Every Monday, Brendan heads to the frontlines of early access and writes about his heroic battles there. This week, he repeatedly fires upon his own team in multiplayer shooter Day of Infamy.
In an age of Overwatches and hyper-CoDs it’s easy to forget that every first-person shooter was once set inside a single trench of World War II. Returning to this battlefield might seem like a terrible idea to some who’ve served their time in the hellish artillery bombardments of yesteryear. But I never played Day of Defeat, the Half-Life mod upon which this new WWII outing is based. So fumbling with grenades in the mud and snow of the Western front is something I was happy to do. I even tried my hand at commanding the other men. Which obviously resulted in everyone being disintegrated into thousands of tiny pieces.
Day of Infamy also began life as a mod for Insurgency, the tactical shooter with a hint of everything. But now, with Valve’s blessings, it has become its own game. Given this heritage, it has something the modern shooter lacks. I’m reluctant to call it “realism” (because how many soldiers can move their necks as fast as the average FPS murderchild?) but perhaps “atmosphere” will do. Here, concrete bunkers shake with every explosive shell. Sand, dirt and snow fly upwards in huge columns. Small puffs of blood pop out of the bodies of the men shot in front of you. They slump to the floor like cattle in a big, exploding abattoir. It’s pretty horrific, actually.
But for those of us raised on Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, there’s a morbid appeal to this imagery and an admittedly misplaced sense of adventure when it comes to storming a beach-head or hunkering down in a half-dug foxhole. With all its tracer rounds, deafening ‘splosions and pinging ricochets, Day of Infamy gets the cinematography of war just right.
There are three multiplayer modes right now (there are co-op modes too but who wants to fight bots?). They are all variations of the point-capturing warfare we all know and tolerate, with up to 32 players total. There is a timer ticking down but, more importantly, each team has a limited number of “waves”. When you die, you wait out your death until the next wave is ready to go. This ensures everyone storms the enemy more or less together. In the ‘Offensive’ mode, an attacking team is given far fewer waves than the defending team, and the maps are designed to be an uphill struggle. Only when you capture an important bunker or a critical hole in the ground will your team be rewarded with more waves to continue the push.
At first this is frustrating, as you die to snipers, grenades and entrenched machine guns over and over. But once it becomes clear that this mode is always intended to be punishing for the assaulting forces, you start approaching it with a fresh perspective. When you finally do push through with a co-ordinated attack, laying down smoke and charging the point altogether, it feels like a real victory. You feel lucky to have been one of the survivors of the charge.
There are a handful of soldier classes, each with a couple of weapons to choose. The Assault class has a nippy sub-machine gun, the Machine Gunner has a huge deployable bullet-monster, the engineer a hazardous flamethrower, and the Sniper his trusty scoped rifle. You can customise your outfit to a small degree, choosing to carry smoke grenades instead of explodey ones, for example. But generally, the default outfit makes you a reliable trooper.
If you’re worried about the lack of imagination with these soldier types, don’t be. There are two classes that make the game what it is - the Officer and the Support. The Officer is a commander expected to co-ordinate the men. There’s only two per team (one in each squad). Normally, everyone gets a radial wheel of things to shout (“enemy over there!”, “I need back up!” and so on). The Officer gets an extra wheel full of orders like “flank left!” or “push through!” I’ve seen this class go unplayed in countless games simply because he has no special gun or obvious benefits. But he is undoubtedly the linchpin of an attacking force. However, he would be nothing without his Support.
The Support is a radio operator with a big gun. He’s my favourite. There’s no overall voice communications in these battles, like the omnipresent chatter of the ‘T’ key in Overwatch. To hear a person you have to actually be close to them, and this means any nearby enemies can also hear you. It also means battlefield communication relies on the radio man. When you play as this guy, you automatically shout about what’s happening on the field to your pals at certain intervals. If Bravo point is being captured by the enemy, you’ll start bellowing about Fritz taking that point, for instance.
But it’s the combination of the radio man and Officer that made some of the game’s best moments for me. Officers can call in big smokescreens and lethal artillery barrages by looking at a point and hitting a single button. But they need to have a radio man with them to do it. Officers, halfway across the field, will start shouting: “Someone get me a fucking radio!” and the Support is expected to deliver. My most heroic achievements in Day of Infamy were not shooting dozens of men from across the map, but sprinting down an exposed street under sniper fire, running across open clearings whilst dodging bullets and explosions - all to get my radio to the officer who needed it.
Likewise, I never felt like more of a disappointment to my team when I was laid low by a stray bullet during my dash as a Support trooper. And there were times when I did reach our Officer, only to watch him get sniped as he “picked up” the receiver. Another time I got to an Officer alive and well, only to discover that my radio had been hit by shrapnel on the way and it no longer even functioned (in these instances, the radio sends out lovely sparks and you are forced to forget about it and put yourself to good use).
On the other side of this tag team, the Officer’s role is probably the hardest to get right. I saw numerous Officers call in smoke or artillery shells on their own territory, killing handfuls of our own soldiers at a time, or blinding us with our own smoke.
"These men are idiots," I thought. "I will have a pop at this Officer class."
10 minutes later and I had already called in two barrages against my own men, murdering half a dozen friendlies and opening the way for the filthy Americans to get a foothold on the beaches of Normandy. After that, the radio operators on my team stopped following my orders and refused to come anywhere near me. It was a learning experience.
Another time, I chose to play the Officer in the snowy woods of Bastogne, simply because no-one else would take the job. It was the ‘Offensive’ mode – where we had to attack or slowly die – and we were getting thrashed. Everyone was simply lying down, waiting to take pot shots, when we should have been moving to capture a small dugout in the centre of the woods.
I started running down the line of prone men, shouting at everyone to push, yelling at them to get in there, to run, to move it you sons of bitches, and I was pleasantly surprised to seem them stand up and follow the order. As I led the charge, I felt like Lieutenant Speirs. When I reached the dugout, I turned around and saw a pile of corpses. I was the only one who had made it. I yelled for backup and watched as the only radio man left alive came running toward me, then slouched over face first in the snow - clipped by a sniper’s round. That’s when the live grenade landed next to me.
We lost that game, but it was a thrilling defeat. Like I said before, it’s a very cinematic depiction of twentieth-century warfare. And it is helped a lot by the design choices. There is friendly fire damage, and the green names of your team mates don’t always appear quickly, meaning you often put a round into a pal simply because you were jittery and he came round the corner quickly. There’s no radar, nor is there a killcam when you die, revealing your killer’s tactics or position.
The omission of these features would be an unthinkable throwback if done in a modern blockbuster shooter, and I can imagine the lack of feedback is an affront to some FPS fans. But, to me, they fit the tone perfectly. Instead of red dots, you have to listen to what your team mates are yelling to you. Instead of following a red arrow on the side of your screen to the source of an assailant’s fire, you have to listen for the direction of the gunfire, get your head down and move somewhere else. Sometimes, when you shoot at an enemy soldier in the misty distance, you won’t even know if you’ve landed the shot or not. They could be dead behind that tree. Or they might be crawling around in the dirt, getting ready to flank you.
If there’s a problem with all this it's that the game almost demands too much alertness. This makes it difficult when facing off against the internet brigades. Dying repeatedly to an unseen enemy can make you grind your teeth. Especially if you are on the attacking side in those assault maps where the odds are stacked against you by default. What’s worse about this mode is that the game often re-balances the sides between rounds, to account for players leaving, meaning you can end up on the “weak” side twice in a row. And if you’ve suffered a humiliating loss once already, it’s hard to pick the scattered pieces of your morale off the beach for a second licking.
But the demanding nature of its firefights aside, Day of Infamy is a fine return to the trenches. Admittedly, it doesn’t do anything revolutionary with the genre but what it does, it does very well. I have yet to pick up an enemy grenade and throw it back to them – something the tooltips say you can do – but I imagine when the time comes I will bravely grab the explosive, fumble the throw with great pride, and blow up half of my loyal squad with all the courage and conviction of a true soldier.
Day of Infamy is available on Steam for £14.99/$19.99. These impressions are based on build 1254684