Game Review - by James Allen
No war has been glamorized in movies and in games as much as World War II; I base this on the fact that you don't see many Korean War or American Revolution games on the et. Most of these games dealing with the Second World War fall into three categories: shooter, strategy, or simulation. Taking a somewhat novel approach to the subject is WWII: Desert Rats, a game where you don't ride a rat around the desert, but rather drive a jeep and control the gunner at the same time. Being that there isn't much desert in France, the game takes place in Northern Africa, as the British (you) take on the German war machine (them). Will WWII: Desert Rats prove to be a memorable period game, or just become missing in action?
We toss around the term budget title to refer to a game with a low price (usually $20), and use this as an excuse for which some components of said title are lacking. Well, the features of WWII: Desert Rats falls right into this category, as the game is very, very short. There are only twelve different missions to undertake, and most of them take no more than ten to fifteen minutes for the average gamer to complete: you can do the math. Beyond this short, single player campaign, there is nothing else to do: multiplayer is not present, which might have proved to be very interesting. So, that's the reason that this section is quite short: there just aren't many different modes of gameplay, and of those that are present, they don't amount to a staggering quantity. Besides this, I have another beef with the game that I suppose I will address here: you can't change any of the options (like controls, video, etc.) during gameplay, nor is there a save game feature. Both of these additions would be greatly welcome in a game that reeks of budgetness.
The sound in WWII: Desert Rats is barely present at all. There is some background music, the drone of the jeep, occasional shouts from the German shooting targets (in German, no less), and the sounds of the several guns, but these add up to an aural experience that is severely lacking. None of the sounds have any punch to them, rather a quiet, soothing tone that the developers were apparently not trying to achieve, but did anyway. It seems like a couple of people spent a good weekend doing all of the sound for the game. I suppose that I can address the video clips here, since there is a sound problem with them: not only are the video clips of astoundingly low resolution and look horrible, but the audio for them sometimes does not match up! I checked the videos outside of the game, and, sure enough, there is no audio on them, so it must be contained in a different location. On top of that, the voice acting is horrible. Never have I been so quick to reach for the escape key. So, in summary, the sound isn't so good.
The gameplay innovations found in WWII: Desert Rats are unique enough to almost recommend the game. Almost. Before each mission, you get to choose one of five gunners, each with their strengths and weaknesses in different areas of combat (you just get the same driver every time). After selecting your loadout, which can consist of machine guns, rifles, pistols, grenades, and bazookas, you head on out. The kicker for WWII: Desert Rats is that you drive and shoot independently and at the same time, a skill that takes some getting used to. One you do get the hang of it, it's actually quite fun, and is obviously the draw of the game. Something that isn't mentioned anywhere on the box but becomes a large part of the game is bullet time. That's right, WWII: Desert Rats stole bullet time straight from Max Payne, heartbeat sound and all. In this game, however, you get an unlimited amount of it, so you could theoretically drive most of the missions in slow motion (bullet time has a set time duration, and turns off after said duration is up). This, while a blatant gimmick, is in reality quite useful for beginners to get the hang of driving and shooting all at once.
The vehicle physics are arcade like, but you do suffer damage for ramming into things, like rock walls (don't ask). Once, I ran into a dead body, and flew back several yards at high speed: weird. Your aiming is helped by a crosshair that changes when you are aimed at an enemy, which is constructive. Aiming itself is an adventure, as most of the levels are dotted with uneven terrain; you realistically get knocked off center and you aim location changes while traversing the jagged landscape. This is quite cool, as it takes some planning to choose the correct locations from which to direct your wrath. Your jeep comes with low and high gears, and you can travel reasonably fast if you have open areas. In fact, you can effectively "skip" over non-crucial elements to the missions (like enemy forces not necessary to the objectives) by just speeding past them; you'll find this occurs a lot when all the ammo you have left is for the handgun. The overhead map is a necessary addition to the game, as the open desert is void of many lands: it displays both heading and location, as well as objective locations, so you will never get lost.
The missions themselves run the gamut from shooting a lot of things to "stealth" missions (yeah, stealth in a jeep). Of course, stealth missions quickly metamorphose into run and gun missions, but that's most of the fun anyway. There are three difficulty levels, and the upper tier ones are quite hard, especially if you are not proficient with aiming and driving. The enemy AI is quite basic, as troops rarely move and advanced tactics are not imployed. In addition to the enemies, there are crates you can pick up along the way, which you sort through after the mission is over, keeping the ammo for later missions, and discarding the comic books, spoiled weinerschnitzel, and smelly socks (that's the humor element in the game, I guess). Overall, the drive and shoot gameplay of WWII: Desert Rats works quite well, and is in general a blast to play.
The graphics aren't too bad, but they aren't great either. They certainly have their moments: exploding animations are cool, as the parts fly in every direction. The desert environment does get a little boring after a while, so it's good that there is some variation in scenery in the game levels. Some of the textures are a little bit blocky, but there is nothing to cry home to Mom about. The fire does tend to roll in a circular pattern, though, which is slightly distracting. The sky textures look good, but some of the nighttime effects appear dreadful: the searchlights are less light and more white cones. I do, however, like the dust bursts when bullets impact the ground, although at times the rising dust does seem to be a bit overkill. Your driver and gunner do exhibit realistic animations while driving, shooting, and reloading. It's too bad the same attention wasn't paid to the enemy soldiers. If you have bullet time on, you can clearly see that the death sequence consists of just three frames: leaning, flying, and laying. It's too bad they didn't add more detail here. Overall, for a budget title such as this, the graphics are pretty much what you would expect for a slightly above average offering.
WWII: Desert Rats takes the drive and shoot idea and runs with it, and makes a game that is actually pretty fun to play, while it lasts. I would have liked to have seen many more missions included with the game, which probably would have raised the ratings a little further away from "maybe." The sound is substandard, and the graphics are average, but the improvements contained herein almost make WWII: Desert Rats a recommendable title for everyone. But, lest we forget the $20 price tag, which should persuade most fans of action/driving games to try this one out, despite how short the game is. Just remember to clean your smelly socks before depositing them into a crate.