As the centenary of the Great War recedes further into the past, the fascination with World War I’s tumultuous narrative persists. For the digital age, the interactive medium of video games provides a unique opportunity to delve into the murky trenches and grand strategies of this global conflict. The offerings are as diverse as the war itself; from first-person shooters to intricate strategy games, these virtual experiences aim to transport players back in time to the heart of the battlefield.
Embark on a historical journey as we explore 15 of the best World War 1 video games that not only entertain but also educate about one of history’s most transformative periods. From the peculiar and offbeat to the chilling and emotionally charged, each game provides a unique lens through which to view the first great global conflict of the 20th century.
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Darkest of Days
Darkest of Days is undoubtedly one of the most offbeat first-person shooter games to have graced the seventh console generation. This peculiar game propels the main character into a reality-twisting organization situated far into the future. This organization’s primary goal? To meticulously shape the trajectory of human history by influencing the outcomes of pivotal military confrontations.
Throughout their journey, players are tasked with traversing through the throbbing heart of historical battlefields, such as those of the American Civil War and World War I. They do so while being equipped with alarmingly out-of-time weaponry. Players’ responsibilities oscillate between balancing the scales of war and safeguarding those soldiers whose future actions will significantly alter the timeline.
Darkest of Days, despite being outrageously riddled with glitches, possesses an unparalleled uniqueness that is absolutely captivating. Thus, it offers an element of enjoyment to just about any individual who harbors a fondness for first-person shooter games, promising an intriguing and worthwhile experience.
Civilization 6 introduces a fascinating game mode that allows players to step into the boots of either French or German forces during the heat of World War I. This mode, fittingly dubbed ‘War Machine,’ operates on a 1-vs-1 basis, mandating the engagement of another player for the game mode to function. The lack of a singleplayer mode indicates that the challenge must be faced against a human adversary.
However, this limitation confines the scenario strictly to the Western Front. Here’s to hoping that future developments in Civilization will consider a more comprehensive World War I mode that encapsulates the entirety of the global conflict.
Commander: The Great War
Commander: The Great War, a 2012 creation by Slitherine, is an exemplar of how the Commander game engine deftly accommodates the World War I setting. The game cleverly strikes a balance between simplicity and intricate details when it comes to its unit and terrain graphics. It’s simultaneously captivating and informative.
Navigating the game is a breeze, with intuitive tabs opening panels for diplomacy, research, production, and unit stats. Moreover, the game employs an overall status management panel, offering an insightful overview of the countries’ statuses. Submarines, perpetually submerged, can only be targeted when enemies unexpectedly encounter their hexes.
Growth in the capabilities of air forces, artillery, and infantry are a result of progressive research in the game. Furthermore, commanders are directly integrated into the units, eliminating the need for distinct HQ units. A distinctive swapping function further enhances gameplay by allowing for effortless place exchanges between units. The game also incorporates five unique campaigns, each representing a year of the war.
Research in the game centers on overarching subjects rather than delving into individual concepts. Moreover, the straightforward supply system makes the game accessible to new players while encapsulating the essence of its subject matter. This approach helps preserve the complexity and depth of the game’s theme.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Valiant Hearts offers a refreshingly distinct approach to narrating a story set against the backdrop of World War 1. A brainchild of Ubisoft Montpellier, this 2D game transports you back to the era of World War 1, unveiling gripping narratives and enticing gameplay.
What catches your eye instantly is the 2D comic book-style graphics, lending the game an unparalleled charm. The game puts you in the shoes of not one, but four distinct characters. Each of these characters’ narratives is intricately intertwined, adding layers of depth to the storyline. As a player, your mission involves solving mind-boggling puzzles and actively engaging in World War 1 skirmishes. Adding to the fun, there’s a canine companion who aids you by solving specific puzzles, infiltrating narrow spaces, and evading enemies.
Tannenberg, brought to life by the creators of Verdun, made its debut on PC in 2019, followed by a console release in 2020. This game shifts the spotlight to the Eastern Front, giving players the opportunity to step into the shoes of the Russians. Notably, Tannenberg also includes a singleplayer mode, thereby offering a campaign for solitary players to engage in.
An interesting addition to the game is the ‘Wolf Truce’ feature. This event prompts the Russians and Germans to set their differences aside temporarily and team up against wolves attacking the players. This scenario is drawn from real-life accounts from World War I, when both sides would momentarily cease fire to fend off wolves.
Darkest Hour: A Hearts Of Iron Game
Hearts of Iron has carved out a reputation for delivering top-notch strategy war games, and Darkest Hour is a testament to this. What initially began as a mere mod evolved into an independent game in its own right.
Brought to life by a team of enthusiastic modders from the Paradox forums, Darkest Hour stands out as a strategy and tactical game set across a broad timeline, ranging from the commencement of The Great War to the early stages of the Cold War. The game offers an array of long-term and short-term campaigns, ensuring variety and replayability.
Moreover, Darkest Hour boasts of a dynamic diplomatic system that encourages strategic thinking. It also incorporates an AI that has been designed to respond to a plethora of situations that can unfold within the game, thereby creating a dynamic and immersive gameplay experience.
Codename Eagle first made its appearance on the gaming stage in the UK back in 1999, followed by a US release in 2000. The game intriguingly immerses players in an alternate timeline that diverges from historical records, commencing in the year 1917. This version of history strikingly omits World War I and the consequential October Revolution. Instead, the storyline centers around a Russian general’s plot to assassinate the Czar. His scheme proves successful, but two of the Czar’s offspring manage to escape the fatal blow.
The game morphs Prince Alexander into Agent Red, a man driven by vengeance against the mastermind behind his family’s demise. Despite the game unfolding during the period when the actual Great War occurred, it offers a captivating twist, showcasing an alternate reality where both World Wars remain absent from history.
NecroVisioN stands out in this list for its incorporation of horror elements into the gameplay. Players are thrust into a world where they must face off against a terrifying horde of demons, zombies, and vampires. The game’s backdrop predominantly consists of the Battle of the Somme, but a sinister twist introduces an infection that transforms soldiers into grotesque, zombie-like beings.
The game takes players on a chilling journey that spans beyond the battlefield, leading them into the eerie realm of vampires and even to the dreadful depths of Hell itself. Additionally, the game offers three distinct endings, each contingent upon the difficulty level chosen by the player. Opting for the most challenging difficulty results in an unforeseen twist, as the protagonist ascends to become the King of Hell and spearheads an attack on humanity.
In Vampyr, players adopt the persona of Jonathan Reid, a man recently burdened with the curse of vampirism. Striving to aid a beleaguered London populace while battling his newfound insatiable thirst, the game revolves around an engaging mechanic that encourages players to interact with NPCs. The ultimate goal is to provide assistance and bolster the community’s strength, although the grim necessity to prey on these very individuals to amplify personal power adds a layer of moral complexity.
Set amidst the Spanish Flu outbreak in the aftermath of World War I, Vampyr doesn’t directly involve players in military confrontations. Nevertheless, it provides an insightful exploration of the experiences of war veterans. Additionally, it delves deep into the psychological trauma endured by these veterans, subtly highlighting the lasting mental battle scars resultant from the war.
Battle of Empires: 1914-1918
Battle of Empires: 1914-1918 can be a challenging recommendation due to its somewhat wavering technical stability. Yet, for fans of the acclaimed Men of War series, this game stands as an intriguing World War I spin-off, crafted on the same engine. Despite its occasional technical hiccups, the game excels in delivering a remarkably authentic representation of the era, complete with accurate depictions of soldiers, weapons, and equipment. The developers have successfully tweaked the game’s mechanics to mirror the distinct characteristics of warfare during that period.
The single-player mode offers an array of disconnected yet engaging scenarios, with a variety of factions to explore through the game’s DLCs and add-ons. While the Men of War series is best known for its multiplayer experience, there’s still an active community to engage with in Battle of Empires: 1914-1918. Additionally, players can choose to undertake narrative missions cooperatively, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to the experience.
Developers BlackMill Games and M2H deliver a truly immersive and brutally realistic experience of World War 1 through the lens of an FPS game in Isonzo. Having gained recognition with their popular Verdun game, the developers took the winning formula and enhanced it further in Isonzo, transporting players into an entirely new theatre of war.
Set along the Italian Front, Isonzo offers a vivid recreation of Italian landscapes, weaponry, and battles, brought to life through stunning visuals. Whether it’s fortifying defenses, cooperating with teammates, or participating in historical offensives, Isonzo captures the essence of World War 1 combat in a uniquely engaging FPS experience.
11-11: Memories Retold
World War I is often portrayed as a tragically pointless conflict, with its complex and deeply political roots. Soldiers caught in the crossfire often grappled with the seeming senselessness of the war, a theme that forms the backbone of the narrative in the 2018 adventure game, 11-11: Memories Retold.
Developed in partnership with the renowned British animation studio, Aardman Animations, the game follows the intertwined stories of two characters from opposing sides of the war. Despite their shared aversion to the conflict, they find themselves thrust into the heart of battle. Drawing parallels with Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War, 11-11: Memories Retold shines a light on a different facet of heroism and humanity that is seldom explored in World War I-focused media.
Trenches, an indie game developed by Steelkrill Studio, paints a grim picture of the notoriously dreadful conditions that the soldiers of World War I had to endure. The game takes place in the murky confines of the frontline trenches, with the looming horrors of the war serving as a grim backdrop. To amplify the already despair-ridden environment, the game infuses psychological horror elements, making for a chilling and emotionally heavy experience.
Some gameplay elements can seem repetitive after a while, but the compelling setting of Trenches makes it worthwhile. Even those who are fond of World War I themed games, but may not necessarily favor horror, will find the unique setting of Trenches an intriguing divergence.
Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War
Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War truly shines with its stunning graphics and hyper-realistic simulation, standing out as potentially the most lifelike game on this list. The game offers an immersive experience, letting players feel as if they’re flying a real plane from the era. Cockpits are painstakingly detailed, and the controls mimic the actual operation of planes from 1916, requiring the pilot to adjust the fuel mixture level, much like the actual aircraft of the time.
Stalling in your Pfalz D.XII? To recover, you’ll need to turn off the engine, a nod to the real-life mechanics of these vintage planes. The game’s business model is unique as well. You can download the software, complete with three planes, and play Rise of Flight for free indefinitely. However, acquiring additional planes and upgrades comes at an extra cost. As a product of a Russian software company, you also get a variety of lesser-known aircraft, like the enormous Sikorsky S-11 Muromets bomber, available for purchase.
Battlefield has always been at the forefront of integrating both historical and fictitious wars into their games. Keeping with this tradition, they crafted one of the most immersive World War I FPS experiences with Battlefield 1. The game employs modern, high-quality graphics, breathing life into the large-scale, location-based battles, enhancing the overall immersion.
The primary focus is on infantry gameplay, but the introduction of armored trains and Dreadnoughts offers a fresh twist to the standard gameplay. The game also offers themed packs featuring some of the most iconic figures of the era, such as The Red Baron and Lawrence of Arabia, for purchase, adding another layer of historical authenticity to the experience.