Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps

2_1This real-time strategy game is based on the North African battles of World War II. The action begins in March 1941, with Axis forces headed by the legendary Erwin Rommel almost pushing the British to Egypt, followed by the calculated British counterattack that resulted in a massive German retreat and the eventual capture of hundreds of thousands of Germans. Any time an RTS game employs carved-in-stone mission scripts, the odds are good that it’s little more than a puzzle game garnished with military flourishes. Unfortunately, Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps relies entirely on scripted missions.

Even so, and even with the lack of an AI skirmish mode, the game rarely forces you into predictable solutions — and when it does, the correct tactical approach seems so natural that you hardly mind at all. So while it may fall short of expectations on a variety of levels, it does deliver a large degree of fun by carefully walking the tightrope between being genuinely challenging and out-and-out infuriating.

The single-player campaign is divided into Axis and Allied sections, with the Allied missions proving far more difficult. There’s also a Story mode that’s supposed to portray the heart-tugging tale of the camaraderie between the commander you control for each side, but instead of switching back and forth between them, you simply play the campaigns in order — Axis then Allies — with the bonus of a few missions not available in the standard Campaign games. In other words, play the Story mode, and the Campaign becomes utterly redundant.

12_1Before each battle, you can assemble your own strike force. Many missions involve time or casualty limits, so the speed and firepower of your army is critical to success. Ground troops are little more than cannon fodder. Controlling multiple groups is a breeze, and it’s easy to execute flanking and rear attacks to exploit the weaknesses of powerful armored units — an essential tactic as an Allied commander, since you’ll often face superior German tanks and gun platforms. Complete mission objectives and you earn “prestige points†that unlock new weapons.

It’s hard to recommend this game. RTS fans will complain about the lack of formations, waypoints, canned missions and inaccurate gun and unit damage modelling. It’s too mainstream for any serious wargamer, but probably not fast-paced enough for the thrill-seeking strategy casual. It’s a middle of the road effort with some noteworthy WW2 action, including the ability to fight on the German side, but little outside of that is groundbreaking.

System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 1.5 GB HDD, WinXP

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