The 4 best war games you can play right now
No matter where you look, war has found its way into almost every seam of pop culture. If Bruce Springsteen isn’t asking what it’s good for in typically melodic style, then Ron Perlman is mumbling something about its ever unchanging nature in Fallout 3. As that latter example attests to, video games are no stranger to the subject of war either, with many of them using it as the basis for their entire existence.
The best war games, however, are those which contribute or build upon ideas and themes about the weighty subject matter with deft judgement and creative poise. They stick with us for their unique perspectives on war, enriching our understanding of the phenomenon when so many other titles tend to mindlessly glorify it above all else. That isn’t to say some of the titles below don’t lean into this temptation at times, but the calibre of their creative ambition ultimately outweighs the sum of their infrequent missteps.
1. Rome: Total War
What it is: A real-time strategy game by Creative Assembly, which re-stages the various conflicts of the most powerful army known to history.
Where you can play it: PC
Back in the early 2000s, a British TV show called Time Commanders would air once a week on the BBC, using Rome: Total War to recreate famous battles throughout history. This gives you a good idea of how effectively Creative Assembly’s RTS can serve as a model through which to explore the dynamics of ancient warfare, despite the forgivable historical inaccuracies found in its campaign and certain elements of its design.
Every clang of steel and cry of command worked in unison to create a war experience that felt believable, almost tangible in its dramatic authenticity. By fusing visual spectacle with tactical depth, Rome: Total War delivered on the promise of its title with one of the finest presentations of historical warfare to date.
2. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
What it is: Infinity Ward’s seminal epic, and a first-person shooter grounded in the realism of contemporary combat of the 21st century.
Where you can play it: Xbox One, PS4 and PC in Modern Warfare Remastered.
Before all the time-travelling, mind trickery and intentionally controversial campaign missions, there was a time when Call of Duty actually had something to say about the nature of warfare. Take “Death From Above”, for example, the level in Modern Warfare in which you take out targets with air strikes from the safety of an AC-130. With it’s deliberately lo-res, monochromatic filter, the sequence feels troublingly lifelike, establishing a cold, calculated climate that doesn’t sit well with the stomach.
What’s the message? War has changed. The Revolution in Military Affairs means that combat is no longer up close and personal, but distant and removed from individual accountability. Modern Warfare’s campaign is peppered with such reflections on the new theatre of war we now live in, even as it simultaneously works to indulge in the combat with equal panache.
3. Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crises
What it is: A military-sim from Bohemia Interactive, featuring tactical first-person shooter gameplay both in single-player and online.
Where you can play it: PC, Xbox
By offering a revamped understanding of what a military-sim could be, Operation Flashpoint indulged in the cold, hard science of war, where the threat of death lurked around every corner of its intense campaign. The game had no time for the cliched ideals of heroism or comradeship, and instead aimed to scratch at the brutal heart of modern conflict – the small scale, squad-on-squad combat where tight teamwork and patient caution is more important than any notions of glory-hunting.
Players are either left to doggedly follow orders or think on their feet, as a single false step could result in fatal failure. Realism is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot when talking about shooter games, but few have still yet to reach the same level of authenticity as that of Operation Flashpoint.
4. This War of Mine
What it is: A survival game set in the fictional war-zone of Graznavia, where players take on the role of civilians trying to outlast the conflict.
Where you can play it: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS.
Few, if any, games have shone a spotlight on the victims of war in the same way and with the same level of graceful tact as This War of Mine. In 11 bit studio’s seminal project, you’re not playing as a “hero” of war; you’re just someone trying to survive the real world nightmare of armed conflict at your doorstep.
Through the lens of its despondent art style and intelligent survival mechanics, This War of Mine touches on the experience of those caught in a middle of a war they never asked for, and creates a powerful piece of work in the process. The developers were inspired by the real Siege of Sarajevo which took place during the Bosnian War in the 1990’s but, as civil conflicts continue to rage on in the Middle East and elsewhere, This War of Mine has yet to lose its socio-political poignancy.