Current gen gaming has been out for a while now, and there appears to be a distinct lack of WWII shooters. We have Wolfenstein: The New Order/Old Blood, and Sniper Elite 3 which launched on both last and current gen platforms, but the list of WWII games seems largely baron, why is that?
Well it is largely due to the oversaturation of the market during the sixth generation of computer and video game consoles, which saw the likes of: Call of Duty 2, Battlefield 1942, Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, and Medal of Honor: Frontline being released over a relatively short period of time. If you look at the FPS genre from 1998 to 2008 you will appreciate how truly expansive the material for WWII games was.
These historical shooters were still very much alive and kicking by the time the seventh wave of consoles hit our shelves in late 2005, shown by notable releases like Call of Duty: World at War, Battlefield 1943 and Sniper Elite V2, and The Saboteur. Given the sheer magnitude of games, TV and film surrounding mankind’s darkest period, it is hence understandable that many developers have taken heed, and sheltered themselves, as to avoid another barrage of WWII shooters filling the market.
However, many of the games launched within the sixth and seventh generation of computer and console gaming depicted similar trends, you were either a posh speaking Brit, a vodka drinking Russian, or a rugged US infantryman, with most games depicting all three. Largely, these were, and still are the countries seen in the majority of WWII games.
This by no means is a negative, in fact I have enjoyed many of the games previously mentioned, and have found the stereotypical tropes that define them to be endearing. But is it a realistic depiction of the war? No, of course it isn’t, but I don’t expect them to offer complete realism, just how I don’t watch historical films expecting complete accuracy; after all we enjoy video games, films and TV to largely escape our own reality.
However, it would be great to have another WWII shooter that encompassed a variety of countries, from both Allied and Axis forces, adding another dimension that is usually downplayed or left out entirely in many AAA titles we’ve seen.
Now there have been a few games that have been released in the past few years that take place during 1939-1945, like the real-time strategy game Company of Heroes 2, which sees the player command a variety of units and vehicles in an attempt to win key battles.
Additionally, the Sniper Elite series offered a tactical experience without the chaos and mayhem of actual battles, with emphasis on a less direct approach to combat, encouraging the player to use stealth to dispatch enemy soldiers. Both Company of Heroes, and the Sniper Elite series are fantastic, but they don’t portray the soldier’s perspective that past titles delivered.
Currently, Battalion 1944 is the latest WWII shooter in development for PC and next gen consoles, and promises to deliver in the “realism” department, and claims to “recapture the intensity of classic multiplayer shooters”, breathing new life into the WWII scene using the beautiful Unreal Engine 4. This sounds like a nod in the right direction to those of us who have fond memories of Cod 2, which is largely regarded as one best FPS games of its time.
Cod 2 avoided perks, killstreaks, and flashy loadouts that continue to cause so many balancing issues in today’s modern FPS titles. Instead it kept things simple, with a heavy emphasis on rewarding skill and teamwork to outplay your opponent.
However, as promising as Battalion 1944 sounds, it is purely a multiplayer experience, offering no form of campaign to sink your teeth into. I feel a game of this nature and calibre would greatly benefit from having a unique story to tell, just because there are so many left untold.
I mean let’s be honest, Treyarch’s World at War was hardly worthy of that title, if by “World” you mean America and Russia taking on the Nazis in an attempt to save the same “World”, then sure, whatever rocks your factually incorrect boat.
Even now I have flashbacks to the sci-fi film Independence Day that flits in and out of my mind while I think back to the WWII games I previously mentioned. I can even hear the not too distant chants of “U-S-A!” until it becomes almost too overbearing. But just like the USA, good old blighty accounts for the vast majority of stories told within WWII shooters, and obviously both nations should, they played huge parts in the defeat of the Nazi regime. But what about the other nations that stood strong against the Nazi tide?
There are so many stories to tell, so many acts of bravery that have otherwise been untold, and there is such a rich tapestry to choose from. It would be bordering on the impossible to include every single country that fought in the war within a single campaign, and some countries played very minor parts, but it would be great to see some different faces from the ones that we have seen time and time again.
Even being able to pick and play as units from a variety of different nations, and using their weaponry in online matchmaking would be great, and really make it feel like a war that was fought on a truly worldwide scale, as well as creating a more personal experience tailored to the player.
Additionally, I feel that a WWII shooter would greatly benefit from a branching campaign, where player choice would affect how missions are dealt with, and individual actions create real consequences for the rest of the game. Maybe you decide to stealthily make your way through an enemy encampment, shrouded in the darkness, while dispatching enemy infantry quickly and quietly, minimising your casualties and capitalising on theirs. Or maybe you decide to charge in guns blazing, in the hope of creating enough chaos and disarray to crush your enemy before they can scramble enough units to fight back.
Even small personal choices like helping a wounded comrade, or showing compassion or complete disregard toward your enemy could really add a more intimate experience unlike any book, TV show or film, as well as providing a fresh experience with each playthrough. Obviously, the outcome of the war must remain the same, and certain battle must be won, but adding this level of “choice” would help lift the linear, often stagnant paths WWII shooters tend to follow. After all, it is not unheard of as Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and the popular TellTale Games series put emphasis on player “choice”, so why not implement this same trait into a WWII shooter?
The joys of current gen gaming is that we as gamers have a greater deal of customisation when playing solo and multiplayer games. Past WWII shooters gave us stock loadouts, with limited to no personalisation or aesthetic development, and the games that did usually let you choose from a variety of weapons and perks that led to severe balancing issues.
Instead, being able to play different roles ranging from supportive to heavy and light infantry classes, and having the choice to pick from a variety of weapon loadouts that complement each role would greatly enhance user experience, and add a touch of the personal. Even being able to add slight customisations to your helmet and gun in the form of engravings would add a nice personal flair, distinguishing you from everyone else.
A current gen WWII game is desperately crying out to be made; you only have to look at popular gaming forums and websites to see that there is still a want for WWII shooters. But the future seems to be the main focus of current gen shooters, and it’s understandable that developers would see this “future” as a limitless canvas that can be painted with truly infinite possibilities for potential video games.
However, like many people I am fascinated with the weaponry, vehicles and tactics used in 1939-1945, and how battles were fought, won and lost. Films and TV shows like Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers do a good job of capturing the everyday horrors of battle, from storming Omaha Beach, to laying siege to the town of Bastogne, to dealing with the effects of the war, both mentally and physically, but these are passive experiences.
Video games give us a more intimate, personal experience where we, the player can actively walk through bombed out cities and towns, explore burning forests ablaze with angry flames, and take part in some of the most bloodiest battles in history, highlighting the utter despair and loss that no film can come close to delivering. You are there, these are your actions alone, and you are not a passive bystander experiencing these events.
Because video games as medium give us this level of control, it can be overwhelming, even unpleasant at times when you witness the hurt and despair of certain events, because it is made personal to you. This is where current gen gaming truly shines; video games can deliver this level of emotion and immersion like never before, and for this reason there has never been a greater time to release a AAA WWWII shooter.
Yes, shooting people with blaster rifles and hearing the colourful beams crack and wiz past mechanised drones and robots is fun, and flying around ancient alien civilisations is fascinating as it is eerily beautiful. But somehow it doesn’t deliver the same impact as hearing the sharp crack of a Springfield rifle, followed by the dull ping as the bullet bites through tin and bone, or the rasping echoes of a MP40 machine gun, or seeing the hellish flames hissing and spitting angrily from a flamethrower as they leap onto an unfortunate soldier, encasing him in a fiery trap.
Next gen technology is here, the possibilities are present, and the history is at our very fingertips. It’s time to show this history off in a way like never before.
So what do you think? Do you feel now is the right time to pave the way for the next generation of WWII shooters? Or do you feel that the gaming industry has seen its fair share of them? As always, let me know in the comments section below.