For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a gamer.
Specifically, a Second World War gamer. That is to say, a person who plays a game set in World War Two. Ok, this reference is turning out a tad more tortured than I had anticipated… Basically, I love playing WW2 games, and have done since I was yay high. (You’ll just have to imagine that when I wrote ‘yay’ I was waving my hand about four feet off the ground or thereabouts)
World War II games I’ve played include Commandos, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, Rowan’s Battle of Britain, Brothers in Arms, Il-2 Sturmovik, Hidden & Dangerous, Sudden Strike, B17 Flying Fortress, its sequel The Mighty 8th, Company of Heroes, Their Finest Hour, all the relevant Call of Duty games (including the United Offensive add-on), various Medal of Honor games (that spelling of Honour still grates), Battlehawks 1942, and the Das Boot tie-in.
So how do I rank the best from the rest?
Firstly and most obviously, it’s the gameplay. It has to be fun to play, and a lot of this is down to how intuitive the controls are, how easy the objectives are to follow, and how well the world is designed. Examples of games which, though brilliant, fall short in this department would be Call of Duty: World at War and Brothers in Arms. In the case of the former, its level design is so poor that it makes for an incredibly frustrating time trying to work out just where it is you are supposed to be going and what it is you’re supposed to do once you get there. In the case of the latter, the controls are so finicky and disjointed that, in spite of having 5 different button configurations available, they are still nowhere near as second nature as, say the Call of Duty layout.
The second area that tends to matter is the difficulty curve. This can often kill an otherwise perfect game stone dead. Too easy, and you just get bored, while if the game errs too far in the other direction and you’ll rage-quit…before swearing not only to never play the game again, but also a fiery death to the game designer and everyone he/she loves. Sudden Strike, Commandos, Battle of Britain… All hindered if not totally ruined by a difficulty curve not so much steep as vertical.
Next comes the slightly more nebulously-defined, replayability. This is where modern shooters, in particular the Call of Duty games, fall down. In more non-linear video game experiences, you can play the same situations in games ad infinitum because no two play-throughs are always the same. Before the sandbox game, there was the bloomin’ sky – take a fighter up in European Air War or Il-2 Sturmovik and see what you can shoot the absolute shit out of. Then do it again. And again. (Ah, memories)
One area where I couldn’t agree more with Yahtzee is immersion. It is one of the most important aspects of gaming, even more so when the setting is a well-known historical period. Get it wrong, and the whole thing looks or sounds stupid – or worse, offensive. Call of Duty 3 had some of the worst dialogue ever in a game, and it consistently served to take me out of the action, which was odd given how that series can usually be relied upon to be top notch in this area. Games which excel in giving you the ‘feel’ of being there exhibit all the signs of research well done, evidence that the game is a labour of love. Excellence in visual design, sound effects, score, script and that tough-to-nail-down sense of realism all contribute to this immersive effect. Brothers in Arms and Hidden & Dangerous really succeeded in this area.
Last and also least, is what I can moddability. An average game can be made stellar by its community, while a pretty good game can be turned into an all-time classic. This is exactly what happened with European Air War and Silent Hunter 3. The ‘vanilla’ versions of these games were good, maybe even great – but it was the ability to constantly create more content and tweak different aspects of the experience that made them rise so much higher in my estimation.
Right, I’ve waffled on long enough. I’ll just shut up and give you the names of the victorious few. Here are my five favourite games set in the Second World War:
Right, that’s yer lot. For the time-being.
Solidarity, brothers & sisters…☆ ☭ ♔