Happy Friday everybody! Welcome to another one of our Friday lists, bringing you a little light relief and portending the weekend! Last week's military board game theme got me thinking about war games in a broader sense. So I have decided to make this week's list about military video and computer games!
I am aware that this is a popular subject, and that there are a dazzling variety of war games out there, nevertheless I am going to stick my neck out and pick my top 5!
1.) Medieval: Total War
I should say that I love most of the games in the Total War series, and that since this one (and the preceding Shogun: Total War) the games have grown in complexity and the graphics have become spectacular. What I like about the original Medieval is that, in my opinion, it remains the best example of the classic Total War format: having a turn-based overview of your entire campaign, allowing you to control resources, dynastic politics, sea routes and command structures, as well as the simulation of full set-piece battles with thousands of combatants. Sure, the men might be virtually 2D, but there are a lot of them! And they respond to tactical setups and features of the terrain in a fairly realistic way!
Click here to see an example of the gameplay of the original Medieval, complete with fancy italic narrative...
2.) Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Maybe it's a bit of a stretch to call this a 'war game' but it's set in World War II, it's got guns and stuff and lots of SS baddies to kill! The fact that it has ancient Germanic spirits, zombie soldiers and an undead monster called 'Prinz Heinrich' does not detract from that. In this first-person shooter, you play the role of an undercover US agent infiltrating the menacing castle Wolfenstein to try to investigate the strange goings on in a Nazi advanced weaponry institute and paranormal division. The game plays heavily on the alleged Nazi connections to the occult, but what I like most about it is the element of stealth. For a large part of the game, you have to creep round the castle, killing tow-headed guards silently. The elite, female, PVC clad SS assassins and horrifying half-mechanical beasts don't come in until later...
Check out the moody intro, which goes some way towards explaining the bizarre but enjoyable plot.
3.) Civilization II
Alright, again, this isn't strictly a military game, but I very much doubt anybody plays it without resorting to war at some point. Players choose from a set of nationalities/ethnicities/classic civilizations and guide their people from antiquity to a potentially limitless future. I used to play this classic as a child, normally chose to be the Aztecs and absolutely loved the immersion effect. After a good old Civ II session, my eyes would invariably be wide and square: the result of trying to direct my empire towards glorious achievements in the fields of science, technology, politics and religion. But there would always be someone trying to spoil the party, the Sioux, the Romans, the Vikings, the Carthaginians, the Americans etc.... So It was a case of biding my time, investing lots into research and developing aircraft carrier task forces (or chariot troops, depending on the time) that could devastate the enemy!
For a hilarious, if somewhat depressing, account of what happens when you take the game thousands of years into the future, read this. It's bleak, apocalyptic vision rings strangely true...
4.) IL-2 Sturmovik 1946
Lots of people will argue that this is a simulator, not a game, but that doesn't concern me so much - I will leave it to the experts to decide. I must say that this is probably my favourite computer game ever. You may have gathered that I am a bit of an aviation geek, especially World War II, fighter aviation. IL-2 is very widely praised for its' ridiculous levels of realism, which can be customized, I should add. If played with full realism settings, you as the pilot must account for every detail that flying a warplane entails - managing the engine, fuel mixture, propeller pitch, flaps, rudder and elevator trim. Then there is the constant sky-scanning for bandits, as well as trying to cross check the ground beneath with your very basic map to make sure you are on the right course. And all of that before you can even think about dogfighting, or strafing, or bombing! With a dedicated modding and patching community online, the game is constantly evolving to incorporate new theatres, campaigns, planes and features, which keeps it pretty fresh.
Take a look at my favourite plane in action.
5.) Dogfights II
No this is not a joke. In terms of complexity of gameplay, and visually, this one might not compare to the others on my list too favourably. In fact, there are probably many other military games which are qualitatively 'better', but I shudder to think at the amount of minutes I've whiled away on this one. The simplicity of the controls (up, down, shoot) make it remarkably addictive, and what's more, it's free to play!
So there you have it, my top five war games. What do you think of my choices? How many of them have you played? Which would you have picked, and why?