Day of Defeat Is Back, Guns Blazing!

I’ve written in this space about the Half-Life mod Day of Defeat before. DoD is a mod that turns Half-Life into a raging, multiplayer World War Two battle, and does it so successfully that Valve, the company behind Half-Life, has actually partnered with the DoD team to turn their labor of love into a retail product — an honor that has only been bestowed on one other fan-made HL mod, the famous Counter-Strike.

However, when Electronic Arts shipped Battlefield 1942, I figured that would be the end of the line for Day of Defeat. After all, Battlefield 1942 covers the same subject, and adds some great twists — a more modern graphics engine, multiplayer arenas with twice as many players (64 players maximum, compared to Half-Life’s 32), and drivable/flyable vehicles like tanks and fighter planes. Once I got my hands on BF1942, I thought I would never look back.

Well, consider me corrected, because Valve, in their new release of Day of Defeat (which they’re calling version 1.0, and which you can download for free if you don’t want the retail CD), has taken Day of Defeat and done what I thought was impossible — made it a credible competitor to BF1942. It’s still based on the now 5-year-old Half-Life engine, so the old limitations are still there (graphics aren’t anywhere near as nice, no way you can have drivable vehicles, etc.); but DoD 1.0 makes up for all that with one thing that BF1942, even after several patches, can’t really nail down: rock solid multiplay.

Don’t get me wrong, BF1942 multiplayer works, it’s fun, it’s not “broken” in the most literal sense; but BF1942 has been plagued since release with lag issues that make gameplay more complicated than it should be. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had someone lined up in my sights, only to have the game “hiccup” and suddenly scoot my target across the map. Considering how much of the ground-warrior part of the game is dependent on laying down accurate fire, this kind of erratic behavior is frustrating in the extreme.

Multiplay in DoD, on the other hand, is solid. Most likely, this is the upside of basing the product on Half-Life, whose engine has by this point been thoroughly road-tested and tuned. Five years of obsessive play should wring the bugs out of any game, and Half-Life is no different. You can feel the difference once you take DoD 1.0 for a test drive — on my first outing, I played as an American GI armed with an M1 carbine, a semiautomatic weapon that is more for accurate, single shots than for laying down large volumes of lead. As I ran through the map, I spotted a German helmet popping up in a trench ahead of me. Without thinking I just snapped off a shot — and tagged that other player smack in the helmet. This is important because both BF1942 and DoD have a model that causes hits to different parts of the body to cause different amounts of damage; a shot to the head is an instant kill, whereas hitting, say, an arm only results in a wound. In BF1942, I consider myself extremely fortunate if I can pull off a head shot, and that’s usually playing as a sniper in a prone position! In DoD, though, my accuracy is only limited by my ability within the game. That’s an incredibly cool thing, and that’s what makes DoD worth recommending even in the face of stiff competition from BF1942. That’s not to say BF1942 isn’t worth playing — the fun factor of driving a Tiger tank through an Allied spawn point is still fantastic — but until EA nails down the lag issue once and for all, there will still be a reason to keep your Half-Life CDs handy.