War. What is it good for?

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Video Games. It makes for some really good video games! Well, World War 2 and more recent conflicts do… yet what about World War 1?

So my post-release boner has finally begun to shrink back to normal, but I’m still having an absolute ball on Battlefield 1. It’s gritty, it’s harrowing, it’s brutal. Battlefield 1 is everything a war game should be.

So it’s got me wondering, what other World War 1 based games are out there that have really impressed me? I pondered on this long and hard… all the way through my game’s pre-match lobby and load time, in-fact! Surprisingly, I struggled to even name five games that i’d consider great. The best I could do was the Xbox Live Arcade game Toy Soldiers , and I thought the puzzler Valiant Hearts: The Great War was different, but alright. Other than Toy Soldiers being one of the better XBLA games, neither of those mentioned offer immense, record-breaking ingenuity or success. I’ll also throw 2015’s Verdun into the mix as it’s the only notable first person shooter set in this time period. Unlike Battlefield 1, Verdun is an online only title, without a single player campaign to enjoy. So that’s three… There is one other World War 1 game that I could truly say was enjoyable for me, however, it doesn’t technically have anything to do with the Great War. It’s 2007’s The Darkness. Of course, you play as a modern-day, mafia hitman living in New York that has supernatural powers. Although, at some point in the game, you find yourself in the Otherworld. The realm of the Darkness is home to patchwork beings outfitted in World War 1 raiments fighting in trenches. Perhaps a depiction that the battles of World War 1 truly were Hell on Earth.

 

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The Darkness – In the Otherworld

So it’s abundantly clear that there’s a real lack of World War 1 portrayals within the video game industry. There’s a plethora of flying games with references to the Red Baron, but nothing of any real substance. We are all so used to seeing games and movies based off of World War 2, but why is there an obvious lack of titles regarding the hostilities 21 years prior?

Is it due to the lack of weaponry and their effectiveness? World War 1 was short. But despite lasting 4 years, technology advanced rapidly. Men went into the conflict on horseback, yet left in motorised vehicles and heavily armoured tanks. The French turned up in brightly coloured uniforms that were common sights in the Napoleonic War, but soon swapped to more appropriate attire, often using camouflage to better blend in with their surroundings. Firearms were basic in present-day terms, but back then they were revolutionary. Bolt action rifles had been around since the fall of the 19th century, moving away from muskets and lever-action repeaters; and autoloading guns were quickly being developed. The first of these semi automatic rifles began to be installed on aeroplanes due to their single-shot fire-rate and versatility. They failed regularly on the frontline due to the mud and dust, but up in the air there was very little of all that. Even over the course of 4 years, these mounted rifles were replaced with heavier, rapidly firing weapons. On the frontline, gatling guns and other machine guns were brutal, firing hundreds of bullets per minute, but were heavy and cumbersome. Often needing large teams to man them. Perhaps the lack of guns available really is a major factor in the lack of attention games producers pay to WW1. The times were not blessed with classics such as the American M1A1 carbine, the Russian PPSH and the German MP40 we are so used to seeing in World War 2 shooters. Even so, there is an overabundance of weaponry within Battlefield 1. Although lots of the guns didn’t enter service until the final months of the war, it still shows that the weaponry was there.

Perhaps it’s down to a lack of historical knowledge that leads to there not being many games? Are developers not prepared to invest in the research needed? Let’s not forget that World War 1 started over 102 years ago! The last surviving WW1 veteran passed away back in 2012 at the incredible age of 110. World War 2 however, begun 77 years ago with many surviving veterans still with us today. Maybe this lack in research and prior insight is a slight off-put to developers? That’s the barrier that DICE managed to overcome in creating Battlefield 1.

We wanted to challenge your preconceptions a little bit,” says Aleks Grøndal, senior producer at DICE, the Swedish studio that made Battlefield 1. “Most of the great research we did showed us that there was so much more to [World War 1] than what our preconception of it was. Where it took place, what actually happened, how important it all was. We felt there was a lot of variety, and a lot of interesting stories to be told there.

There can be no denying that there are countless historical inaccuracies when it comes to Battlefield 1, but these little additions and tweaks make the game much more playable. There are lots of things that they have gotten right. It’s a game that certainly exaggerates specific aspects, but it also strives to tread a difficult march between effectively conveying the brutality of the conflict while also making a fun video game, that is appealing to a vast and diverse range of audiences.

“We had to take some creative liberties where we felt those were needed, but also not invent anything new, because we didn’t really have to do that either. We took some creative liberties in terms of time — some things exist in the game that didn’t exactly exist in that point in time, but still within that four-year span. Just to make it better game, essentially. Battlefield games are in our DNA, so we kind of know where the fun lies and what we should be doing. In previous Battlefield games we’ve also been taking creative liberties in terms of having equipment that hasn’t been [used] before, like fighter planes and helicopters. We’ve had to be a little more peculiar with it, a little more detailed in the decision making. But the good thing is because of all the great research we had — we had so much to pick from — we essentially just picked the thing we found most interesting.” Ales Grøndal was talking to GQ.com.

Don’t get me wrong, Battlefield games are not played for their realism, they’re played for fun and their entertainment value. If a realistic WW1 game is what you’re after, look no further than Verdun on PC and now PS4. An Xbox One edition is in the works, but there is plenty of gameplay content out there for you to absorb. If a more modern-day military-simulation is what you’re after, then the Arma series on PC is certainly worth a look. Both are great in their own individual ways, but the real fun factor lies with the Battlefield series. It certainly wins the beauty contests too if you’re that way inclined. It’s just so damn-gorgeous!

 

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Verdun 1914-18

Anyway, this post (that’s so easily been derailed by my own ramblings) was about a certain lack of WW1 video games, not a brief review of what’s already out there. So before I head off on another tangent, lets wrap things up. There is an obvious gap in the market for WW1 games, and especially First Person Shooters. What’s this down to? Who knows. But after the success of Battlefield 1, I think we can expect there to be a few more ventures involving the Great War. We’ve already got the highly anticipated Ad Infinitum to look forward to in 2017.

Watch the teaser for Ad Infinitum here.

I’m glad sanitary products were also a key advancement during WW1, I think I might just need something to wipe my bottom. Ad Infinitum definitely looks to tick an awful lot of boxes.

Going back to the title and answering Edwin Starr’s question, though; war obviously isn’t good for anything. As we get closer to remembrance Sunday, please take the time to remember and honour all of those who have sacrificed their lives for the preservation of liberty and who have stood up against the evils of this world. Not just from the early wars of the 1900’s, but all conflicts past and present.

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