We are far removed from the days when WWII video games saturated the market. Ever since Call of Duty brought us the joy of modern warfare it has become harder for the industry to look back at the last great war with anything but a nostalgic smirk. Games evolved, battlegrounds got faster, and the sobering realism of the conflict seemed to restrict many outlandish concepts.
Day of Infamy is not modernizing the WWII shooter. It brings very few new concepts to the fray, it is a reskin of a previous multiplayer shooter and runs on a dated engine. At the same time, it’s pulse pounding combat, outstanding sound design and tactical gameplay makes it one of the best historical shooters I have ever played.
Developed by New World Interactive, Day of Infamy began its life as a mod for the quietly successful Insurgency. Other than replacing your M4 for an M1 Garand, the game is nearly identical: two teams fight over territory in a brutal “one shot, one kill” environment. However, by replacing the tight quarters of an urban Middle East city for the beaches at Normandy, the tactics your team employs shift significantly. Smoke is your best friend as you often have to hold territory out in the open like a blown out foxhole in Bastogne or storm a heavily defended German bunker. The game strives for realism and for that reason remains unbalanced at times. The Germans defending Omaha Beach have an incredibly easy time raining hell down on the Americans, who have to pray that the enemy machine gunners have to reload before they get to every last man on the team.
That imbalance trickles down to the armament each side is suited with. The basic German rifleman is given a Kar98, an aged bolt action rifle that can spell immediate death for the user if they miss their first shot. Meanwhile, the American M1 can fire off eight rounds as quickly as their mouse can click, making them much more lethal in close encounters. You start seeing the strengths of each army and shifting your strategy accordingly, something a fully level playing field can never give you. Sure, I was frustrated when my defense of Crete kept getting spoiled by the automatic power of the British Sten, but this made each army have much more character than just different uniforms.
There are nine classes to chose from in each of the three nations (American, German and Commonwealth). Most of the classes are very straightforward, assault classes can run a bit faster and are equipped with sub-machineguns, engineers carry explosives and can blow up designated walls, and snipers camp all day. However, there are two classes that have a very symbiotic relationship I am not sure I have seen before in a video game and they are possibly the most important class in each team. The commander has the ability to call in a variety of off-map support, from airstrikes to smoke bombs to cover the team’s advances. At the same time, he is unable to do any of that without a radio operator being near them. Playing as either one of these classes takes careful coordination not only between each other, but with the whole team in order to keep everyone alive. That relationship is a microcosm of how Day of Infamy is played.
Despite the asymmetrical map design I mentioned earlier, both teams can achieve victory if they work together. The most stubborn defenses can be thwarted with a coordinated attack that combines the strengths of every class. I distinctly remember taking the first point on Foy, a large farmhouse that overlooks a field, thanks to the covering fire of our machine gunners and the concentrated smoke grenades popped by our front line. It is no wonder the game has you spawn back in waves with everyone else that was killed rather than five seconds after you get shot; you either work together or die alone.
This careful attention to detail is what helps Day of Infamy stick out from the crowded pack, but there are some questionable design choices that hurt it in the long run. Like plenty of realistic shooters, you have a select number of magazines you can carry and you will lose any ammunition you don’t use before each reload. Unfortunately, there is no way to find out how many rounds you have left in a magazine other than counting the shots. When it comes to a 5 bullet clip like the Springfield 1903 this isn’t a problem, but you might end up on the wrong side of a guess as an MG-42 gunner. Also, the unforgiving ballistic model has no wounded state. Shots to the head or torso will kill you on the spot but non-lethal hits (of which you can only take like two) do little more than slow you down.
The game is powered by the now legendary Source engine and it does an admirable job at hiding it. New World Interactive put their effort in the places that count: particle effects look incredible, weapon scopes are sharp and there are some messed up gore effects at play. This is all complimented by extraordinary sound design that can make the crack of a bullet barely missing your head as terrifying as the rumble of an incoming artillery barrage. Each team also speaks in their respective language, helping build the atmosphere and teaching me what “I need a goddamn radio” sounds like in German. Often times, a player almost being shot made you more nervous than when they actually were since it triggers a slew of insults and ratchets up the tension. Yes, Source might be older than some kids playing this game, but the entire presentation is one of the most intense depictions of WWII I have experienced since watching Saving Private Ryan.
Day of Infamy is a successful translation of the Insurgency model into the Second World War. The class-based, small scale combat is made even more intense by the familiar setting and limitations of the weaponry. Even after fighting this conflict in hundreds of games before, it felt incredibly refreshing to do it again. Maybe that time away made me nostalgic for some Axis vs. Allies battles. Some of that nostalgia might also be etched in the code of the Source engine, that has that hard to explain feeling anyone who grew up with it can attest to. More than likely, it is because Day of Infamy is a solidly designed shooter with visceral combat that requires teamwork and effective communication to succeed. Either way, this is a game any WWII nut needs to have in their Steam library.
- Realistic, class-based combat.
- Intense firefights.
- Outstanding sound design.
- Looks pretty aged at times.
- Realism can lead to imbalance in certain maps.