Another success story from the mod development community, Day Of Defeat is a hardcore WWII multiplayer FPS. Crafted from the engine of the best selling Half-Life which never had bots at launch so most online deathmatching was human v human, the penultimate version to this review copy won universal praise for being the best in its two-year life. This was enough for Valve to do what it did for Counter Strike (and single player GunMan), bring the mod in-house and for Activision to repeat Vivendi's move and turn publisher. Being smart, they've released it at the top end of budget price too, so searching around, the mod won't cost you more than £15.
With a nod to Team Fortress Classic, the soldiers are grouped into classes on both the Axis and Allied sides. The creators have strived for realism, which shows in over 30 weapons, which will send bullets arcing upwards if you hold the trigger down, and similar physics affecting sniper accuracy. The largest weapons need mounting with fixed or portable stands in order to get the most out of them- but of course their operators then become easier targets without proper cover or team support among the tight streets and corridors that make up your battlefields. Whatever automatic weapon you're carrying, you can't treat it as a garden hose with your bullets as water, since your handgun will carry next to no ammunition by comparison and after that, it's knives out- against more conservative gunners, a suicidal tactic by all but the expert.
Buying the retail edition gets you two extra levels to accompany the baker's dozen in the original download, and some British troop classes who can access some of the heavier weapons like the Bren and medium-sized Stens. It's actual deathmatch that's a little restricted here; most of the maps involve assaulting an objective or capturing and holding flag positions, so the other big WWII shooters such as Battlefield 1942 have the advantage here, even if Medal Of Honor now has the same cheating problems as DOD's older brother, Counter-Strike.
Getting started on any mod you've not played before will be a steep learning experience where you've got to try all the classes and see which characters you like best. Then after dying a lot, the real tactics and strategies emerge especially in the absence of drivable vehicles; for that there's BF1942 again. There's no running around the map Quake style and no bunny-jumping while firing; aside from weapon weight and recoil, there's a stamina bar to govern your energy level and how far you can sprint which must be saved for dangerous open areas.
All right, I've managed to sing the game's praises for this long, but being based on Half Life there's no escape from the fact that it now looks old. More diplomatically, the work that's gone into streamlining landscape graphics in Counter Strike's retail version, has not happened here- and even so two more years on, Medal Of Honour's tweaked Quake III engine graphics are almost effortlessly better. Only the soldiers look truly great; but even if gameplay triumphs over graphics, it badly needs something like the high-definition pack as released with Half-Life Blue Shift as a stopgap makeover.
DOD's in the enviable position of having the free download version so so anyone owning Half-Life or Counter-Strike from the generations pack can try before they buy and make sure they like it. The extra features feel a little scant- ten extra maps would have been more attractive than just two to accompany the unlucky thirteen played to death by veterans. It also makes history as a recent release that fits on one CD, in the age of three to four-disc games. Good luck to Activision with DOD, but without that Half-Life 2 engine update to continue its life span then good value or not this product has a best-before date of the end of September 2003 and may struggle to attract new players after that.