I’ve written hundreds of articles during my twenty-odd years as a games inspector. As many of these appeared in the British version of PC Gamer magazine and nowhere else, now and again something from my archive may appear as a THC post. For a spell in the Noughties PCG UK ran an intentionally provocative single-page opinion piece every month. Thanks to titles like Sprocket, Through the Darkest of Times, and Gerda: A Flame in Winter* this 2009 ‘Devil’s Advocate’ isn’t quite as pertinent as it once was, but I reckon it still contains sufficient truth to warrant another airing.
*50% cheaper than normal on Steam at present
Have a K-ration cookie Games Industry. You’ve achieved something I thought was impossible. You’ve managed to make the most important, most extraordinary event of the Twentieth Century seem dull and prosaic.
When I close my eyes and think of WW2 now, all I see is feldgrau figures framed by blurry iron sights, and platoons of tiny Shermans scuttling around like cockroaches. All I feel is apathy.
What’s gone wrong? Well, for starters games makers have insisted on pouring the war into restrictive genre moulds rather than letting it flow naturally into new designs. Secondly – and this one’s the Fairbairn-Sykes dagger in the guts – they’ve fixated on a handful of battles and situations.
Consider this: almost all of our 1939-45 software can be shoved into one of three categories. There are those offerings that let you play at soldiering, those that put you in the boots of a commander, and those that plonk you into a war machine. History’s biggest and bloodiest conflict involved hundreds of millions of people in thousands of different roles and how many roles have our developers and publishers identified as game worthy? Three. The lack of vision is staggering.
There are over ninety different WW2-themed games on my shelves. Why do none of them let me serve my country as, say, a bomb disposal expert. Picture it: the eerie London bomb sites, the tense tinkering with dozens of different kinds of unexploded Luftwaffe ordnance. Is that a J15A with a trembler, or a J15B with a time delay? Should I drill it? Should I freeze it? Should I leg it?
Where’s the game that lets me be a boffin, a Werner Braun/Barnes-Wallace type, assembling secret weapons from a vast selection of research-unlocked components. Imagine Garry’s Mod crossed with Call of Duty and Armadillo Run. “Thanks for the mine-clearing crab Professor Stone, but now we need a snowmobile with AT capability. It’s got to fit in a glider, can’t weigh more than 8 tons and must be able to do at least 30mph cross-country. Think you can help?”
How about a spiv sim, or something that casts us as war photographers, or Bletchley Park codebreakers. For years I’ve been waiting for the game that will let me design and build the Atlantic Wall, then sit back, cuppa and custard cream in hand, as Eisenhower’s finest take their best shot. Stronghold with concrete, 88s and minefields.
Wherever you look in WW2 history there are fantastic stories waiting to be told. The work of stage-magician-turned-military-trickster Jasper Maskelyne is crying-out to be transformed into a turn-based ruse-em-up. We don’t need another Normandy landings RTS, but a strategy game recreating Operation Fortitude, the pre-D-Day deception campaign, now that would get my attention.
Come on developers, throw away those Band of Brothers DVDs, forget you ever played Sudden Strike. Give us games about negotiation and collaboration, logistics, reconnaissance, and propaganda. Give us games about the Holocaust and the Home Front. Give us anything but more of the same dreary WW2 clichés.