Game modifications, or "mods," are often developed by amateur mod makers in their spare time and given away for free. Some mods have become so popular that they've encouraged publishers to swoop in and release them as retail products, like the team-based game Counter-Strike. And now another popular Half-Life mod, Day of Defeat, has gone retail. This World War II shooter has been tweaked and polished with the help of Half-Life developer Valve for release as a stand-alone game, and with new maps, improved graphics, and the ability to play as British troops for the first time, this already great mod is now even better.
Of course, you might wonder why you should pay for a game that's still available for free on the Internet. Aside from saving you the trouble of downloading huge files or having to purchase the original Half-Life, the retail version of Day of Defeat features exclusive content, such as new maps, though Activision plans to release this new content to the public at a later date. Yet how can a game that started off as an independent mod possibly compete with big-budget shooters that offer comparable team-based gameplay, such as Battlefield 1942?
As it turns out, Day of Defeat offers its own exciting brand of action. This online-only team game is set in Western Europe around 1944, pitting the Americans or British (depending on the map) against the Germans. The game focuses solely on infantry combat, so you won't get to operate vehicles like you do in Battlefield 1942, but Day of Defeat's combat is much more gritty and intense. It's true that Day of Defeat isn't a hard-core simulation of WWII battles, but it does strike an excellent balance between blazing-guns action and rewarding teamwork. It also offers superbly paced gameplay--the speed and way in which your characters move seem just right, and the respawn system ensures that when you die, you usually sit out for only 5 or 10 seconds before rejoining the fray.
Day of Defeat also has a few realistic gameplay features that help set it apart. For instance, you can crouch or go prone, though you can't lean around corners like in many other shooters. Machine gunners need to stop and deploy bipods to fire with any accuracy, and all players enjoy more accuracy if they shoot while standing still. Also, players have a stamina bar that is depleted by sprinting or jumping, which encourages you to act more realistically, rather than continually jumping around like in many other shooters. For that matter, in Day of Defeat you can't shoot while sprinting or jumping, since you automatically lower your weapon to your side in the process. However, some players can still abuse certain aspects of the gameplay by using unrealistic tactics like camping spawn points--sitting and waiting at an enemy respawn point and gunning down any new enemies who appear there. Yet what's really impressive about the game is just how often real-world tactics like overwatch or heavy suppressing fire from machine guns play convincing, realistic, and tactically important roles in the game.
Day of Defeat has a player class system, though which class you're currently playing as is determined by which weapons you're carrying, not by any special gear or abilities. This is a bit disappointing, since a true class-based system might have provided even greater tactical depth and diversity. The American, British, and German teams all get a number of different classes, but they all roughly fall into four general groups: snipers, machine gunners, close-quarters troops armed with submachine guns or carbines, and general-purpose infantry armed with rifles. This scheme ensures a good balance between the teams. Unfortunately, the British soldiers get only four classes, and hence four main weapons, compared with seven classes (not including special paratroops) and primary weapons for both the Americans and Germans.
Day of Defeat offers two basic gameplay modes. On territorial control maps, each team fights to capture a number of flags by running over them or temporarily occupying an area near them. This mode can create some epic, back-and-forth struggles--in fact, some players may find that these battles go back and forth for too long. Capture/destroy maps offer a variety of timed offensive and defensive goals that vary by map. Axis troops, for example, might need to destroy two British tanks before time runs out, while also preventing the British from grabbing German battle plans from a downed glider. Both of these modes can be great fun, though the game could definitely have benefited from more modes, particularly since it is already limited by its narrow geographical and temporal scope, lack of vehicles, and small selection of playable nationalities.
Day of Defeat ships with 15 reasonably diverse maps that will have you fighting through bombed-out cities, battling through quaint rural villages, and storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day while mortar rounds explode all around you. The objective-based maps can be convoluted, but the maps are well designed overall. They offer all kinds of tactical opportunities, with alternate routes and numerous places to take cover or ambush enemies. Of course, that means there are countless places from which you yourself can be ambushed, and that, more than anything, is what makes teamwork important in Day of Defeat. If you don't cover your buddies' backs in these deadly environments, you probably won't survive too long yourself.
While the game's maps certainly have interesting layouts, they aren't always especially attractive. Though the designers clearly put a lot of work into the game, Day of Defeat is powered by the original Half-Life engine, so it can't really compete with more-recent graphics engines. Even so, some of the maps feature interesting little details, like rain-filled bomb craters in the middle of a street or a cow casually grazing near German fortifications in Normandy. The game's character models and a few other graphics features have been improved or added for this release, but the visuals just don't draw you into the action quite as well as they do in more technically advanced shooters.
At least Day of Defeat sounds good. The game has vivid weapon effects and plenty of preset audio commands in the appropriate languages. With the right hardware, you can also use live voice chat to communicate with teammates, though the voice chat currently has technical problems that frequently cause it to be so garbled as to be nearly useless. The game's visual presentation may not be as immersive as that of other first-person shooters, but the ambient sounds of gunfire and explosions compensate for that shortcoming to a certain degree.
For all its strengths, Day of Defeat really could have used more polishing before being released as a retail game. It still has a variety of bugs, some of its weapons could probably use some tweaking, and its network code suffers from intermittent lag and frequent connection problems. Yet despite its flaws, Day of Defeat offers unusually intense gameplay with excellent pacing, good weapons, and a really fine combination of all-out action and teamwork.