Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps
By Definition, The desert is the armpit of the planet; very hot and very sweaty, although not quite as influenced by a spray of Right Guard. With nothing to offer but tons of sand, it really makes you wonder why humanity ever chose to fight one another over bits of it. But fight they did, and soon man became an expert at inflicting death in the sand. Now you too, for a mere fiver and without the risk of losing life or limb, can step into the sweltering confines of a desert-based tank in this WWII RTS.
Despite the levels all looking pretty lilar, you'll soon discover there some carefully crafted strategic lundrums to solve, and with no source collecting, you can also jump traight.into the thick of the action.
However, the game's far from perfect, lith some diabolical path-finding, awful Dice-acting and a smattering of bugs marring it Despite that, it's still an enjoyable, strategic and surprisingly accessible RTS.
Download Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Of all the WWII conflicts, the campaign in Africa is probably the most overlooked. In fact, not that many people know much about it, so if you're one of the many who spent more time blowing soggy paper balls through hollowed-out biros at your classmates than you did listening to your Fisherman's Friendsmelling history teacher, here's a quick bit of background info before we get started on the game.
Warning: Historical Facts Part
After the French capitulation in 1940, the Italians and Germans turned their attentions to North Africa. The battle swung backwards and forwards for the best part of three years, mainly between General Erwin Desert Fox' Rommel's Africa Korps and General Bernard Montgomery's Desert Rats, with the Allies eventually coming out on top. But only just.
Clearer now? Good. On to the game then, which, having spent a great deal of quality time with the latest preview code (we went to the beach, had an ice cream, raced on the go-carts...) we can confidently say is looking a bit tasty. Indeed, this 3D RTS could be one of the surprise packages of the year.
Divided into two, ten-mission story-driven campaigns - Axis and Allies - you play as either a stiff-upper-lipped English or Chippy-bombing German hero. It's striking just how much Desert Rats reminds us of isometric RTS classic Sudden Strike, only in 3D.
Bereft of resource management, you're left to concentrate on the more tactical and subtle aspects of warfare, picking your units before the start of each level and later being backed up by an array of reinforcements.
With troops in such limited supply, it'll be essential to utilise your surroundings to gain maximum advantage. If you're to stand any chance of success, you'll have to master such skills as digging into the sand for extra cover, assuming an elevated position to help outgun and out-manoeuvre the enemy, and flanking them (where their armour is weakest) with the ferocity of a boarding school headmaster trapped in a dark room with a small yelping boy.
Desert Rats' engine is also pretty damn impressive, with a fully interactive and deformable landscape that enables your tanks to mow down trees, kick up plumes of sand with their caterpillar tracks and level buildings to dust with their awesome firepower.
But it's not all just about tanks, with good old salt-of-the-earth soldiers playing an integral role in the proceedings, too. Flame-thrower units can incinerate entire squads of enemies with one twitch of their clammy finger, or turn trucks into moving bonfires. Medics heal, bazooka troops can stop the mightiest of motorised beasts and best of all, your hero - who you must preserve at all costs - gives nearby troops a huge combat bonus. And as if that wasn't enough, you'll even be able to call in air strikes to aid you if it's all looking a bit ropey on the ground.
It's Hell Out There
Some of the missions in the current build are truly spectacular. One sees you landing on a beach, enemy mortar fire cascading down around your vulnerable foot soldiers, sending spirals of sand arching into the air along with broken, bloodied bodies, while gut-twisting explosions ring out around you.
Another sees you racing across the desert, your massed columns of tanks kicking dust clouds into the sky, a beacon of hope to the besieged force you're racing to rescue. On arrival, you tear into the enemy backline, using sand dunes to gain elevation and the upper hand over the superior-sized German ranks.
In familiar RTS style, there's also an escort mission through enemy-infested territory, which sees you protecting a precious cargo as enemy shells from tanks and mortars try to break your ranks. Still another sees you embroiled in street-by-street combat in a desert town, your machines of war being sent sky-high by rockets from cunningly concealed enemy forces.
There may not be many games based on the African campaign in WWII, but from the looks and feel of what we've played, Desert Rats could kick up quite a storm on its arrival. That said, it would benefit from some better voice-acting (which we've been promised will be in place in time for release) and a freer camera. And while the scripted in-mission sequences work well enough, it'll also be interesting how much replayability the game will offer as a result.
Still, we have high hopes for this one, and when the review code scuttles in next issue, we could well rat(e) it highly. See what I did there? Oh dear, that was misjudged...
Once Upon a time, many, many years ago (about four), a small, virtually unknown German publisher released a World War II strategy game to great critical acclaim and, almost overnight, became famous all across the land. The company was CDV, the game was the 2D RTS, Sudden Strike.
Despite being rendered in 3D, Desert Rats Us Afrika Korps bears more than a passing resemblance to that strategy classic, and fledgling UK publisher Digital Jesters -incidentally comprised of several ex-CDV employees - has chosen this as one of its first releases. But will it have ... the same impact for them as Sudden Strike did for their three-lettered counterpart? Let's find out, shall we?
Commander & Conqueror
Spanning the whole of the North African conflict (1940-1943), Desert Rats features two ten-mission campaigns (Axis and Allies) for you to pit your wits against. Each is played from the viewpoint of a commander - either a sausage sucker or an English pigdog - who acts as a hero unit in the game as well as starring in one of the game's dual narratives. Unfortunately, the storylines make less sense than a French film noir movie about tank tops. "You what, Korda?" Exactly. So let's not linger here too long, or on the horrifically bad voice acting, and move instead to the part that really counts. Strategy.
With no resource management, Desert Rats is all about battlefield tactics. Before each mission starts, you're allocated a set number of Mission Points with which to purchase troops. At first, your choices are limited to a smattering of ground units and the odd flimsy vehicle which couldn't repel a strong fart, but it's not long before the big guns become available, including a vast array of behemoth tanks, artillery and repair trucks as well as the ability to call in air strikes. The choice of hardware is quite staggering - 70 unique units per side -each one replete with stats for armour, speed, hit points and damage.
Once you've made your choices, or simply opted for the default set-up, you're thrown straight into the action. At first blush, the levels all look identical, with their uniform, sand-covered landscapes sprawling unspectacularly across your monitor. Linger a little longer though, and you'll discover that each one is carefully crafted, challenging you with brainteasing strategic conundrums and offering you a variety of ways to tackle each obstacle. And while the visuals aren't much to talk about, the musical score is rousing and perfectly evokes the brutal warfare that's unfolding in front of you.
It's here, on the arid African battlefields, that Desert Rats demonstrates its considerable depth. Troops can attack specific vehicle parts such as turrets and caterpillar tracks, rendering them impotent or immobile. Trucks can tow artillery and carry troops, but are easily picked off by enemy forces. What's more, every vehicle has a set amount of posts to be manned. The more posts you fill, the more effectively that unit will perform. You can also repair and steal any of the disabled and neglected vehicles you find scattered across the wasteland, giving you the choice of either diluting your existing vehicles' contingents in order to man your new armoured additions, or leaving these hulking metal skeletons scattered like corpses in the sand as you persevere with a smaller yet more efficient force.
Perform well and you'll be rewarded with Prestige Points, which give you access to special units and act as a great incentive to complete secondary missions and pre-plan your every move. Do you risk the minefields or take a shortcut through a city where bazooka-toting enemy troops lie in ambush, ensconced in every house? Will you take the heavily defended direct route to an objective or try the long but less rigorously guarded road? Your choices are many, although some levels do smack of funnelling in to order to adhere to the throwaway storyline.
Circles In The Sand
So far so good then, but let me just stop you there before your exuberance gets out of hand, because sadly, Desert Rats is far from perfect. Let's start with your troops' path-finding, which is among the worst I've seen in any recent 3D RTS. Tanks and trucks sometimes go off in wrong directions or totally overshoot their markers, subsequently wading into minefields. Sometimes they simply refuse to move at all.
Wandering off on ludicrous detours, boxing each other in or driving round in circles are also fairly common complaints, and while loading troops into houses to provide them with extra cover is a great touch, unloading them can be a hazardous affair, especially when they decide to leave by the wrong exit and end up boxed in by a clump of trees.
And as if your men didn't have enough to worry about with the searing heat and the hot sand in their cracks, the poor sods' lives are made even harder by a chronic lack of optimisation. Even on a P4 2GHz machine, the game occasionally slows to an epileptic jerk, especially on the more populated levels. This kind of juddering makes issuing orders impossible, especially when all the hotkeys suddenly and inexplicably stop working and you're left watching powerlessly as your men are ruthlessly massacred.
With a few more months of development, Desert Rats could easily have been Digital Jesters' Sudden Strike. However, with its collection of niggles, bugs and ridiculously high system requirements, the game is clearly not quite up to that standard. Despite this though, Desert Rats proves to be an entertaining, deeply strategic and surprisingly accessible RTS. If you've got a high-end P4 and want some desert-based strategic action, you could do a hell of lot worse than giving these rats a home.
The Art Of War
Combat Isn't All About Weight Of Numbers You Know...
Desert Rats provides several tactical aces that you can call upon to gain the upper hand. Mount your hero into a vehicle for example, and it'll receive a substantial attack bonus, while loading in a scout will greatly improve a unit's line of sight.
Digging your troops in is even more useful, providing a massive defensive advantage to your tanks from the front and sides, although it does render them immobile. And remembering that heavily armoured units are most vulnerable from the rear will not only help you when planning an attack, but also aid you in preserving your own vehicles. Just remember: a little pre-planning goes a long way, and these are men's lives we're talking about here dammit'