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Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps

Platform(s): Arcade, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PSOne, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
Genre: Strategy

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PC Preview - 'Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps'

by Thomas Wilde on Feb. 15, 2004 @ 2:07 a.m. PST

Genre : Strategy
Publisher: Encore
Developer: Digital Reality
Release Date: March 23, 2004

Pre-order 'DESERT RATS VS. AFRIKA KORPS': PC

North Africa, in 1941, is not a hospitable place. On the one side, General Rommel's Afrika Korps are steamrolling all opposition, handily conquering Africa in the name of the Axis powers. On the other, a band of irregulars-desert bandits, outgunned British commandos, French legionnaires, Australian and New Zealander soldiers-are fighting an increasingly desperate battle.

Erich von Hartmann is right in the thick of it. As a lieutenant underneath Rommel, it's his job to do the dirty work, to help hold the Axis advantage in Africa. History is against him, and Hartmann seems to get all of the particularly troublesome jobs. It might be because he doesn't much care for the Nazis around him, who seem to regard war as a game, or his quasi-friendship with his former Olympic opponent, the British Colonel Sinclair. Maybe it's just bad luck. Who knows?

Whatever the reason, Hartmann has work to do, and Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps is your opportunity to help him do it. After all this time we've all spent shooting Nazis, it's now our turn to get them shot.

Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps is a serious strategy game. It's top-down real-time, yeah, but comparing this to most other games within its subgenre is to compare paintball with a live-fire exercise. It just plays harder than most, with combat that leaves very little room for error. You have a lot of room for tactical decisions, but you also have a lot of ways in which to leave quite a few poor dumb young Germans lying dead on African sand.

One of the first things you should know, if you're interested, is that this isn't a game about resource management or production. At the start of a scenario, you're given a certain number of points to spend on your troops, acquiring everything from lowly riflemen to Panzer tanks. You can stretch that quite a long way, but once that army's dispatched, it's alone in the field. You might be able to capture enemy vehicles, or the scenario might give you reinforcements, but you will not have a cute little building that respawns soldiers as fast as you can kill them in battle. (The idea of a Nazi saying "zugzug" does have a certain twisted appeal, but… no.) Every shot counts; every man counts.

Fortunately, you have quite a few options. You'll have quite a few vehicles to choose from, all of which are modeled after historical designs and animated to within an inch of their tiny little polygonal lives. Tanks roll over trees with a pleasing crash, trucks bounce on rough terrain, a blazing machine gun shakes the entire vehicle it's mounted on, and motorcycles… okay, motorcycles explode. I am no good at using the motorcycles. But they're there!

Each vehicle can be used to transport ground forces, or roll over enemy soldiers. An individual rifleman serves multiple purposes dependent upon his terrain; you can use him to add functionality to an armed vehicle, capture an unoccupied building, operate artillery cannon, aim a mounted machine gun, or dig into a handy trench. Since a soldier caught out in the open is going to last about three seconds, if that, you'll need to start thinking about cover fairly early on. Each vehicle adds mobility, armor, and flexibility to your ground forces, and, in turn, your soldiers can be used to crew those vehicles and enhance their performance.

The delicate balance here is to figure out how best to allow your troops to complement your vehicles, minimizing casualties while maximizing damage. You have quite a few ways to get wounded soldiers and damaged equipment back into the game, but that can be difficult. This is a game about offense, and occasionally, about taking calculated but crazy risks.

The further you get in the game, the more points Hartmann earns, and the more vehicles and troops he'll be trusted with. You're given a default army at the beginning of a battle, but you have full freedom to manipulate it, trading in existing units for replacements from a handy drag-and-drop menu. In later scenarios, you'll even be able to command your own close air support, as both reconnaissance and cover.

The same applies to the other side of the fence. Hartmann's scenario, for the Axis, starts easy and gets harder, while his opponent-but not his enemy-Sinclair's war will begin difficult and just get harder. There are twenty missions in the game, all told, split between the Axis and Allied scenarios, and based loosely upon actual World War II battles.

Of course, any strategy game worth the name isn't worth a thing without multiplayer. Digital Reality plans for the game to eventually support up to four players in head-to-head strategy action, with promises of a capture-the-flag mode in the final version.

For history buffs, armchair generals, and rabid strategy fans, Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps is looking like it's a must-have. Realistic historical vehicles, unforgiving strategy action, and running over small squishy people with a Panzer tank all combine into a game that's sure to make regular appearances on the LAN-party circuit. It's not for people with a very low frustration threshold, but, now that I think about it, nothing really is. Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps is currently scheduled for release in late March.


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