It’s weird, but you just don’t really see videogames with a World War 2 setting anymore. Maybe it’s because the juggernaut franchises like Call of Duty decided to pursue other times and places and everyone else decided to follow suit. Maybe everyone just got sick of it as a backdrop to their gaming fun.
Whatever the case, the announcement of Battalion 1944 has proved there’s still an appetite for videogames based around one of the most chaotic, senseless, and tragic wars in human history. Weird, right? Well, they’re only meant to be a bit of fun, so we thought the time might be right to highlight five of the best WW2 games from the past.
Oh and yes, we’ve purposely left out *insert game here* specifically to ruin your day. Because we hate you. Just you.
Call of Duty
Before an endless sea of annual releases, before countless little niggles, before the franchise became synonymous to most gamers with a complete lack of creativity or innovation, there was Call of Duty.
With three campaigns to play through (British, American, and Soviet) plus the fact that you were always accompanied by AI team mates throughout contributed to a truly cinematic, authentic experience. No longer were you some super soldier running through Germany and winning the war single-handedly. You were a solider – part of an army (the way it should be in a WW2 game, surely).
We should also mention that it looked great at the time, and the little touches such as blurred vision and a ringing sound whenever an explosion went off near you really added to the the immersion. Multiplayer was an absolute blast too, of course, but it’s the solo campaign that really stuck with gamers in this instance.
Medal of Honour: Frontline
Back before Call of Duty was the FPS darling of the world, we were all pretty keen on a franchise called Medal of Honour. Released one year before the first Call of Duty, Frontline has a real Spielbergian feel to it, and we’re aware that’s some pretty high praise.
From the very first level, where you storm Omaha Beach on D-Day, to the closing moments as you escape a German facility in a stolen plane, Frontline constantly makes you feel like a bad motherfucker, rushing from one gloriously overblown set piece to the next as a square jawed American hero.
It’s oversimplified in many ways, yes, but go in completely aware of that and there’s a lot of fun to be had. Plus, that D-Day level really is superb.
Company of Heroes
Taking a quick break from the FPS genre, Company Of Heroes was an outstanding real-time strategy game for PC, that many consider to be not only one of the best WW2 games, but one of the best RTS titles around – even 10 years on from its release.
Even though battles are on a large scale (you command troops over an entire battlefield) the game still manages to make you take the smaller considerations into account. You might be a God over-looking your army, but you still need to remember the importance of cover and line of fire, or you will get fucked up fast.
You’ll also need to get use to the body count, which rises alarmingly fast. Company of Heroes is mercilessly brutal and endlessly violent. Just like actual war.
Wolfenstein 3D is absolutely bat shit mental. That’s why it has a place on this list. Where most WW2 games are busy trying to remind us all that war is hell, and it’s grim and all that other stuff we obviously know because we aren’t stupid, Wolfenstein 3D runs in completely the opposite direction, drop kicking Nazis in the face and laughing like a maniac all the while.
You’re thrown into a castle full of Nazis, given a sub-machine gun and told to go nuts. It’s widely regarded as the granddaddy of 3D shooters, is packed with amazing secrets and has Adolf Hitler in a robot suit as an actual boss battle.
We’ll say no more.
Similar to Wolfenstein, Battlefield 1942 does away with any pretense of story or seriousness, acknowledging that sometimes gamers just want to run around shooting each other.
The scale of what you could in this game at the time was incredible. Most games of the era had you trudging across small maps. Not here. A multitude of vehicles, weapons, and ground tactics were on display to make an absolute mess of carnage. If you wanted to fly an airship across the map and bring it crashing down on a camped player, you could go right ahead with that.
Whereas Frontline and Call of Duty are on here for their cinematic and immersive single player campaigns, Battlefield 1942 laid the foundations for what makes multiplayer shooters enjoyable to this day.
BONUS: Hogs of War
Hogs. Of. Motherfucking War. Released for the PlayStation One, Hogs of War was basically Worms, but with pigs. As you do.
Strictly speaking, it’s not a WW2 game. It blends elements from the First and Second World Wars (and of course neither side used pigs as far as we know), but we really wanted to include it, because it’s pretty hard to shoe horn a reference to a game like this into anything else (this could be our only chance for years).
If you can ignore the rampant stereotyping on each team and the nationality they represent, there’s a lot of fun to be had on the multiplayer mode. A sequel was announced back in 2008, but sadly never saw the light of day.
BONUS 2: Army Men 3D
Yet another PlayStation One gem, Army Men 3D concerns itself not with the struggles of flesh and blood men, but with the death defying feats of bravery that those little green plastic army men get up to every day.
In an unsettling world that we shouldn’t look into too deeply or attempt to interpret, different coloured soldiers are at constant war with one another. It’s not entirely clear why the heroes (green) have such intense beef with the antagonists (tan) save for the fact that they look different.
Not a great central message then, but Army Men 3D is a whole lot of fun, so who really cares?
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.