Some choose to experience the horrors and experiences of World War I through reading of historical texts, and others through the watching and study of WWI movies. WWI is also a subject ripe for reproduction in game form, however, and the staggering array of WWI History Games in existence lends much credence to this statement. WWI history games don’t just vary in subject, however, but in quality too. There are many not worth your time, but it is the hope of this article to cut through the chaff in order to present you with the proverbial wheat of WWI History Games. Familiar names will crop up here, and the presents games that range from aerial warfare titles to purely strategic battlefield-based affairs.
Making History: The Great War (PC)
Few games, even when looking at today’s Call of Duty and Battlefield generations, can quite match the breadth, control, and above all, historical accuracy afforded by Muzzy Lane’s Making History saga. The first Making History was released in 2007, but 2015’s Making History: The Great War is perhaps the grandest entry to the series yet. It covers the wide scope of WWI of course, allowing its players to enjoy the kind of grand strategy approach to the WWI conflict, the likes of which you rarely find in war-based games these days. Within its highly flexible boundaries, The Great War permits its players to rewrite many aspects of WWI, whilst managing to maintain a certain air of historical authenticity.
The gameplay of The Great War is quite typical of most grand-strategy games. You’ll find a map-based, largely statistical interface that covers around 200 of the countries that were active during the conflict. Though the graphics are noticeably bland (particularly for a 2015 video game), the true fans of The Great War will appreciate the balance between graphics and function. After all, super-snazzy graphics aren’t the aim here, and much of the processing power of your PC will be taken up by the game’s many strategic facets.
Map overlays provide visual representations of the grand strategy, such as diplomacy, resources, and the demographics of your particular power. You’ll jest for power by controlling the military of your nation as well as hammer out diplomatic relation talks, trade deals, and of course the brute-force approach as well. It’s important to note that although the game does give you a great degree of leeway when it comes to rewriting the details of history, there is authenticity to be found here. Relations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, for example, play out as they did in real life. Playing as nations in the pacific, too, you’ll find that avoiding war is simply not an option.
You begin in 1912, allowing you to attempt to steer diplomatic relations for the major powers until the inevitable outbreak of the war in 1914. From here, it’s a matter of diplomacy, military strategy, and resource management. The graphics are the only true let-down for this game, but if you’re not expecting perfectly-rendered depictions of the western front, you shouldn’t be disappointed by Muzzy Lane’s authentic take on the strategy of World War I.
Commander: The Great War (PC)
While a majority of the hugely successful World War I shoot-em-up titles capitalised on the immediate action of the trenches, the political strategic stalemate of the western front isn’t quite as ripe for recreation when it comes to grand-strategy games. After all, there was much blood spilt in the trenches and millions of lives lost (and so plenty of first-person shooting potential for games developers), but the bigger picture was one of stalemate, of futility, and of hopelessness on all fronts. This makes it all the more impressive, therefore, that Commander: The Great War managed to come up with an engrossing and immediately-engaging grand strategy game focused on WWI.
Flick your eyes briefly at any screenshots of the action and you’ll immediately see that this game is a hex-based experience, allowing you to control a number of nations represented on a visually-pleasing, geometrically-interesting grid overlay that’s reminiscent of the Civilisation war games. The action is fast-paced and engaging from the start, but that’s not the main appeal here.
In fact, the main appeal from an historical perspective is this game’s choice of scenarios. While many games simply cover WWI in general, Commander: The Great War offers 5 individual scenarios that represent the strategically pivotal points of the war, in an historically accurate fashion. Though The 1914 scenario (the lengthiest one by far) covers the entire period of the conflict, you’ve got 1915’s Ypres and Artois, 1916’s Verdun, 1917’s Nivelle Offensive, and the 1918 Spring Offensive (better known as The Kaiserschlacht). Further historical accuracy is seen the game’s opening Austia-Hungary attack of Serbia-Montenegro, as well as the game’s conclusion in December 1918.
All of the elements of grand strategy are present here, from resource production and management to diplomacy, military strategy, research trees, and management of your countries’ affairs. The graphics are somewhat impressive too, having a very contemporary feel to them with distressed textures and typewriter-style typeface to top it all off. A few drawbacks exist here, including the inability to undo your turn when it comes to the Play-by-Email multiplayer. Some of the counters in the game are a little bland too (I’m referring largely to NATO here). Overall, however, this is an extremely detailed grand strategy with superior, stylish graphics and historical authenticity running through its core.
Wings! Remastered Edition
Some readers may be old enough to remember the original Wings! game, released all the way back in 1990 to audiences dazzled by its aerial action as they played it on the Amiga computer. After a barely-successful Kickstarter campaign, Cinemaware gathered the funds to allow them to produce Wings! Remastered edition. This is a unique game that attempts to weave together a variety of aerial combat elements into its gameplay, while remaining strictly within the framework of technological limitation that would have likewise restricted real-life WWI pilots during the conflict.
Looking at the gameplay, the majority of the action is made up of a sort of Flight Simulator-esque piloting of an aircraft. This is usually with view to destroying a number of enemy targets, which are in turn usually comprised of German aircraft, and occasionally some zeppelins too. It’s quite a challenge, however, since unlike a majority of the modern-day flight simulator games featuring technology-packed planes, you don’t even have radar here, meaning you need to physically scout out the skies by manoeuvring in the appropriate directions. This is a stak contrast, then, to modern-day-warfare-oriented games like Digital Combat Simulator modules you’ll find at www.jetgames.org, as well as the flash games found there such as Battle of Britain: Flight 303 Squadron.
There’s a few more strings to Wings!’s bow, however. Further gameplay modes provide slightly varied aerial experiences. One of these is engaging in low-altitude strafing, where you’ll view the action from a top-down perspective, and the other is carrying out bombing runs. You must remember that though it is remastered, you’re still playing what is essentially a re-skinned, re-jigged 1990 Amiga video game here, so there’s not as much depth to the gameplay as you’ll find in many modern-day aerial combat games. It’s an enjoyable collection of levels, however, that allow you to engage in aerial combat in a narrow selection of different perspectives. The graphics look pretty, and it seems the developers have attempted to stay as loyal as possible to the original Wings! game.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PC)
In a stylistic U-Turn of unprecedented sharpness, now we come to Valiant Hearts: The Great War. This is a game very unlike the others on this list due to the gameplay itself, which is comprised of a variety of engaging puzzles that are woven into a WWI adventure. This puzzle-adventure video game with an extremely unique artistic style. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the way it is constructed: 5 protagonists of the game are presented to us, and through each of their adventures is told the harrowing futility of the trenches as well as the wider impact of the war on the citizens of Europe.
There’s a pleasant variety in the kind of puzzles you’ll be solving. These range from being told to find objects in a fairly simple manner, through to applying disguises or carving out trenches on the front line. As you can imagine, the variation involved here is extensive, but it is tied together with a unique artistic style that is quite simply breath-taking in its presentation of WWI, from its battlefields to the war at home. There’s something darkly humorous about the artistic direction and the use of music in game, while depictions of the front line and the battlefields are quite striking: vast plumes of smoke hang heavy in the air while death is all around. It’s like swinging back and forth between moods ranging from charming to harrowing, and it couldn’t be a more impressive experience.
You’re frequently pulled out of the narrative by the frequently-appearing fact sheets, however, which are the developers’ attempts to authenticate the game with historical facts and passages. These weren’t strictly necessary, but nor do they damage the experience either. This is the story of WWWI told from the perspective of 5 wonderfully-designed characters, however, making it extremely different from any other WWI game in existence. Its art direction is arguably the most enticing factor initially, but Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a unique experience with depth, authenticity, and style that’s laid on by the bucket-load.
Warfare 1917 (Browser)
Finally, we come to Warfare 1917, which is another turn in the unfamiliar direction of flash-based depictions of WWI. Before even starting, it is quite comfortably said that this is one of the best WWI experiences you’ll find in the flash-gaming world, boasting some extremely addictive yet simple gameplay as well as impressive historical accuracy to boot.
The gameplay itself involves viewing the trenches from a side-on perspective. From here you’re in charge of guiding your units over the top, running from trench to trench and getting massively decimated in the process, reflecting the sheer horror and futility of the Great War. You have a number of different troop types available to you, from infantry to snipers, machine-gun units, and mortars, artillery, and even tanks. Victory is established by achieving one of two possible goals: the decimation of enough enemy soldiers to tank their morale, or by taking control of a significant enough portion of the battlefield. The gameplay is simple, but it’s tense, challenging, and also genuinely engaging at the same time.
There’s a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay, too, which puts Warfare 1917 up there with the best flash-based war games that you can possible play. For example, while you command units on the battlefield, just as important is the selection of strategic command points on the battlefield in between rounds. If you enjoy the kind of simple yet effective strategy found in the war games found at www.warfrog.co.uk, there’s no way that you won’t enjoy the action of Warfare 1917.
Warfare 1917’s presentation is also well above average when it comes to flash-game graphics. Though the visual design is fairly simple, the use of similar colour tones and the distressed, aged nature of the textures used in the interface are indicative of a bygone era, and of a war whose futility and bloodshed will forever remain a stain on the tumultuous history of human conflict.