I’m So Sick Of World War II
Posted on 21st Sep 2009 at 11:46 by Joe Martin with 54 comments
Don’t get me wrong, they can be great. I thought Call of Duty 2 was a fantastic game, for example and that bit where you’re crawling through that pipe above the heads of Nazi soldiers is cemented into my head as a favourite. But that was five years ago and it feels like we’ve had nothing but re-runs since then. Not just in the FPS genre either, but with RTS’ too.
And they all have similarly bland names as well; Call of Duty, Men of Valour, Company of Heroes, Brothers in Arms, Order of War, Medal of Honour and the blandest of all, Men of War. It really is like the publishers have two wheels of words that they spin, connecting the result with ‘of’.
The frustrating thing is that, judged on their own merits, the games are often quite good. It’s just the quantity of them that I object to, along with the fact that they all re-use the same bland moments of cinema. I’ve stormed Omaha and sought cover in Normandy hedgerows so many times that I can’t visit France for fear that I’d shoot nearby German tourists on sheer reflex. It’s that old disconnect between the enjoyable mechanics of the game and the repetitive visuals. I’m not tired of shooting people, I’m just tired of doing it then and there.
I honestly can't even tell what game this is from
What really grinds my goat though is the fact that so many games plunge into the over-familiar WW2 setting without even considering the more interesting settings. Games are about going somewhere else and doing something different – so why do we always go there?
I’ve got a theory on the why of it, actually. I think it’s to do with human curiosity as much as the cinematic appeal of the period. World War II was one of the most mystifying events in modern history and we’re still struggling to understand it as a whole. The tragedies and backstories are so big and complex that they resist being looked at directly, so we settle for watching the endless parade of Hitler documentaries on The Discovery Channel and shooting conveniently arranged Nazis in poorly-named games. We want to understand World War II for the same reasons that we watch TV shows about serial killers and eunuchs – we want to see slices of the macabre and understand the root of them. We’re like the bad guys in a Lovecraft story.
If that’s the case though then I honestly don’t understand why we aren’t looking at World War I instead. It’s a similar enough setting to not be a financial risk and changing hedgerows for trench complexes and biplanes would be enough to keep me interested for a sequel or three, I think. For some reason though it doesn’t have the same resonance with modern audiences, probably because the focus on the more recent war blinds us to the older.
When can I play a gritty pirate game?
Or pirates! Blackbeard did some nasty stuff too, but we’ve yet to see a spate of truly good pirate-themed games. It’s a shame, as I for one would love a chance to roam in first person on my own galleon, boarding enemy ships with cutlass and blunderbuss. I want to orchestrate naval battles from the crow's nest, pillage Tortuga and search for buried treasure – where’s my FPS/RPG pirate game?!
Unfortunately, the closest I seem to be able to get at the moment is Sid Meier’s Pirates! – an excellent game, but one which doesn’t provide the proximity or sense of reality I long for. That’s the problem with the pirate setting; it’s too campy and kitsch in the eyes of most people. Hence, Galleon instead of Lure of Blackbeard, or whatever.
I’m not the only one dying for something different, am I? Someone, please tell me I’m not the only gamer here who lives for those few, isolated islands of brilliance over the seas of identi-kit drivel.