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Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps

Sam takes command of the battlefield...

Well Edwin, it is good for something. If it wasn't for the terrible period between 1939 and 1945 then the last ten years would have been missing so many of its computer games. Publisher Digital Jesters has another title preparing to join the ranks in the outfit of Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps. Which for the sake of my sanity shall henceforth be known as DRvAK. I recently had the chance to take this intriguing squad level RTS game on a few training missions, and these are my reports from the rear echelon.

DRvAK is a semi realistic war game which is most similar to Frontline Command. Packing a story-driven game along with a two-sided campaign, a cluster of scenarios and some multiplayer goodness, DRvAK aims to provide the player with some combat-based thrills. You can assume command of either the Allied or Axis forces and guide them across 20 different maps. There are more then 70 authentic vehicles and weapons platforms to deploy, with combat taking both the facings of your armour and the vagaries of terrain into account. Over 30 different kinds of soldier are signed up for each side, with an extra eight kinds of specialist trooper.

You get a certain number of Mission points to choose your squad for the next mission. The somewhat spartan briefing gives you a good idea of what sort of force you are going to need, and you then have total freedom to pick and choose from the available units. From sappers, flamethrowers, medics and snipers to Churchills, M3s, Tigers and air strikes DRvAK aims to give the payer the freedom to win the fight their way. The missions I played were varied in both the objectives and pace. One mission had me taking out a Tommy outpost which I then had to fortify and repel a counterattack from. Another charged me with aiding some Dutch allies in holding a mountain pass under a sustained infantry and armour assault. After recapturing some artillery pieces overlooking the carnage (all vehicles in the game can be taken over), I was able to turn the battle in my favour. A neat feature is that a vehicle's attributes are affected by the kinds of personnel crewing them. Sticking a scout into a gun crew will improve its range, while a grenadier will add some oomph to the vehicle's weaponry. While this isn't very realistic, it does add some extra fun into the mix. You can set the AI behaviour of your units with the usual compliment of hold fire/position, free fire, etc. modes. Currently the AI experiences the occasional path-finding difficulty, with the dreaded traffic jam featuring all too often. The full game should have a full compliment of missions specializing in giving the player an entertaining and challenging experience, and with all the little things to think about it won't just be the tactical and dextral parts of your mind that will get a good working over. Missions have both primary and secondary objectives to complete, as well as a smattering of other, undeclared objectives that will bring the diligent commander some tasty bonuses for the next mission

The full game will boast 20 different missions, ten for each side. There's going to be some multiplayer action to get stuck into, too, supporting up to four players over LAN and Gamepsy. There's currently a demo of this side of the game available from our downloads section. Another feature of the game are the hero units. These super tough soldiers give all nearby soldiers a serious boost to their abilities, although they must be kept alive for the duration of each mission, which currently restricts the true usefulness you can derive from their influence.

DRvAK has an experience system where your men not only improve after each battle but are carried through to the next level. Unfortunately this option was redundant in this code, the whole preview version being rather rough around the edges. Hopefully the jagged edges of the shadows will get a nice smoothing before release, as they do the worst damage to an otherwise attractive graphics engine. While the level of detail may not be the best, all the model's look both realistic and rugged while remaining identifiable in the thick of combat. There are some nice touches, like the permanence of battlefield death with bodies and hulks staying in place right to the bitter end. You can blow everything up apart from hard terrain like cliffs. It's satisfying to not only knock out a tank that was causing you grief but to then keep on pounding the remains until there's nothing left but a bad smell and a memory. There's a really impressive level of detail in the graphics as a whole, helping to create a more tangible impression of a 'died in' battlefield. The camera zooms out a good distance into a birds-eye view, although I would prefer to see a little more consistency in the level of zoom available as it seems restricted in certain parts of the map. Everything ran smoothly on my machine at very high settings, but if your own machine is a little more modest then there's enough settings to play with to keep things rolling along. With the inevitable tightening of routines before release DRvAK is shaping up to be one of the nicest WWII titles to deploy in the market.

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