Why the World War II Video Game Needs a Revival

From the beaches of Normandy to the jungles of Iwo Jima, it's time for developers to consider returning to WWII.

World War II has always been a famous part of our history and culture — respected and recreated through the years in films, books, plays, and — more recently — video games. Throughout the last console generation video games aimed to cover the subject consistently, focusing on experiences like storming the beaches of Normandy and fighting in the skies above London. However, developers always aimed to cover the larger battles, the wild experiences and the thrill of war in an ‘arcade’ based sense. These experiences were built to be fun while grounded in history, and the result wasn’t half bad — but as video games continue to evolve and tell more emotional stories, there’s no reason we shouldn’t give the setting a second chance.

In the last few years we’ve had a few World War II games pop up such as War Thunder, World of Warships, and Company of Heroes — each with their own unique take on the theme. They work to inform players about history through their respective focus, whether it be ships, planes, or tanks, with small bits of text about the war machines and their service records. Sure, it’s fun to run through some enemy battleships in a multiplayer match with your friend — but what about the stories of those who operated them? The stories of those they protected or harmed? Typically these questions are left at the bottom of the ocean, locked behind the idea of the multiplayer-focused experience that’s so popular these days in the industry. But multiplayer experiences don’t have to remain the sole focus of games that involve World War II in the coming years.

Some developers have already mentioned stepping back into the fray. One of the most popular story-driven World War II titles, Brothers in Arms may be looking at a sequel in the coming years. Mikey Neumann, chief creative champion at Gearbox discussed the possibility of bringing back the series last year with GameSpot:

“A lot of people love Brothers in Arms and they love Matt Baker. Obviously we never got to finish that story. We’ve always said, ‘Man, we want to go back to this.’”

Of course, it’s only a possibility — and it would be a damn good one. Not only did Brothers in Arms create a successful gameplay experience from a shooter standpoint, but it brought the emotions of brotherhood and loss during war into a video game when few thought it would be possible.

More recently, games like Wolfenstein: The New Order have focused heavily on the World War II theme as well — but with a different angle. Much like Amazon’s The Man in High Castle, Wolfenstein touches on what might have happened if the Nazis won World War II. While it certainly has its fair share of violent kills and horrible one liners for action’s sake, it also aimed to focus on some of the underlying themes behind the war, and to great success. It touched on war crimes, racism, military power, and more: all while sticking to the simple first-person shooter formula that many gamers love. Now, I’m not saying the representation of these topics was perfect, but it was certainly an attempt that delivered.

Due to Wolfenstein’s success, it’s safe to assume we’ll have a sequel down the road and possibly even a few games to finish up the Brothers in Arms story from Gearbox — but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some more developers step onto the beaches of Normandy.

With game development advancing to the next generation of consoles and graphics cards, motion capture has become a paramount part of game design — plus, we’ve seen graphical fidelity increase drastically along with the whole concept of wearing a virtual reality headset to be fully immersed in the world of a video game. With all of these changes — it’s a safe bet that diving into World War II narratives again could yield some fantastic results.

Who knows, maybe this time around we’ll be storming the beaches of Normandy in a more emotional capacity than we did in Call of Duty 2.

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