Before the Allies could plan for an invasion of Hitler's Fortress Europe in 1944, they first had to defeat the Axis armies in North Africa. Similarly, developer Monte Cristo has only turned its attention to the D-Day landings having first produced the competent if derivative WWII RTS Desert Rats Vs Afrika Korps.
This follow-up, which uses the same basic engine and gameplay mechanics, covers the whole campaign in Normandy, from the initial airborne assaults, through the beach landings, to the battles that resulted in the destruction of the German Army in France.
Obviously trained on the same drill square as most of its WWII RTS predecessors, D-Day is a well-presented affair that sacrifices realism for excitement and comic book derring-do. The three single-player campaigns (all played on the Allied side) are loaded with events and encounters from just about every D-Day film or TV show every made, including special tips of the helmet to Band Of Brothers and The Longest Day. For an added dash of authenticity, the developers have modelled many of the maps on aerial photographs taken during the war, and scouted out many of the locations for themselves.
Battles can range from using a handful of scattered parachute troops to overpower an enemy coastal battery, to commanding a sprawling invasion force consisting of tanks, armoured cars, infantry and airpower. The smaller scale missions give more scope for exploiting the special abilities of many of the infantry - sappers clearing mines, scouts sneaking up ahead and snipers annihilating machine-gun nests at range -as well as placing a greater emphasis on keeping troops alive. The larger scale battles put the emphasis on multitasking, as you attempt to manage anything up to a hundred-odd little chaps and an array of supporting machines of war.
Updated since Desert Rats, the impressive engine now boasts 3D realism right down to the clumps of grass and the shimmering water. Smoke-belching tanks rumble around with scant regard for obstacles, with trees, telegraph poles and walls all crushed beneath their tracks. Artillery pieces recoil as they fire, and the plumes of fire, smoke and debris their shells create on impact look meaty.
What will concern veterans of strategy gaming - especially Sudden Strike or Blitzkrieg - is quite how uniform this is shaping up to be. From the interface layout, to the hotkeys, to the structure of the missions and the style of tactics, D-Day is clearly a title not looking to break the mould. Whether this is a good or bad thing will be down to you - whether you are already suffering from battle fatigue, or whether your lust for Boys' Own-style combat is as fierce as it ever was.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Wait a minute, didn't I just review this game five issues ago? A WWII 3D RTS? Check. With ridiculously high system requirements? Check. Published by Digital Jesters and developed by Digital Reality? Check and check. That means it must be Desert Rats Vs Afrika Korps, an entertaining yet somewhat flawed strategy game with a heavy emphasis on desertbased tank warfare, reviewed in issue 141 and awarded a very solid 70 per cent. Right?
Wrong. Because this is D-Day, a frustrating and incredibly flawed 3D RTS set during the Allied invasion of Normandy, which uses the same engine as Desert Rats but is packed with amateurish level design and some of the most fiddly gameplay ever to blight a strategy game.
You see, whereas its predecessor was set in the deserts of North Africa, a locale perfectly suited to the kind of full-scale tank warfare that this engine was so clearly designed for, D-Day is set in the claustrophobic, hedgerow-covered confines of Normandy, for which this engine is completely inadequate. Add in the fact that infantry and not tanks were the key force in the campaign and you have some major problems.
Most missions require you to navigate enormous numbers of foot soldiers around fields and towns, completing uninspiring tasks such as blowing up bunkers and bridges or storming well-defended enemy strongholds. The first problem here is that all of your foot soldiers look almost identical, so selecting a sapper (to place explosives on a target) from a tightly packed cluster of 30 miniscule soldiers isn't only fiddly, but hideously timeconsuming too. Usually, by the time you've identified one, half your men are swimming in pools of their own blood and you're left angrily hitting the reload key.
D-Day's main claim to fame is that it's historically accurate (incredibly, it's the only game ever to have been approved by the Normandie Memoire Association). However, that doesn't change the fact that it's lacking both the gameplay and quality to do the setting justice.
For example, take the Omaha beach mission. As you'd expect, this tasks you with storming and securing the beach. However, on anything under a P4 2.4GHz machine, the level jerks like an epileptic in a strobe factory, and proves to be virtually unplayable. Even on a higher-end machine it can hardly be construed as fun, as all you have to do is mass your troops and charge each enemy stronghold in turn with hundreds of tiny, nondescript soldiers that are totally bereft of character and feel utterly expendable. It's not fun, it's not strategic and it certainly isn't realistic.
However, let's not be too hasty to write this one off, as it does possess some merits. When the tanks do finally show up, levels become far more entertaining, and the game's strategic subtleties finally come into play. Like Desert Rats, you can target parts of enemy tanks, such as the turret or the caterpillar, rendering them impotent or immobile. Meanwhile, loading an officer into one of the scores of vehicles on offer increases both its attacking and defensive capabilities. Likewise, tanks can be dug in to gain an extra defensive bonus, although this does render them immobile and prone to flanking attacks.
Best of all though, is the inclusion of optional secondary objectives that have a bearing on later missions. So, if you take a detour to capture that enemy anti-ship gun in one level, you can call on some devastating ship-based artillery support two levels later. It's a basic idea, but adds some spice to an otherwise highly predictable game.
Rushing The Shelves
Despite its smattering of positive elements though, D-Day reeks of being rushed to the table like a pot of undercooked sauerkraut. It's as though someone came up with the idea a couple of months ago to cash in on the 60th anniversary commemorations, then banged it out in record time. With levels this basic, pathfinding this broken and dialogue so bad it makes you grind your teeth into a pulp, it's impossible to feel otherwise.
In fact, if the Allies had spent as little time planning the D-Day landings as Digital Reality has evidently spent creating this game, I'd probably be called Schultz and have an unhealthy interest in pull-up socks, spicy sausages and the music of David Hasslehoff. I think that says it all really.