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21st of April 2023

Operation Mallard by Jimmy de Visser & Operation Mallard team

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Note: I was unable to get Operation Mallard to work on my gaming computer (Ryzen 5 3600, 5700XT, Windows 11); it'd crash immediately after the second splash screen. It worked fine on my T470s, a business laptop with an integrated Intel GPU, but entering new areas and various effects significantly brought the framerate down for a split second.

Operation Mallard is a World War 2 themed EDuke32 "total conversion". If you're familiar with World War 2 GI or NAM, then you know what to expect; Operation Mallard plays a lot like those flawed classics, but with higher-resolution graphics. This release includes only the "prologue" episode consisting of six maps (one of which is secret); more are on the way.

After a training session that covers the basics of moving and shooting, you're taken across the Atlantic to fight the nazis. If you've played the early Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games, you pretty much know what to expect. The first level, North Africa, is a bit of a culture shock at first. Basically every enemy is of the hitscan variety (well duh - it's not like the nazis had any Freezethrowers) and many are positioned behind corners and boxes and on rooftops, ready to ambush you. Occasionally this makes for a bit annoying gameplay. For example, early on you come across a marketplace. There isn't a lot of cover and some of the enemies are hard to spot. I also wasn't aware of the sprint key until the last map (it's NOT the same function as running), which made it a bit harder to get behind cover without getting shot.
You then find yourself in a very familiar setting; the Normandy landings. The beach segment is quite short and my biggest challenge was getting my T470s to cooperate. It gets better framerate-wise once you reach the bunkers. A lot of effort has been put into making the beach seem like a spectacle (all the "scripted" stuff looks quite impressive), but gameplay requires little else than walking straight forward until you reach the wall.
The following countryside map starts off nice as you follow a path along a creek, then investigate a farm while a German loudspeaker tries to demotivate you (there's even the "the Statue of Liberty is KAPUT" line from Saving Private Ryan). You're given a bunch of objectives, but these bugged out on me and I spent 10 minutes wandering around, which kinda soured the mood. The final bit has you destroying some flak cannons and enjoying the resulting fireworks.
The last proper map, Chateau, takes place in a similar environment. Not many things stand out as it's just a sequence of rooms and corridors; more variety and objectives could have helped break the monotony. The last area is a good opportunity to score some nice sniper kills; just make sure to check your binding for the zoom function (which seemed a bit buggy, as it often fails to register). The final map is a short boss battle against a flamethrower-wielding nazi - and it's pretty fun!

That's it as far as the maps are concerned. But there's a lot more than that. The game's WW2 weapons look authentic, they sound nice and are satisfying to use. It also pays off to be smart with them, as the pistol and M1 Garand are good for accurate shots (although sometimes the accuracy of the M1 is a bit iffy), but they're risky in close quarters due to their relatively long reload animations. Indoors submachineguns work the best (and hopefully we'll get a shotgun in the future as well). There's a grenade too, but unfortunately its fuse is too long and cannot be "cooked", rendering it pretty obsolete in plenty of situations, as enemies in the game tend to do what enemies in Duke3D do; walk toward you rather than stay behind cover. But at least its blast radius seemed good for taking out crowds. The sniper rifle and the bazooka are far more situational but a lot of fun to use in the right situation. Ammo in general seemed a bit scarce and you could find yourself in a lot of trouble if you fail to find secret ammo stashes, so this aspect could use a bit more fine-tuning.
Your opposition consists of regular uniformed nazis and some dogs, meaning there isn't a lot of variety, but maybe this'll get fixed in the future. The dog is annoyingly difficult to hit; maybe it should be made deadlier, or there could be more of them at once, but only if you could hit them consistently. Moreover, the nazis with their grey uniforms were occasionally tough to spot, which I'm not sure should be the case.

Like the other two war-themed TCs, Mallard too makes good use of its war assets. In addition to tanks, barbed wire and other instruments of death, there are also some animals going about their days, scripted scenes in the background to give the impression that there's a war raging beyond the gameplay area, and even some new animations (the intro, consisting of old war footage, was a bit too long though). Still, one thing Mallard is definitely lacking is the "Build porn" aspect that both NAM and WW2 GI had, and that is probably because of its more modern coating. For sure, the (relatively) hi-res graphics and models have been well and consistently picked, and I realize that this is one of those "Old man yells at cloud" type of moments, but then again this website is dedicated to a game that's almost 30 years old, so it's just something I'm bound to notice.

Conclusion: The prologue episode of Operation Mallard is a promising start. It has what you'd expect from a WW2-themed mod with a good selection of maps, plenty of satisfying combat and some good humor too. But it's also a bit rough and needs more work - and hopefully I don't have to play the next episode on a business laptop...

Score: 7½
Download: Download
Version: 1.4, 1.5
Author: Jimmy de Visser & Operation Mallard team

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