Version tested: DS
Glory Days 2 is built upon one of those fabulously unrealistic videogame propositions: that the person directing the battle is a bloke in a warplane blitzing the front. Each level is a fight between two columns of tanks and infantry, which trundle steadily towards one another from opposite ends of a 2D, side-scrolling map, capturing a scattered crop of control-points along the way, with the eventual goal of toppling the other side's base. Your role is simultaneously to fly above them bombing the enemy, and to decide when best to deploy reinforcements, fire V2 rockets or parachute troops into gaps to capture territory. Given your twin roles as the most and least expendable units on the battlefield, you're in a unique position to control the war.
You're also in a unique position to constantly forget what you're doing and not be able to act on it anyway. Playing the Top Gun role, you dive-bomb tanks, dodge AA guns, and bring down enemy choppers before they can destroy your own rolling metal. Soon the 2D mini-map in the top-left shows big gaps and uncaptured points ready to be plundered as the enemy struggles to reinforce. But before you can tell yourself that you can be your own wingman anytime, you realise that you forgot to take advantage of your success, to the effect that your own armoured caravan is down to a couple of tanks and a confused-looking rifleman, despite a mountain of resources waiting to be spent on new armour back at the base. In the time it takes for the stuff you then commission to reach the gap, the enemy's done the same and it's back to square one.
Conditioning yourself to remember, you find that being a General at the same time as a warplane or helicopter is simply a bit inconvenient. You have to duck out of battle to gather the lemming-like refugees whose return to base builds up extra resources, or to juggle the R-button build-tree. Remembering to act so that it dovetails into your aerial offensive is a bit functional, like remembering to water the plants or put out the rubbish. You smack your head and go "oof" when you forget. But, like neglectfully allowing your girlfriend's flowers to wilt and die in what you have to admit is spectacularly metaphorical fashion, it's not really the end of the world. It's not even the end of the level: you can just keep plugging away, as resources are built up through accurate gunplay or the saviour of respawning civvies; you can regularly refuel, re-arm and recover whenever you touch down at base; and it's not all that hard anyway, even if you are flying the flag for Blackadderian levels of militaristic incompetence.
Obviously with a lot going on, the devs have built you towards it gradually over the first levels of the campaign, showing you how to control your aircraft with the d-pad or touch-screen if you prefer (I didn't), how to fire your guns and heat-seekers and drop bombs with the face buttons, and then how to deploy reinforcements, take control of missiles, drop troops behind enemy lines, and so on. Most of the action you'll care about is on the top-screen, which follows your plane or chopper, while the bottom one keeps an eye on your frontline troops in a similar display, giving you a reference-point for battle priorities if you're busy trying to drop bunker-busters into sandcastles further ahead. But while gradual, the build-up of controls is still a bit hard to follow due to awkward text instructions (presumably translated on the cheap from the dev's native French), and control diagrams are hard to follow, while the touch-screen's use as babysitter twinned with the presence of a mini-map elsewhere just manages to emphasise the complexity of the situation while confusing it further.
Anyway, I'm just nitpicking. No no - I know it sounds like these are big problems, but they're not. You can happily look past them and play Glory Days 2. Particularly if you try out the wireless multiplayer, or use the "Battle" mode to specify the parameters for a skirmish, which you can do to an impressive depth. Give yourself an hour to come to terms with it, focus on these things a bit, and you'll find that it grows on you. It's not exactly elegant at the best of times, but then neither's pausing Spaced so you can run outside in your slippers and sand-blast the magnolias. It's still sort of arresting. Driving the enemy back so that the tanks you commissioned a second ago will arrive just in time to seize their lost territory; smashing a flock of enemy choppers and watching as the safety of your armour drives the little blue block of enemy strength on the mini-map further into the recesses of its own impending doom. These provoke great feelings, and in these moments the specificity of your active role couples well to the broader plan you've made. It takes some getting to, but it's worth attaining, and when you do it to another human, it's even better.
Where the game actually falls down is in the details. The strategy bits are forgivably functional, but the action bits are unforgivably awkward. By default the camera is so close that any attempt to engage with aerial adversaries is either a sort of drag-strip jousting, or a question of aiming your fire off-screen at a little indicator icon half-way up the side and hoping you strike it lucky. Perhaps realising this, the devs included an ability to zoom the camera out by flying higher, but this doesn't reduce the effect enough, and as a side-effect makes it harder to judge bombing runs. Speaking of which, your bombs drop at an angle that depends on your momentum and height, with a little marker to help you measure it, but it's one of those videogame rules that should've been bent for pleasure: if you were dropping them straight down, it would be easier to adjust for the enemy troop movements. Worse, you simply can't aim your guns at the ground without constantly running the risk of ploughing straight into it.
Sadly these things are quite immediately apparent, and coupled with those confusing opening moments, will undoubtedly serve to put people off. You almost get the feeling it's on the wrong system. Played on a big screen with the ability to take a much wider view of the battlefield, it would be much less stifled and tough to grasp, and the individually awkward or squirmy action bits would be more acceptable. But it isn't and they aren't, and getting past the game's flaws is ultimately more trouble than it's worth on a system already packed with action and strategy games that are consistently better than what lies beyond the frustration herein.
6 / 10