Day of Defeat is a team-based first-person shooter set in World War II European locales. Originally it began as a modification to the popular Half-Life engine about three years ago by a varied group of young adults from around the world as a project to flesh out their passions for history and gaming.
Rather than crafting the gameplay as another run-and-gun shooter for the masses, DoD designers instead focused on squad tactics and cooperative play mechanics to force players to use their head rather than bunny hop their way to the top of the charts. The end result is Day of Defeat 1.0, officially adopted by Valve, and published by Activision.
You have to give Valve software some credit. In the 4+ years following the release of the wildly successful FPS groundbreaker Half-Life, they have managed to stay afloat releasing what has amounted to expansion packs and modded versions of their source code. Granted, each iteration has improved graphically, ever so slightly, as well as added newer innovations (voice chat, HL-TV) while the gaming community has created and adopted different versions of anti-cheat software and tweaks. Counterstrike was the first HL mod to make it to the big time, not only because it had a huge audience, but simply because it was designed by a talented bunch of individuals from all around the world. It was a work of passion ? unique, as well as progressive. Years later, it is still among the top online shooters, despite rampant cheating and an aging engine. There were others not worth mentioning that made the jump from pet-project to full blown release, but quickly faded into obscurity. Day of Defeat, on the other hand, has evolved into an underdog player that often rivals the big boys of historical combat in some ways. Medal of Honor multiplayer and Return to Castle Wolfenstein were both released on PC after Day of Defeat was firmly planted in the mod community. While they had obvious technical advantages (use of the Quake 3 technology, large budgets, professional full-time staff) there weren’t perfect. As a mod, DoD had agility ? changes could be instituted more readily according to fan suggestions. Now that it has joined the big leagues, how does it stand up?
Graphically, the game runs on an old engine. When stacked up against its contemporaries, maps have a blocky and jagged look, while textures appear muddy. Alternately, character models are nicely rendered with convincing animations and period accuracy. While death routines are gruesome, the absence of now popular rag doll physics occasionally results in weird clipping errors where casualties float in the air or jut out of the wall after taking a hit. It’s a minor complaint, but one worth mentioning.
Audio is fantastic, from the whiz of bullets past your head to the sound of shrapnel and earth showering the ground after artillery and grenade explosions, you will unknowingly duck and dodge in your seat running for cover. Player communications were faithfully recorded in the native tongues of the soldiers, which add to the realism factor (no faux German accents here). Voice chat is a supported, albeit underused feature. Hand signals, when properly employed, can mean the difference between a successful sneak attack and a botched assault. Too bad they are accessed through a clumsy interface, but no matter. Once you get the hang of the controls, the game becomes an extension of your mind.
Map objectives vary from the simple capture-the-flag variety, to the more involved demolition missions. There is variety in design, with some interesting triggered sequences and events to spice things up. Without cooperation and organization with teammates, expect to lose often. This is a game about team play, so if you were expecting Quake with Tommy guns, don’t bother. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to hit a target while moving. Player movement causes the aiming reticle to move and bob, thus increasing the impact spread from your weapon. Single shot rifles are generally more accurate regardless, but sacrifice the volume of lead a machine gun can deliver. Skilled MG’ers will find strategic choke points, and plant their weapon to maximize accuracy and deadliness. Other players will have to periodically drop off extra ammo, as the gunner only carries a limited supply. Grenades offer a nice alternative to take out that pesky sniper hiding in the shadows of a bombed out structure. Once you hear that familiar bounce of metal on wood, kiss your ass goodbye.
Character classes are varied from the lightly equipped scout and assault type, to the heavier supporting infantry. There are no medics, nor vehicles to control. Still, Day of Defeat has enough variety and realism to impress, so long as you are not looking for the prettiest game on the block. At the modest retail price of $29.99, it is a worthy addition to any PC gamer’s online library, but the absence of a single player component will likely alienate the group of WWII enthusiasts who rolled their way through Medal of Honor looking for more of that gritty goodness. Those who have played the free version over the last few years can still download the full version, although there are reportedly some features not available or supported by it.
Ultimately, Day of Defeat isn’t the prettiest WWII squad-based shooter, but its charm overcomes its limitations. It’s obvious the game was crafted with care, and for that alone it will hold a special place in my library for many years.