Day of Defeat Evaluation
One of the best Half-Life mods around comes under the spotlight.
Mod making is becoming serious business. Browse through Amazon and you'll find Counter-Strike, Gunman Chronicles and Tactical-Ops all for retail, and all of them started out as free to download, community developed software. It’s becoming a serious avenue for amateur coders to get into the industry and become professional coders. Obviously by its very nature there are going to be more mods that miss the mark than those that go on to become well established and highly polished gaming experiences. However when one does get it right it deserves as much attention as any game produced by a professional development company, and its this tortuous link that brings us to Day of Defeat (DoD). It's worth bearing in mind that this is a total conversion of the Half-Life engine. DoD has to work within the confines of a four year old (and the rest) engine, so with UT2003 possibly just round the corner those obsessed with graphics should probably look elsewhere. Those that do so are missing something a bit special though. What DoD sets out to achieve is class structured, team-based first person fun. Set in WW2 with one team comprising of the Axis and the others being the Allies. Although these are currently represented by the Germans and Americans other nationalities (favourites being the British) are likely to be included in a future release. Being multi-player-only there is no plot other than what is set out to accomplish on the map. Capture the flags, capture the fuel truck, blow up specific map objects such as AA guns, shoot the other team, I'm sure you get the idea. Sturmbot is available to download and is a competent bot but the game is perfectly playable across a 56k connection. One of the key aspects for this type of game is how player deaths are handled. You can either have the player respawn after they die or they have to sit out the round until the objectives have been completed or everyone else is dead. The new release of DoD covers both types. Most maps use the respawning of players to create waves of reinforcements creating a relentless and fast paced style of play. Para maps (as in parachute regiment for you non-military types) use the one life per round system and are new to this release. It's the same gameplay mechanic as Counter-Strike but comparisons between the two are unfair, they offer completely different experiences to the player. In DoD it also offers a refreshing change from the standard game, although three Para maps are included only two really seem to hit the mark. Hopefully it will be part of the game that gets expanded in future releases. Realism has become a genre standard for an FPS these days. DoD is no exception and the quest for realism has been balanced against providing an enjoyable experience well. You die very quickly, there's no super Kevlar to soak up the bullets, and a gun like the kar98 kills in one shot. Even when you have the reinforcement system and you know you'll be respawned the ease with which you die will mean a slightly more cautious approach to your play. Crucial to the new mantra of realism is the way in which the weapons are dealt with. Aiming the gun is very similar to the system in Operation Flashpoint, perhaps even 'inspired' by it because it is basically the same method. You have two cursors, one in a locked position and one that roams around slightly as you move. Once you're stationary the second cursor lines up with the first and you have your aiming reticule. This combined with the recoil each weapon has makes getting a long distance, accurate shot difficult and this is a good thing. It makes 'spray and prey' tactics less effective online which means most of the time skill will beat luck. As stated before DoD is classed based. You don’t purchase your weaponry, rather you select what type of soldier you want to be. That soldier then has the tools associated with that role. The classes themselves offer no surprises, basically rifleman, assault infantry, support infantry, machine gunner and sniper. This is replicated for both sides, with over 14 main guns in the game. There’s always something for the player to experiment with. The weapons themselves are balanced very well, no gun can completely dominate. There is a minor annoyance with the grenades which need a little bit of tweaking. Blasts can go through walls which will leave you slightly bewildered as to why you’re dead. But as a whole they achieve what every fps needs and that’s guns that are satisfying to use, and this is done with panache. A unique aspect which helps set DoD apart from most other games are the rifles. Allies are equipped with the Gerrand, and the M1 Carbine, while the Germans have the choice of the Kar98 and the Kar43. Most games centre on assault rifles with rates of fire in the hundreds of rounds per minute. Taking on the enemy with a bolt action rifle is really unique and it forces you to make those shots count. Apart from anything else it’s very gratifying to repel an enemy assault with just five well-placed shots. Alongside the rifles are the machine guns, pistols and sniper rifles of the other classes and they really do provide a good variety of guns to choose from. Another nice touch is the heavy machine gun, .30 cal for allies MG34 and 42 for axis, which can have a deployed bipod both when prone and when near certain objects such as a window ledge. Graphically things may look a little dated but are still more than acceptable, the player models are detailed and the guns all look good within the confines of an ageing engine. Newer Para models naturally look the best but in future releases the other models and animations will be redone. It’s exciting times ahead for the fps genre. You’ve got the new Unreal and Doom3 engines to look forward to and theres no escaping the fact the mods based on ageing technology are going to look increasingly ropey. Having said that graphics are only half the story in DoD. One of the areas it excels in is creating a little piece of WW2 squad based combat inside your PC. Go get yourself some headphones (as I’m sure any serious CS player already has) and just listen to what’s happening around you. In a frantic map like Caen2 you’ll hear bombs going off, bullets whistling past your head, sporadic gunfire, voices shouting commands out (both in German and in English) and amongst all this you’ll be trying to pinpoint where the enemy fire or approaching footsteps are coming from. There aren’t many games out there, be it professional or amateur, which manage to create the atmosphere that DoD does. It’s superb and helps to create a very absorbing experience. The other piece to the puzzle that can make or break the online shooter is that of maps. There are 13 official maps and on the whole these are a very well made and make for some fantastic battles. It would be nice to see a return of Snow town, Oslo and even a remade Seg3 from previous a version but that’s just my view. Standout maps include Heutau, Anzio and Thunder but everyone has their favourites and that’s the point. There’s something here for everyone whether you enjoy close quarter battles, sniping or storming a beach, it’s all here. DoD is increasing with popularity as time goes on and one of the benefits of popularity is a strong on-line community. The official forum has a wealth of posts containing all the information a beginner could want, and is on the whole nice and friendly. Lot’s of fan sites have cropped up with plenty of custom maps and skins being produced. Despite the age of Half-Life, mods such as CS and DoD keep it very much alive. With the next generation of on-line games around the corner, UT2003, Star Wars Galaxies, Battlefield 1942, etc. it will be interesting to see what happens to the mod community for Half-Life over the next six months. With the release of 3.1 things are very much starting to take shape. The combat is enjoyable and at times the battles themselves prove to be very tense and exhilarating. Combined with the new recoil and aiming system it’s very rewarding when you start playing well and dominating a server. Of all the different kinds of online gaming experiences you can have, taking out an entrenched MG that’s been holding up your entire squad or taking down several enemies with a rifle before capping the final flag with a rifle to complete your objective is immensely satisfying. Counter-Strike deserved to go retail, when you play it, it feels professional and it’s just simply a very good game. Day of Defeat is approaching this stage, maybe not just yet, but in the next few releases because it is starting to feel very polished indeed. As an on-line experience for me it eclipses both RTCW and MH:AA. It’s a massive achievement for a mod making group and at the end of the day a fantastic game in its own right. You need to give DoD time, you won’t immediately be knocked out by stunning graphics or revolutionary gameplay. But what it does, it does very well. Oh and incase I didn’t mention it, Day of Defeat is free. Free.