scanned hand-drawn images with photo references, as well as the use of digitized Vietnam footage stills. The Amiga was the primary platform for the game, and the 32-bit graphics were downgraded for Atari ST and MS-DOS versions. The game only has one music track, that plays thought the whole game (except the arcade sequence). It is incredibly addictive, and will probably get stuck in your head long after you play the game. It was composed by a 16-year old Chris Glaister, who sadly later decided that he wouldn’t do game music anymore.
There is one important thing about the Lost Patrol. Soon after its release, there was a widely pirated, leaked Amiga version of the game that was unfinished, buggy and prone to crashing. The bugs that you may encounter happen when the map scrolls for the first time, squad morale drops to zero or Weaver automatically dies. So, find the correct version if you want the full experience. The game was later ported to Atari ST and MS-DOS by Astros Productions. The result was less than satisfactory as both versions had downgraded graphics, and several options are missing in the MS-DOS version. For instance, you cannot control the rate of fire during a Battle sequence in the MS-DOS version. Some things were also cut or changed from the final product, either due to technical limitations or the lack of time. For instance, the tunnel sequence was cut completely.
Lost Patrol is a game that provides a good challenge to the player, and it is entirely possible to keep everyone alive. After the intro, the game just starts (like most games at the time), and you want to read the manual or a guide to familiarize yourself with the game. The best tactic is to think like this is a real-life scenario. You want to keep away from villages, keep your head down, rest when needed and get to Du Hoc as fast as possible. Lay down traps and search every area after every encounter to increase your chances of survival.
Lost Patrol is certainly a unique game, in its presentation of the war than any other game at the time. It doesn’t glorify the war, there are no hear, only destruction, despair and survival. The game was a huge success and received mostly positive reviews at the time. If you want to try a game with a different take on the war with an amazing atmosphere, give Lost Patrol a try. Just remember to get the superior Amiga version.