The Mod Squad: World War II Round Up: Part I


The Mod Squad: World War II Round Up: Part I

Originally Published on February 5, 2004

Blame it on Steven Spielberg, Stephen Ambrose or even Tom Hanks. Ever since the publication of Ambrose’s highly influential book Band of Brothers, The Spielberg blockbuster Saving Private Ryan starring Tom Hanks, and the HBO special series Band of Brothers (incidentally, collaborated on by Ambrose, Spielberg and Hanks) gamers around the world have been itching to take the World War II combat experience from the Halls of Montezuma to the pixilated battlefields of their personal computers. Game publishers like EA Games and Activision have since rushed in to fill the increased demand for World War II themed action shooters and as a result gamers today have a bewildering array of titles to choose from when it comes time to don their helmets and charge up those Normandy Beaches.

Although most gamers today defer to excellent games like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty when it comes to the definitive Single Player experience, after all the Nazi’s have been mopped up, the secret documents rescued and the world made safe for democracy once more, what’s left? The answer is multiplayer, and in today’s Modsquad we’re going to take a look at some of the best online World War II experiences (both modifications and retail) that are available for your PC.

Red Orchestra: Conducting the Symphony of War

For those of you who are tired of the regular Allies vs. Axis conflict taking place in Western Europe, Red Orchestra is your passport to the Eastern Front, where the Soviets are locked in a life or death struggle with some of the Reich’s most determined Panzer Divisions. Red Orchestra is a modification for Unreal Tournament 2003 that allows you to play the role of either a Soviet or German infantrymen during the conflict on the Eastern Front. Red Orchestra utilizes UT 2003’s beauty of a graphics engine to produce some of the most realistic environments, player and weapon models this side of Stalingrad.

Red Orchestra is a ‘realism mod’ and incorporates a stamina system, limited weapons load out and iron sight (i.e. no crosshairs) aiming system. The upside to this is that you’ll experience World War II combat in a very gritty, visceral way that no other mod (or retail game) can reproduce, and that scoring kills will feel extremely rewarding. The downside is that you’ll sometimes wonder how on earth you managed to hit your target at all, given the distance, movement and weapons recoil factors built into the game.

Those looking for a real “down to earth” WW II experience can’t go wrong here, but be forewarned, the small Red Orchestra community is plagued by some of the most foul mouthed gamers ever spawned from the depths of the internet, so exercise caution and good decision making if you’re under 18, or playing in the same room with youngsters. Friendly fire is also enabled on many Red Orchestra servers, so expect a healthy amount of deaths from your teammates, and all the attendant whining and cursing that comes with it.

Day of Defeat: Proving that Half-Life is the Eternal Undead

For those not ready to give up their crosshairs, but still frustrated by bunny hoppers and unrealistic physics systems, Day of Defeat provides a nice balance between ‘realistic’ gameplay and just plain shoot ‘em up fun. Day of Defeat debuted a few years ago as a modification for Half-Life and has since grown to become a preeminent WWII mod. Unlike Red Orchestra players can choose from a variety of classes and weapons (sniper, machine gun, heavy infantry, assault troops, etc) at any time during the game as they reenact famous conflicts between the Allied and Axis forces in Western Europe. World War II buffs will notice familiar locations like Normandy, Anzio, and St. Lo, while action fans will feel comfortable with Day of Defeat’s easy to learn weapons and environment system.

Like Red Orchestra, Day of Defeat players can call out authentic sounding commands to their teammates with the push of a button, or opt to use a headset and speak directly to them. In addition, Day of Defeat features a hand-signal system and newly added British, American Paratrooper and Axis Paratrooper classes. While Day of Defeat’s Half-Life powered graphics are certainly showing their age and are not as richly detailed or pretty as Red Orchestra or other Quake III based WW II games, it still does the job well and has the added advantage of running well on systems with lower specs. Day of Defeat can be downloaded for free or purchased as a retail package.

Call of Duty: Taking the World by Storm

By far and away the most actively played online World War II game lately has been Call of Duty. The smash retail game from developer Infinity Ward (published by Activision) allows players to experience the single player carnage of WW II from the perspective of American, British and Russian troopers and continues the engrossing experience with its multiplayer component. Call of Duty allows you to play as German, British, Russian or American troops as they square off against one another all throughout Europe. Maps are quite varied, and currently range from ice-laden harbor facilities to the verdant French countryside to the slippery decks of a sea bound Nazi Destroyer.

Call of Duty’s multiplayer component offers a variety of game types, such as Seek and Destroy, Rescue, Team Deathmatch (my personal favorite), Classic Deathmatch and more. The heavily modified and improved Quake III based graphics truly shine in this game, and strike a near perfect balance between eye candy and online performance.

Call of Duty’s original online debut allowed crosshairs, but current versions (as of this writing, 1.1) have disabled them, and most players seem quite happy without them. At first the prospect of venturing into battle without your trusty x-hairs may seem daunting. There are some servers that still use them, but once you start playing you’ll realize that they’re not integral. In fact, Call of Duty strikes a wonderful balance between iron-sight realism mods like Red Orchestra and other game’s that are crosshair dependent by providing medium to fast paced gameplay with instant respawing (no sitting out the round, or waiting a small amount of time to return to the game after you die) in a dynamic environment.

The uniforms of each team (except for the British) change according to the environment (i.e. snow, woodland camouflage) and the weapons available are fun, varied and modeled on their real-life World War II counterparts.

Many Call of Duty servers are experimenting with mods (such as “Crazy Yoda”) that slow down the gameplay, limiting weapons distribution (Read: no more all sniper-fests) and adding tactical elements of realism. Whatever your taste there’s probably a Call of Duty server with the exact style of gameplay to suit you.

Battlefield 1942: Battlefield mayhem was never this fun

Two years ago Battlefield 1942 took the gaming world by storm. What did it offer? How about 64 players per server, environments ranging from Europe to North Africa to the Solomon Islands and the opportunity to pilot jeeps, armored personal carriers, tanks, airplanes, motorcycles, boats, aircraft carriers and fire machine guns, anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft guns and everything else in between. Phew…..

In essence, it was the first World War II shooter that offered players a massive online MMOG-like experience that captured the total experience of World War II combat. Players could take the side of the British fighting Rommel in North Africa, the Japanese fighting for control of Wake Island in the Solomons and dozens of other real-life historical battle scenarios. They could drive a tank while their buddy manned the machine gun up top, give a lift to friends in their jeep or APC, fly an airplane while their friend took the gunner’s position behind them and dozens more similar opportunities.

Battlefield 1942’s main strength lies in vehicular, naval and airborne combat – the number of vehicles, airplanes and naval craft to choose from is not only impressive, but its quite easy to learn how to pilot each vehicle (well, maybe not the airplane), with most following a standard W-A-S-D format to accelerate, turn and brake.

The graphics are quite colorful and crisp, and the detail added to ballistic sounds and explosion effects is remarkable. Players can choose their class (medic can heal, engineer can repair, assault has more firepower etc) and communicate a variety of different messages to their teammates with the touch of a button. Those looking for realistic ground combat however are bound to be disappointed. The infantry weapons, while modeled adequately, are rather chunky and ineffective, making it possible for a BAR machine gun to empty an entire clip into an enemy and not kill him or requiring three head shots from a sniper rifle for a successful kill. The latter observations aren’t so much complaints as much as observations, as it was probably necessary to implement the kind of weapons/graphical system that would allow for smooth online gameplay and help to balance the vehicular combat.

Despite some flaws however Battlefield 1942 remains the preeminent massive online combat game for WW II enthusiasts. Since its initial debut Battlefield has added two successful expansion packs, The Road to Rome (Italian Campaign) and Secret Weapons of World War II (experimental jetpacks, rifles, vehicles and other planned weapons that never made it to the battlefield before 1945), adding more fun into the online mix. Battlefield 1942 also offers a single player campaign in order to familiarize players with the environment and train them for online play. If you haven’t already, give this one a try.

The Medal of Honor Series: Allied Assault, Spearhead and Breakthrough: Making the world safe for Private Ryan again…

EA Game’s Medal of Honor series was the first Quake III based World War II game to really capitalize on the popularity of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. Those of you who remember Medal of Honor: Allied Assaults dramatic recreation of the assault on Normandy were witness to a defining moment in video game history – the beginning of epic production values on a highly professional scale and the continued merging of Hollywood and the gaming industry’s major talent. That aside however, you were also witness to one of the first major kick-ass WW II games for the PC. Since Allied Assault’s debut, two expansion packs – Spearhead and Breakthough – have been produced, and while some critics have pointed out the lack of originality in their single player campaigns, both expansion packs have helped to improve and enhance Medal of Honor’s online multiplayer component.

Those who give the MOH series a try will be happy to find their crosshairs in tact and a variety of uniforms, maps and weapons to choose from. MOH’s Quake III based graphics, featuring maps from authentic WW II locations like Anzio and Palermo, continue to impress. Perhaps feeling it’s Quake III roots, MOH offers what I would consider one of the fastest paced WW II combat experiences currently available. Like Call of Duty, MOH offers many different objective modes (Jailbreak can be pretty fun) for gameplay, though due to the large variety of authentic (and quiet impressive) skins available, there’s a feeling of discontinuity during the sessions. It feels odd to be fighting alongside a German Soldier dressed in white snow-gear and a Waffen-SS officer in full regalia as all three of you run through the Italian city of Anzio at night. Thankfully however MOH features (like Day of Defeat, Call of Duty and others) special friend and foe indicators above players’ heads so you’ll be able to distinguish between them. If you’re wondering what all the WW II craze is about and would like to get your feet wet, you can’t go wrong with the Medal of Honor series.

That’s it for this installment fellow Modsquaders, but we’ve just begun with our World War II online odyssey. Be sure to tune in for Part II of the World War II Round up where we’ll take a look at Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Enemy Territory, World War II Online and more!

Miguel Cervantes