World War II has proven a fertile ground for games, forming the backdrop for many a quality title and D-Day is no exception. This is a real-time strategy game which forces you to think strategically and employ your forces wisely in order to complete your objectives, a linear narrative complete with in-game cut scenes guides you through the action and the artwork is impressive for the RTS genre going a long way towards immersing you in wartime Europe.
After install you have the usual options including multiplayer online which is always good for increasing replay value. There is a short tutorial which gives you the basics but the control system and concept will be familiar to any real-time strategy fans as it hasn´t really changed much since Command and Conquer. You have the familiar view from above with a limited zoom and mini-map and you click individual units to select them or click and drag to select groups.
Some intro movies set the scene using real footage from WWII and each mission starts with a briefing which outlines the objectives. The in-game cut scenes explain various events along the way but they felt slightly imposing, cutting in at unexpected times with long badly scripted conversations, the voiceover acting was poor. The sound effects help the realism and are a very high standard while the music is slightly stiff and military sounding which fits the game but doesn´t inspire.
The look of the game is more impressive, nice textures, some impressive visual effects and a good overall standard of animation. The weather effects and explosions are great and add a great deal to the atmosphere. There is also great variety with a host of units (over 60 in total) featuring unique abilities and a range of vehicles to choose from. Although you are unable to build you can have your troops occupy buildings or fixed defences (in fact you frequently have to in order to avoid being slaughtered).
The missions are fairly difficult and unfold in stages. Sometimes there is too great a sense of linearity, you can tell with hindsight what the designer expected you to do and I often had the sense I had completed objectives in the wrong order. With little explanation it is not always so obvious before hand where is best to attack or with what. Then again this is part of the challenge and it is not so limited that different strategies cannot win the day.
The strategy comes in mainly with the troops you select for each job and how you move them around the map, simply charging bunkers with a large group of riflemen generally ends in disaster but one flamethrower unit will empty the bunker in seconds. Once you figure out the best combinations of troops or vehicles to use the game is a lot of fun and provides a real challenge for your organisational skills.
With the WWII setting firmly entrenched the missions naturally enough follow the course of the war. You take control of various members of the Allied Forces as they disembark in Normandy and wrestle control of Europe back from the Nazi´s. While you may assume the mission structure would be set in stone in fact your performance in various parts of the campaign does affect what happens later, and so some flexibility is introduced. The game is also packed with genuine history and the attention to detail is very impressive.
D-Day has quite a steep learning curve; achieving success in the missions requires real planning and will likely necessitate a few replays. The range of scenarios for the missions is very impressive and gives a real sense of variety and challenge in the gameplay. Despite the difficulty it is hard to stop playing and this game definitely has the all important feeling of fun and immersion which encourages you to skip food and toilet breaks for hours at a time.
The AI appears to be quite good and certainly up for a fight. Tactically they are quick to respond to situations, although they do tend to wade in from time to time when they should probably be staying in their bunkers and trenches. However some of the Nazis are positively devious and you´d be well advised to run down any fleeing forces unless you want them to turn up later on the other side of the map picking off your stragglers.
Graphically D-Day shows how far the RTS genre has come. The environments are beautifully realised, the troops look good and animate well and the special effects are top quality, when combined with the sound effects the game becomes really immersive. The scenes laid out before you involving large numbers of troops and vehicles skirmishing through villages and forests are quite cinematic at times.
The gameplay is tactical and challenging but remains fun throughout and this is a satisfying combination. RTS fans will pick this up easily but there are some great additions to the genre too such as your troops range of special abilities, the interactivity with the environment which allows you to destroy or occupy (and fire from within) buildings, and the bonuses you receive for adding differently skilled men to vehicle crews.
D-Day does have its flaws but for the most part this is an excellent game and undoubtedly the best RTS title I have seen for a while. Europe is in peril, the Allies driven from the continent and they want you to lead the counter-offensive, how can you resist?