Desert Rats vs Afrika Korps Review

World War II would seem to make a natural setting for some exciting real-time strategy gameplay. Unfortunately, WWII RTS games as a whole have ranged from disappointing to downright dismal. Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps (DRAK) is the latest game to enter the quagmire, and while it is not without its problems it is safe to say that it is one of the better WWII RTS games available.

DRAK borrows a little from both war games and RTS game in its approach to portraying the North African conflict. On the RTS side you have battles that play out in real-time, hero units, and healing and repair units that can bring men and machines up to full strength right on the battlefield. From war games there’s limited units, the need to crew weapons and vehicles, and some considerations such as variable armor ratings based on vehicle facing. Make no mistake about it though, this is a primarily an RTS game and will appeal to strategy gamers far more than it will to Grognards.

Tanks slug it out.

DRAK provides two campaigns, one Allied and one Axis, that follow the course of the conflict through the experiences of an officer on each side of the battle lines. The missions run the gamut of RTS standbys including the “keep your units alive from Point A to Point B”, objective assault and defense, and the destruction of a key enemy unit mission types. Many of the missions have multiple objectives that are revealed during the course of play, so that defensive mission that you started may turn into an assault of the enemy camp by the end. The size of your force also varies from mission to mission, ranging from large scale battles to one mission in which you only control four hero units. Most of the missions are fictional engagements, but you will have the chance to take part in such famous battles as Tobruk or El Alamein. These battles are used as a setting for RTS slugfests, so historical war gamers should not expect to refight these engagements with historical orders of battle.

DRAK departs from the usual RTS formula in that there is no base building and resource gathering. At the start of a mission you are given points to spend to select your force for that mission. The cost of each unit varies, and as you’d expect armor requires a lot more points to purchase than do foot soldiers. The game selects a good balanced force for you by default so you don’t even need to wrestle with issues of quality versus quantity if you’d rather not bother with it. The missions are all winnable with the default force, so you won’t necessarily be handicapping yourself by not choosing your unit mix.

The unit selection process is important in DRAK because there is no way to create more units once in the mission. Some missions have triggered events which will bring in a small number of reinforcements, but for the most part you’ll need to work with what you start with. Medics and repair vehicles will help you get a little more mileage out of your forces, but they come at the cost of taking the place of offensive units.

There are a lot of different unit types available in the game and your success will depend on your ability to manage your specialist units and put together a combined arms attack. Scouts to increase your LOS range, engineers to clear mines, heroes to provide a leadership bonus, and snipers to thin out the enemy lines are just a few of the units at your disposal.