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 desert-based 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 time-consuming 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.