With WW2 being one of the most vivid and documented war scenarios in history, it has become a much favored subject to game developers. Digital Reality embraced the theme, and turned it into a very interesting WW2 game, with a very unique story of people just like us on both sides of the conflict, turned into mortal enemies. Engage in the deadly battles of Tobruk, and into the plot of Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps.
As you start up DR vs AK, you're greeted by a menu with the usual choices of Options, Tutorial, Single Player, Multiplayer, Credits, and Exit. Single Player lets you choose three modes of play: Story Mode, Campaign, and Scenario. Story Mode is exactly like campaign, but it includes two special mission only available in it specifically. Campaign lets you choose Axis or Allies as your side, but be warned that Axis will show more of a historical line towards the Allied campaign. That leaves the Scenario option, in which you can replay any mission you like. My only grudge with singleplayer modes selection is that no skirmish mode is included, which detracts from the overall replay value of the game. The story is interesting, as it tells a tale of pre-war friends, who met at the 1934 Olympics (as competitors to each other), and later become separated by a war, each of them having became a commander, fighting for the honor of his country. In short, unexpectedly, DR vs AK has a rather intriguing story for a wargame.
Both sides have a devastating arsenal at their disposal. The Allies get the M4 Sherman and Firefly tanks, while the Axis get the Panzer lineup, and the most feared tank of all, the King Tiger. Along with the tanks there is air support, used to call in Airstrikes and Recon. Artillery also plays a large part, as the ability to hit an enemy from a distance is deadly for them, and barely risky for yourself. You will need everything your side has to win this war... so make it count.
Objectives in the various desert campaigns are varied. From having to ambush convoys, to escorting trucks through an armored enemy town – it has it all. Best of all, the game forces you to use all of your units, as there is no 'perfect' war machine, so the various tank and infantry units will need to cooperate in order to defeat the enemy. Troops need to be supplied, reinforced, and controlled with the utmost strategy in mind. Taking a dock from heavily entrenched British soldiers cannot be done with mere artillery or a large grenadier squad – but with a combined force of tanks, foot soldiers, and flak cannons you can overcome the odds.
Multiplayer lets you choose your name, then logon and create a game/login to a game, and play against people. MP looks almost like SP, but without some of its major elements. MP also comes with a wide variety of maps and game modes, too (however, mostly concentrated on deathmatching).
The Tutorial greets you as a German Panzer General – Erich von Hartmann, who you also play as in the Axis campaign. It leads you through the basic steps of controlling and using your army's potential to the fullest. The Tutorial is mostly good if you don't know the common control scheme for strategy games, but most RTS gamers might want to skip it and just jump directly into single player, as controlling the game is made easy.
Some really interesting feature not seen in any other game that I know of, is the ability to man any abandoned vehicle, with different classes of soldiers. Instead of using specific engineers or 'crew' to use the various weaponry, you can use normal infantry, which each of the soldiers bring their own class-specific bonuses to the newly made armored unit; such as Scouts give better visibility, Machine Gunners give better secondary-weapon firing speed (MG's), and Grenadiers give the primary weapon reload speed. This is a very interesting feature, as sometimes your units only damage the vehicle itself, and kill the crew – leaving it to be used by some of your own.
Digital Reality has generally done an excellent job on the graphics engine. Trees sway and get taken down gracefully by tanks, parts of buildings can be blown up by tank shells, soldiers fight to the last ounce of strength and determination, and it all looks like an actual war. Tanks are so extremely detailed, just like in Blitzkrieg, that you can see tiny markings and metal scratches all over the vehicles. Graphics are definitely a strong point in DR vs AK, although some occasional graphical glitches do detract from the overall score.
Sound is detailed down to the cricketing and squeaking of halftracks. Soldiers reply in their native accent, including pilots and vehicle crews. Guns sound so realistic, you'd think you are watching an old WW2 John Wayne movie – which is very impressive detail for a strategy game.
DR vs AK has finally arrived, and it brings one or two innovative features to a strategy gamer's table. While it is not exactly groundbreaking, the game has a solid, polished feel to it. Its only real fault is that the single player mode is on the short side when it comes to number of hours that one expects to put into a strategy game before completing it. However, if you enjoy waging long, strategic, multiplayer wars, you shouldn't hesitate much before purchase, as Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps can provide a lot of action in this department.