With Call of Duty: WWII’s return to the most destructive conflict in human history, everything that was old is new again. After all, World War 2 shooters were virtually everywhere a few years ago, and now that one of the largest FPS franchises is digging up a genre that was all but phased out by modern-era shooters, it may be the time to explore some alternative games that give you a chance to partake in some good old fashioned Nazi killing, especially if you’re not a fan of Activision’s tendencies to work in some microtransactions into their games.
Fortunately, there were a lot of games in the World War 2 genre, many of which were part of their own franchises, so there are plenty of options to choose from even within a singular series.
Brothers in Arms series
Unlike many other games that revolve around the second World War, the Brothers in Arms games do not reward running and gunning. Instead, it emphasizes the use of cover, teamwork, and tactics as you lead a squad of paratroopers through Europe. You can attempt to go full Rambo and mow down German soldiers single-handedly in this FPS, but chances are that you’ll end up getting killed over and over again. Indeed, one of Brothers in Arms’ core mechanics is the ability to command various fireteams to suppress enemies, flank them, and in later games in the series, outright destroy them with machine guns and Bazookas. If you wanted a game where you feel like you are playing as part of a team rather than pretending that you’re Captain America with a gun, then the Brothers in Arms series might be worth checking out.
The Brothers in Arms series didn’t merely offer a unique singleplayer experience however, it also featured a very interesting storyline. There’s no super gung-ho, everyone-goes-home-a-hero tale here, your squadmates actually die, and the story shows how this affects the other characters in your squad. As the series progressed, your own character clearly has some form of PTSD, which is a rather thought provoking plot point that very few other games have tackled, especially the Call of Duty series.
If you’re looking for a World War Two game that is a bit less serious and decidedly more fantastical, then The Saboteur might be for you. In this open world game with vehicles and perks and brothels, you are a Parisian resistance fighter who has a knack for climbing onto rooftops and traversing about the city in a less conventional manner while assassinating Nazis and blowing things up (think Assassin’s Creed, but set during the 1940s). Of course, being that Nazi occupied Paris wasn’t exactly a fun place, the game will be predominantly black and white at the beginning, with the exception of certain symbols like the swastika. As you do your part to liberate Paris though, color and life will return to the streets of the city, and as the Nazi’s influence is diminished, more and more citizens will rise up and help you against the Third Reich, actively fighting against German soldiers in the streets if need be.
Unfortunately, The Saboteur wasn’t as polished as one may have hoped, with some rather choppy animations, graphics, and voice acting, and it certainly doesn’t help matters much that the developer, Pandemic Studios, was liquidated soon after the game’s release. That being said, the game still gave players a chance to experience World War Two in a unique way, one that has yet to be replicated to this day.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
“What would’ve happened if the Nazis won the war?” That chilling question is the basis of so many books, movies, games, and more, but Wolfenstein: The New Order takes the idea and cranks it up to a rather silly degree, featuring Nazis on the Moon, Nazi cyborgs, and Nazi robo-dogs, among other things. Of course, no one really expects the Wolfenstein series to be some deep and depressing adventure into alternate history, so there’s also some lasers and giant robots thrown into the mix. The plot itself isn’t particularly special, but The New Order does have excellent (or rather, stupidly fun) gameplay mechanics that give you a feeling of relative power and freedom, with plenty of opportunities to stealthily slit Nazi throats and dual-wield virtually any weapon in sight in equal measure.
If there is a downside to Wolfenstein: The New Order, it would be that it is fairly linear, lacking much replayability once you finish the game unless you want to hunt down collectibles and whatnot; there are branching storyline options, but the impact of your decisions are rather minimal. However, considering that The New Order does offer a fairly lengthy campaign devoid of any distracting multiplayer options (which is almost a rarity in this day and age) there is no reason not to pick it up if you’re looking for a fun, mildly thought provoking game.
Company of Heroes series
If shooters aren’t your cup of tea, then you may want to consider looking at real time strategy games if you have a World War 2 itch. Among the many World War 2 themed RTS games out there, few are as well received as Company of Heroes. On first glance, Company of Heroes looks like any other RTS where you build a base, build some units, and then send a blob of units to fight an opposing blob of units, but the game is a bit more complex than that. From environmental destruction actually having an impact on unit performance to destructible vehicle components (i.e. if your units shoot out a tank’s treads, then it will be immobilized until it’s repaired) to a fairly meaty set of expansions that give you a chance to play as the British and German Wehrmact in their own reasonably lengthy campaigns, Company of Heroes is a must-have for RTS fans.
In addition, there are plenty of free mods for Company of Heroes that expand virtually every aspect of the game. If you prefer not to use mods, then you may want to look at Company of Heroes 2 as well, as it covers the fight on the Eastern Front with an impressive weather system that adds another layer of strategy to combat. It should be noted that such games and their mods may strain your PC, as environmental destruction and beautiful visuals don’t come without a price.
Medal of Honor series
The classic rival to Call of Duty may be history, but there were plenty of amazing games that came from the Medal of Honor series that cumulatively covered almost every front in World War 2; from Africa to Italy to the Pacific and more, you can almost guarantee that the series intended to be the king of World War 2 shooters by sheer volume. Unfortunately, this also meant that the quality of the individual Medal of Honor games could vary wildly, but all in all, Medal of Honor is a classic series that can provide literally dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of gameplay.
Generally speaking, the earlier games in the Medal of Honor series were better received, especially Allied Assault. Medal of Honor: Frontline also deserves some extra praise for its impressive soundtrack, as does Medal of Honor: Airborne for its unique and relatively nonlinear gameplay. The real challenge is finding a platform that can still play these games, but older gamers may find the reward to be worth the hassle as such games can bring about quite a feeling of nostalgia for a bygone age in gaming.
Sniper Elite series
While third person, psuedo-stealth, sniper simulator games are a rather niche genre (to say the least), the Sniper Elite series proves that such a game can be rather enjoyable, if for no reason other than for providing visceral feelings of satisfaction from shooting Adolf Hitler in the face (or any other body part, particularly those that exist below the belt) over and over again. The games in the series may not be shining examples of gaming excellence, but they do provide a guilty pleasure for those who are looking for a rather simple and relaxing experience shooting Nazis from hundreds of meters away.
To be fair, the Sniper Elite series did receive fairly decent reviews overall (Sniper Elite 4 is considered the best of the bunch with an average score of 79 on Metacritic), but its main draw is that it lets players see their bullets go through organs and such if they made an impressive kill. Once again, not an industry-changing gameplay mechanic, but if you’re looking for some stupid fun with some stealth mechanics thrown into the mix, then Sniper Elite will do. Coincidentally, Sniper Elite also spawned its own Nazi Zombie spinoff, aptly named the Zombie Army Trilogy, which offers an interesting alternative to having to buy a Call of Duty game and hoping that it comes with a Nazi Zombie mode.
Given that World War 2 games were so popular that the genre more or less died out from oversaturation, there are plenty of other games that you might like that aren’t mentioned in this list. The less modern Call of Duty games for example still offer relatively excellent experiences, as do many multiplayer-centric games like Battlefield 1942 and the Red Orchestra series (which were omitted due to the fact that you can’t really play a multiplayer game if no one else is playing). There is no denying that you have many options when it comes to World War 2 games, but the real question is which one is right for you.