Old Dogs, Old Tricks: An Early Look at Days of Infamy & Day of War07 Mar 2017 3
Only a Game critic that lacks both humility and creativity would claim that all FPS games of a certain type are all the same. Although, considering the fact that up-and-coming WW2 shooters Day of Infamy and Days of War have obnoxiously similar names you can hardly blame the stereotype. These largely indie Early Access titles each have their own, distinct journey and ultimate goals, but they both subscribe to a more “traditional” philosophy and design.
These games are coming at a strange time, to an industry that's lived through several iterations of Call of Duty & Battlefield evolving the FPS genre in their own unique directions. Even Kickstarter project Battalion 1944 is looking to make some interesting evolution, so one has to ask whether games like Infamy/War are still relevant. It's been a long time since the running/gunning heydays of Call of Duty 1.
Days of War: A New Face Wearing Old Shoes
Days of War is set in the later part of World War II and is limited to the battlefields of Western Europe, namely France and Germany. Understandably, the map selection is limited. You can run around a German village (with one capture point providing a clear view to the German spawn point) or battle up the cliffs of Normandy. You might also fight for the control of a lightly bombed-out French town. WW2 games were often infamous for recycling/focusing on the same locals, from the same 11 month period of a a war that lasted 6 years, and Days of War doesn't appear to be doing anything different so far.
Remembering that the StG 44 was a thing is important to games like this, largely for the joy of run-and-gun fans as it’s also given to one of the unrestricted classes. The gun performs largely the same function as the BAR rifle on the American team, but that holds roughly true for all weapons in the game: basically only the ammo count and models make American weapons different from the German ones. Well, that and the fact that Garand is the only non-reloadable gun; this is how it was done in Call of Duty so that players would hear the iconic “ping” sound.
Rocket launchers also make an appearance, though they are of debatable utility in a game that doesn't feature vehicles. Machine-guns are somewhat more useful, even though they are hard to use. Days of War doesn't feature suppression and weapons are all hit-scan, so there are only a few locations in any map where the machine-guns can be safely mounted to mow down players jumping around a corner – at close range, the jumper wins.
Speaking of Rabbits, there's a lot of jumping around here. Days of War is an unabashed twitch shooter to its core and you will see snipers (or marksmen – sniper rifles are class-limited, but at the typical ranges of the game bolt action rifles work as good) shuffling in place in a classical Counter-Strike fashion while the more active players are running around, jumping to clear corners and upset campers.
Unfortunately, most maps have choke-points where dreadful, boring grind can ensue. Short respawn times and small maps can make this game a boring, gruelling experience. Since death comes fast in Days of War, it comes down to camping and attrition. You rarely have other avenues of approach to an area, and you definitely have no variety in tools that you can use to solve the impasse. (ED: Maybe that's where the Rocket Launcher comes in.)
None of the game modes that I've tried so far feature tickets, so there's really no reason to try and play it safe and preserve resources. Checkpoints are quick to capture, so one sneaky player can change the situation on the map... but then capture points don't offer a side any advantages other than advancing their victory ticker, so there's really no situation to change.
To top it all off... it's not an especially pretty game, although it does screenshots quite well. The weapon models aren't amazing, especially the Garand, although the player models are passable. The maps over all can look quite good, although the D-Day/Normandy map itself is a tad bland but overall it's not promising.
There are some saving graces – unlike Day of Infamy, Days of War does have objectives on some maps and there is a 100-player game mode available. Unfortunately, they are only trialling it out on a limited basis right now so we weren't able to get in on a match. As technology makes mass-actions games a lot easier to make however, something like this should start coming into more and more games. Whether it eases Days of War's problems or exacerbates them further remains to be seen.
Day of Infamy: Inheriting a Legacy
Day of Infamy is very comparable next to Days of War, but it won't suffer for it. This is being developed by the crew that made Insurgency and is inspired by the original Day of Defeat mod.
Since releasing into Early Access last July, Infamy has made a decent go at ambience and variety. You have the Commonwealth as a faction along-side the Americans, and recently they added more variety with unlockable skins for famous units or nations. That goes beyond just visuals – Canadian officers will sound different from regular British ones in terms of voice-acting.
The class and weapon selection is a lot more meaningful, too. The British don't get semi-automatic rifles, while the Germans don't have shotguns. Players can customize their load-out although it's limited by weight points, so putting more toys on your rifle might mean that you'll have to skip on grenades and take a lighter ammo load.
The restrictions on classes make more sense, too. Machine-guns are deadly as well as providing suppression, so they are a lot more useful; their deployment animations are a lot more fluid as well. Flamethrowers are deadly in close quarters (sometimes even to the operator), so you can't have too many of those running around.
The best class interplay so far is between the Officer and Radio Operator. The former can call in air strikes and barrages, as well as ammunition drops (important in a game where re-spawning isn't a viable ammo resupply option), but can't do it without the latter being nearby. Meanwhile, the operator has to do everything not to get shot while escorting the officer. In return, he gets assist points for every kill that the officer scores with the call-ins which is very satisfying in cooperative matches as bots hit the floor much easier than the players.
Yes, Day of Infamy offers cooperative mode for players who don't feel like they're up to taking on actual flesh and blood opponents, which offers a lot more variety and great way to introduce new players to the game. The bots can be stupid at times, but at least they aren't campers, unlike some people. (ED: It was just that one time, I swear.)
The game also offers variety both visually and in map locations – even if Sicily and Crete don't look that different – which works well when combined with semi realistic gameplay that isn't always about the run and gun. At the same time, it's hard for something like Infamy to escape it's past – inspirations and roots in games that were mods for things like Counter-Strike and Half-Life 2. The former is a shooter that has seen little change in its near-twenty year life, and the latter hasn't had a new release in ten years.
Dealing with the post-Battlefield, Post-Call of Duty Landscape
So here have two new WW2 FPS trying to enter fray. From my perspective, Infamy is currently the superior game, although Days of War does have time to sharpen up which it sorely needs right now. But is all this going to be enough to combat the possibility that shooters have moved on as a genre?
Last year, DICE did something nobody expected from a major FPS developer: they took a risk. Many people believed that World War I was “ungameable”, yet here we are with Battlefield 1, a game which bends the historical reality just enough to make it fun (British tanks on War Thunder have convinced me that you don't want realistic tanks speeds in WWI) while also offering variety by covering lesser known fronts and having a relatively sombre campaign that pays respects to the conflict.
The maps also feature interactive – destructible – environments as well as being set in locations that have yet to bore us to death. While we imagine World War I as trenches and more trenches, simply shifting the game to the desert gives us something new. Of course, the game doesn't go far enough – we don't get to see the mobile warfare in the Eastern Front (spoiler alert: it's no less deadly than trenches) nor do we get into skirmishes in the African colonies but that's what DLC is for, as much as we bemoan it.
This doesn't mean that smaller and indie developers can't compete. Verdun was THE WWI shooter before Battlefield 1; Heroes & Generals is basically undisputed in WWII combined arms multiplayer FPW; Red Orchestra built itself on realism and the most important front of the war. There’s a wealth of material that's still untapped, so there's really no reason other FPS titles shouldn’t take us to Algiers, Italy or the Sino-Japanese front to try and get an edge.
Both Day of Infamy and Days of War are betting on a conservative WWII FPS model and they could very well lose, although Infamy is definitely worth checking out at least. Even though Counter-Strike still champions the twitch-based shooter, twitch-shooter themselves have evolved beyond an entertainment product to become a competitive sport, something that Call of Duty is also trying to do. Meanwhile, Battlefield 1 is a shining standard of the spectacle of war and combined arms, something that any modern-FPS that doesn't want to be an eSport really needs.
Days of War is in danger of being remembered as a slightly naff Counter-Strike WW2 clone, and needs to really step up its game if wants to stand out. Day of Infamy is proving to be solid, dependable and sporting some neat ideas, but is based on a philosophy that faces obsolescence. Both games will need to fight hard to find their place in this new FPS landscape, and with projects like Battalion 1944 on the horizon (and the possibility of CoD returning to WW2), that's not going to be easy.
All gameplay impressions are based on the most recent Steam Early Access versions of the game. Days of War entered EA on 26th January 2017 while Day of Infamy has been available since 28th July 2016.