Several years ago it seemed like every computer game publisher in existence was rushing to release a real-time strategy game. Fortunately, that craze died out, and for all the derivative games that were released, the genre was graced with a number of classics. In light of the many superlative games available for real-time strategy players, it's puzzling that JoWooD Productions would choose to publish Mayday in North America in 2001, since the game offers nothing that hasn't been done much better by any number of other, similar games released long ago.
Mayday is the US release of a real-time strategy game that was published in Europe in mid-1999. Strangely, despite the fact that the genre has seen significant developments since Mayday's European release, JoWooD has done absolutely nothing to update the game, to the extent that the setup program tries to install DirectX version 5.2 on your system. To avoid this, hit "Cancel," or you may encounter technical problems.
The background story involves three separate coalitions fighting for control of Earth in the distant future. The story wouldn't be the least bit involving except for the outrageous acting in the cutscenes, which is so over-the-top as to actually be mildly entertaining. Between missions, you can receive the latest full-motion-video mission briefing, research new technologies using a predetermined budget, or even "buy" information from your spy regarding the enemy's plans. None of this will distract you for long from the fact that the gameplay is so poor.
The 2D graphics in Mayday have a cartoonlike appearance that might have been interesting five years ago. Today, they're simply plain and unremarkable and at times downright ugly. The soundtrack is bearable, but only just. Units acknowledge orders with a variety of forgettable phrases, and the sound effects are completely generic.
Mayday eschews the normal real-time strategy paradigm of having to build up your base, harvest resources, and then destroy your enemy, by completely omitting the building of structures. Each mission begins with all the necessary buildings already built, and the only way to acquire more is to capture them from the enemy. Sometimes this is required, and sometimes it isn't. Resources for building units accumulate with the passage of time, so that if you're out of resources, you end up waiting until they reach the level you need.
Gameplay in Mayday requires a lot of guesswork, as most every mission has a very specific tactical solution. In the mission summary just before play starts, you're given several "tips," which give important points as to how to complete the mission. The missions themselves are quite difficult, and they aren't helped by the atrocious interface that not only makes it hard to select units, but will often lead you to misdirect units because the cursor won't let you send them to legal locations. No orders are allowed while the game is paused, either.
What kills Mayday is that basic game elements simply don't work. The unit pathfinding is so bad as to resemble a Monty Python parody of pathfinding, where units that are told to move from one point to another in a straight line with no obstructions choose to turn in circles and wander off in the opposite direction. Units that are stationary may suddenly choose to move without any bidding. There is an "intelligent unit" command that will order a unit to return to its starting position after destroying an enemy, but this is apparently the only time units act intelligently, because otherwise they will sit motionless and inactive while being attacked. Movement itself resembles that of inexperienced skaters on an ice rink, where units will poke along only to suddenly accelerate for no reason. Unfortunately, there is no way to control when your units will move quickly and when they won't, which will frustrate your attempts to react to changing situations.
Mayday's longevity is severely limited by the fact that it has no skirmish mode and that multiplayer mode is limited to a local network. The three sides are essentially identical, meaning that while the campaign missions may differ slightly, you won't notice much difference between the various factions' units except the names. All of this makes Mayday an extremely short-lived game. To top it off, it's unstable, and it frequently crashes when you exit a mission.
While last year's Red Alert 2 showed that a conventional real-time strategy game can still capture the spirit that made the genre so popular, Mayday proves that it isn't the style itself that's interesting. Mayday was an outdated game with little to offer when it originally appeared in Europe, and 18 months later, it's hard to imagine what appeal it could possibly have for players already used to a much higher standard. In a genre that has withstood its share of inferior games over the years, it's true that Mayday probably isn't the worst real-time strategy game to date. But that's the best thing to be said for it.