Beat back Axis or Allied forces in class-based multiplayer battles.
PC Release: September 25, 2005
By Ian Coppock
World War II used to be all the rage. Back in the 2000’s, for every one fantasy RPG or puzzle game the industry put out, there’d be five more re-telling the Battle of the Bulge or the fall of Berlin. After the release of 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War, publishers’ interest in World War II games died out, and the conflict has largely remained absent from big-name storefronts ever since. Though new games about World War II are much rarer than they used to be (at least until Call of Duty: WWII hits shelves this fall) the old guard of 2000’s World War II games produced a few famous titles. Day of Defeat: Source is one of them.
The original Day of Defeat was a third-party multiplayer mod for 1998’s Half-Life, which is also how such big-name titles as Counter-Strike and Team Fortress got their starts. As with those two games, Valve decided to acquire the rights to Day of Defeat and took the mod’s creators on as developers. Following that acquisition, Valve developed a new version of DoD that was built in the studio’s legendary Source engine: Day of Defeat: Source, which hit shelves in 2005.
DoD: Source is a first-person, multiplayer-only shooter set in the western front of World War II. Players can pick from one of six different soldier classes and fight for either the U.S. Army or the German Wehrmacht, taking objectives and bombing out each others’ favorite Belgian cafes. It only takes a few shots to bring even the bravest soldier down, and only a few seconds for that soldier to respawn and rejoin the match. (For some reason that last detail is always left out of real accounts of World War II.)
Day of Defeat: Source‘s gameplay is similar to Team Fortress 2‘s in many ways, as each of the six soldier classes can roughly be divided into assault, defense and support roles. Riflemen and rocket troopers make for great party crashers, while snipers and machine gunners can make short work of unwanted guests. In addition to their primary weapon, each soldier comes equipped with a backup killing implement (usually a pistol or grenades) and a trench shovel for when things need to get smacky.
Running around shooting people is not hard to understand, but Day of Defeat: Source having only two gameplay modes is much more of a head-scratcher. Even for a shooter that came out in ’05… two modes? That’s it? Not exactly a smorgasbord of choices there, Valve. The first mode is Territorial Control, which requires players to capture flagged areas scattered around the map and prevent enemy troops from doing the same. The other, Demolition, challenges one side to blow up vehicles and the other side to defend them.
Okay, so there are only two modes in the entire game. Not the end of the world when one considers DoD: Source‘s fast-paced gunplay. Surely these firefights must play out across the whole of Europe? Nope, not quite. It’s hard to believe, but when DoD: Source shipped 12 years ago, it did so with only four maps. Four. That amount is unimaginable by modern standards, and even back then it wasn’t much. Valve released a few more maps in the following years, for a grand total of 10. Still not a lot of maps, especially when compared to the likes of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
One of the reasons World War II games got old in the late 2000’s is that they all had the same setting: a bombed-out European hamlet somewhere between here and Berlin. DoD: Source suffers this problem in the extreme. Remember those 10 maps mentioned earlier? Only one of those is not a bombed-out European hamlet. Yup, with the sole exception of a sandy bunker in Palermo, DoD: Source‘s maps are all war-torn French and Italian villages that no amount of different rubble placement helps diversify. The facade and time of year may change, but the arrangement of demolished cafes and dimly lit house basements does not.
DoD: Source is hardly the sole offender in its near-exclusive focus on gutted baguette stands and ironically demolished churches, but it is one of the worst. The game’s relentless overuse of the western European setting is indicative of a larger problem, one that helped drive World War II’s power in video gaming down to embers: using the same setting over and over again. By focusing exclusively on the western front, World War II video games became mired in visual repetition, which helped interest in these titles die out by the end of the 2000’s.
Funny thing about a conflict called World War II… it took place all over the world. It’s refreshing when a developer takes advantage of that fact. Part of what makes 2015’s Sniper Elite III stand out is that it swapped out the samey European setting in favor of North Africa, which, despite being one of the most pivotal theaters of World War II, is rarely portrayed in games. If all it takes for a World War II game to stand out is showing something other than western Europe, that underscores the repetition problem the genre faced.
If DoD: Source has to mire itself in a samey European visage, at least it looks alright. Source engine games tend to age well, and DoD: Source‘s character and in-game models still look good even though they’re 12 years old. Character animations are a bit wonky though, and DoD: Source‘s textures, like the sun, are really best off not looked at directly. It’s easy to tell a brick wall from a French wine advertisement at a distance, but up-close the pixelated surfaces look much more conspicuous. However, the game does come roaring out of the gate with loud, crisp sound design and period-inspired music.
Because DoD: Source is a Valve game, it comes packed with one of the best options menus around. Virtually no aspect of the game’s visual design can’t be poked and prodded, so players having trouble running the game can make short work of most issues. Players can also toggle dozens of additional in-game options, like taking a victory screenshot or showing a progress bar while planting a bomb. DoD: Source isn’t the only multiplayer game to pack this kind of versatility, but having it there is a great way for players to control every aspect of the experience.
Even if players are willing to tolerate DoD: Source‘s relative lack of maps and each map being pretty much the same, the game may have already suffered its own day of defeat. Only a few matches are going in DoD: Source at any given time. That’s more than can be said for most 12-year-old multiplayer games on PC, but what few matches are alive and kicking are most likely on a private server and/or password protected. Shame, because that’s usually where any custom maps that break the base game’s mold are to be found.
Day of Defeat: Source‘s gameplay doesn’t reinvent the wheel and its small number of samey maps is unfortunate, but the game wasn’t bad in its heyday. These days, players yearning for a visceral World War II multiplayer experience are probably better off buying the recently released Day of Infamy. It never hurts to pay heed to a multiplayer classic though, one whose lessons in both tight, fun gameplay and repetitive maps are things that future World War II game devs would do well to heed.
You can buy Day of Defeat: Source here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.