There are many reasons why World War II inspired so many art pieces, from stories and novels to movies, series, and games. While World War I meant even more for the global history (it resulted in ruining most empires, rising of national states, and reassembling the world, while World War II was, in fact, a failed attempt of Axis wannabe empires to stop the reassembling), WWII provides way more material for it. More video records and living witnesses, more hi-tech weapons and mass destruction inventions, and – probably the most important – less moral ambivalence than about World War I. It’s much clearer now who the good and the bad guys were, and it’s the perfect ground for gamification. But it’s all way deeper in the best games.
What do you prefer? Wear a soldier’s uniform and enter the war from down the trench? Or become a wise general to direct the combat from the headquarters? Or incarnate as a commando on a special operation? And whose uniform will it be – American, British, Soviet, or…?
Call of Duty: World at War
It would be strange to start with anything else. World of War is one of the freshest CoD games based on Modern Warfare engine. And this one lets you see the war through the eye of an ordinary private, with all the trench adventures, logistical failures, and enemy assaults your division has to stop.
You can select between an American and a Soviet character to play various campaigns: they cover Makin Island and Okinawa, Stalingrad and Berlin, and more key battles of the war. Along with the storyline, there is a multiplayer mode that later developed into Black Ops. Though the game is here since 2008, it’s still one of the best World War II stories, with more accuracy than others afford.
Sorry for ditching Call of Duty: WW2, but if we don’t stop after one, we’ll have to list too many.
Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault
Games like this should be campaign-based (unless you want an Inglourious Basterds sort of experience), as the Ardennes Assault (or The Battle of the Bulge). It’s considered the greatest American battle of the War (Churchill might overrate it as it was closer to the UK than Okinawa, but nevertheless). It’s also one of the most adventurous battles of all the wars ever, with assaults and defense in treacherous terrain, clandestine operations by all the sides, panic, terrible truths discovered, and all worse than you expected – that’s it.
It’s both an action game and a strategy. Along with pure fighting, you need to manage resources, make ways, decide which units to deploy, and so on. You are both in action and in charge. And so here is the chance to try a WWII officer’s boots on. RTS elements seem to prevail, but there is too much immersion compared to classical analogs.
The first installment of this game is also worth a try. Released in 2006, when real time strategies were more of a thing, it’s closer to the roots of the genre. Yet Company of Heroes II is way more advanced experience.
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
While most games focus on the American side, this one offers Soviet and German perspectives as well. Stalingrad is quite an iconic battle, and all about it is recreated in high detail. The Soviet army is the defending side, while Germans are attacking so far (it’s just the turnover battle for the Eastern Front). Along with sides, you can choose modes, selecting your level of realism. Anyway, infantry and tank battles are impressive.
It’s France, occupied by the Nazis. You are Captain Sean Devlin on a secret mission. Using stealth tactics, he is roaming the black-and-white Paris, inspiring the locals to rise. And the weaker the Nazis became in a certain district, the more colored it becomes!
If you have read and enjoyed The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville, you’ll appreciate the same (but very different) marriage of war history and modernist art. But if you’re here for realism, you may be disappointed by the way the authors treat the real events.
Sniper Elite 4
It’s one of the most advanced games set in World War II era, acclaimed by critics and welcomed by the audience. Along with realistic (as possible, with genre-defined compromises) environment, it focuses on the sniper’s knowledge of human anatomy. When you’re aiming, it shows you the target as if it was X-rayed through, with bones, muscles, and organs exposed.
The storyline is focused on the sniper’s participation in the liberation of Italy. No, you won’t have a chance to shoot Mussolini, but fighting along with the Italian resistance delivers other targets just as epic.
Medal of Honor: Frontline
Here is the first-person shooter where your character takes part in storming Omaha Beach. The game is one of the most historically accurate in everything, from the events themselves to uniform and weapon details of the time. It’s structured into missions, and you get instructed separately before each of them. The missions get more complicated as you advance through the game. What started quite simply leads you into trickier missions and brings you medals for successful endings.
Hidden & Dangerous 2: Sabre Squadron
And again, there is a sequel that surpasses the original. Hidden & Dangerous 2 combines elements of a third-person and first-person shooter, depending on the mode: it switches to third person mode when the gameplay requires a little tactics. The story sends you across France, then to Africa and Sicily to assist their liberation from Nazis and Fascists.
The most interesting part of the gameplay is combination of tactical operations with a squad and solo ones. As you act behind enemy lines, outnumbering is out of question, but stealth and speed change the game. And… its visuals are just fantastic.
Commandos 2: Men of Courage
Unlike the previous ones, this game is mostly tactical. You command a group of units to complete missions in the key points of World War II across Europe and Pacific. Your elite troops have varying skills, and, combining their expertise, you can select the optimal squad for any specific mission. The squad includes a sniper, a melee fighter, a great swimmer, an explosive expert, a stealth master, a versatile driver, a flirting beauty, and even a thief and a dog! This list is quite enough to form a subgroup for most quests.
Of course, it’s more a comic book style adventure than a reconstruction of real events. Well, comic books made their contribution too. So this game belongs on this list well. Released in 2001, it still looks quite fine.
No wonder that most of the games on our lists are second installments: they are about World War II. But maybe we skipped your favorite one, and it’s not a Call of Duty game? If so, drop the name in comments. Let’s discuss more of World War II games: the more we speak of it, the less we are eager to repeat it.