We may be seeing a bit of a comeback in WW2 videogames soon, what with the new Call of Duty going back to its roots, perhaps influenced by Battlefield’s decision to aim in a similar direction with their WW1 setting. So if you fancy trying out some of the best WW2 games that are currently available, then allow me to share with you my favourites!
1. Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
Now with these lists I generally don’t intend to rank the games in any particular order, and the same goes here, with the little exception of this game. Red Orchestra 2 is perhaps my favourite WW2 game and First Person Shooter of all time. Despite being released in 2011 and reasonably old now, it still holds up. The gameplay has such a good mix between realism and enjoyability. The graphical and sound design are brilliant, with some of the best modeled weapons, and best weapon sounds I’ve ever seen. Even the voice acting is top notch, with the team you’re playing as speaking accented English that somehow doesn’t sound cheesy, and the enemies speaking either Russian or German. The combination of the fast yet thoughtful and deadly gameplay, the necessity of team cohesion from squad to commander level, and realism where it counts is a brilliant combination.
As far as WW2 representation goes, this game focuses on the war of the Eastern Front, mostly the battle of Stalingrad. This isn’t something you see a huge amount of games covering, due to the Americans not being present, so that’s pretty refreshing and interesting. As I said before, the game has a great balance of realism and fun, and the way it does this best is to use facts and details of the real history to base game mechanics around. This means you end up with something pretty unique with small elements everywhere that not only contribute to the setting, but to the gameplay experience as well.
2. Men of War
Now to something different, a strategy game! I won’t talk too much about this one as I’ve written a full post about it here. I will say however, that this is my definite go-to for a tactics level representation of WW2.
The game features all the major nations of the war and every type of unit, vehicle and weapon you could possibly need to use in battle. Combine this with high levels of detail and depth in gameplay such as an inventory system for every soldier and vehicle, cover and armour simulation, skill proficiency levels for every unit, and a direct control mode, and you have got a great sim level RTS.
3. Hearts of Iron IV
Let’s go even bigger in scale! This is a grand strategy game from the makers of what I believe to be the best in the business of grand strategy games. With this game you can select any nation on earth, and set about whatever goals you may have for them, starting in the 1930s prior to the war. You can either play in a historical mode which makes sure events happen in the right place and time through the years, or you can turn that off and let things play out and see what each nation could have done differently. Either way you’ll be leading your nation from the top; from government policy, diplomatic and trade relations, the makeup and deployment of your armed forces. Will you play as The UK and manage to hold off Germany from the start? Will you play as The USA and see what happens if you don’t get involved? You could even play as Switzerland and try not being neutral and see how long you last.
As for the actual gameplay of this game, it probably isn’t for everyone, with it entirely consisting of menus and reading. However, this latest installment in the series really does its best to engage you, with a slick and easy to understand interface, great artwork and design everywhere, and a really nice detailed world map to stare at for hours on end.
4. War Thunder
Something different yet again. This is a free-to-play online multiplayer game, not something I’m usually a particular fan of, but this one has no equal in what it sets about to do. This game is, first and foremost, based on simulation, specifically of the armoured vehicles and aircraft of WW2 (and a few years before and after). However, it is also very accessible to every level of player thanks to its various modes, ranging from simulation to arcade. Even in arcade mode you still get the depth of simulation that this game can offer, particularly with the ballistics and armour mechanics, which really makes you think about the effectiveness of each gun and what you want to shoot with it. Also, the game has excellent modelling of vehicles, even down to the positioning of crew and vital components, which are important to gameplay as they can be damaged and disabled, affecting the vehicle in different ways. You’ll find no health bars here, you can shoot at a heavy tank with a small gun forever and you won’t achieve much, but when you do make and impact, you’d better get your priorities right; do you want to disable the enemy gunner to buy yourself time before being hit yourself, or do you aim straight for the fuel tank or ammo storage for maximum damage.
Most of what I say here goes for the tank portion of the game, as that’s what I play most, but it also applies to the aircraft too. As for the planes, it is thanks to this games arcade mode that I’m able to play with the aircraft at all, as the control system is the best I’ve seen and doesn’t actually require you to be able to fly a real plane like most flight sims I’ve tried. As for historical content, it is also thanks to this game that I was able to start learning more about the tanks and planes of WW2, something that was a gap in my knowledge before, and this game was a great introduction to.
5. Day of Infamy
Finishing where we left of, I bring you back to a good old First Person Shooter! This one was originally a mod for the modern setting ‘Insurgency’ game, which I also very much recommend. Since becoming a fully fledged game in its own right, it is now good enough to rival Red Orchestra 2 in my eyes. It scratches the same itch for deadly realistic shooter combat while also being quick and fun to a high degree. This one does go a little more arcade-y with its feel, mainly thanks to very slick movement and faster handling and easier control of the weapons. Other than that there are a fair amount of similarities. The main reason I’d play this game is that it takes a slightly different approach, with far more emphasis on smaller engagements on smaller maps with fewer players. Also, the class system is a bit more distinct, with a lot of loadouts to combine and a wide variety of weapons. This is also one of those games that actually features the British quite well, as well as the commonwealth forces of Canada and Australia. Most of this comes through the unlockable military units, which is mostly just different uniforms to wear, but frequently involves new voice acting which is all very good and is great for some well deserved representation that is all too lacking in these sort of games usually.
I’ve been particularly playing this one a lot lately due to a new update that includes maps based around Dunkirk! perfect as I’ve recently just watched Dunkirk (the film) recently!
So there you have it, some of my favourite games of all time! They all just happen to be based around WW2. Now all we need is some sort of combination super-game, sort of like Total War, only even bigger. It could go right from the scale of Hearts of Iron, then to Men of War to control individual engagements, and then have the option do directly control units in battle using War Thunder mechanics for vehicles and a mix of Day of Infamy and Red Orchestra for infantry! I say give it 10 to 20 years and it has to happen 😀