Since its centenary began in 2014, there has followed a wave of renewed interest by game developers in World War One. Traditionally less fertile for cinematic experiences than World War Two, each entry in our list of the best World War One games has succeeded in marrying original gameplay, whether that’s combat-oriented action or intimate narrative, with the more solemn popular reception of the conflict.
After several years of playing in the same modern warfare setting as its nearest and dearest competitor – Call of Duty – Battlefield cast its eyes to the past and set a fantastic game in the theatre of the Great War. Battlefield 1 came armed with a superb multiplayer mode, as has become expected from this franchise, but its campaign was something of a revelation.
Battlefield 1 told the story of participants in the war across a global scale, hammering home how much effort was taken to prosecute and end this conflict. Its story mode of six “War Stories” incorporates the Harlem Hellfighters, a regiment composed of mostly African Americans who spent more time in frontline trenches than any other American unit, an Australian messenger during the Gallipoli Campaign on 1915, and a Bedouin soldier working beside T. E. Lawrence.
Not every story has a happy ending, but each is shot through with authentic sentiment. It’s a testament to Battlefield 1’s continued worth that it’s not only fun to play (especially in multiplayer), but it attempts to brings home the human cost of the war.
Darkest Hour: A Hearts Of Iron Game
A fantastic real-time-strategy game birthed into life by modders, Darkest Hour: A Hearts Of Iron Game gives players the agency to govern a country at the dawn of World War One. They’ll control everything including foreign trade, espionage, diplomatic relationships, and technological advancements.
This entry is slightly cheating, because Darkest Hour: A Hearts Of Iron Game canvasses a historical period that only begins in World War One. Having said that, it can be thought of as a rather involved ‘what if?’ engine, which lets players pilot a country’s development from World War One to the Cold War.
11-11: Memories Retold
11:11 Memories Retold explores an intimate story about two men who become caught up in the conflict for different reasons. While many games set during this era focus on action, 11:11 Memories Retold is a more stoic and meditative affair.
Co-developed by Aardman Animations (the studio behind Wallace & Gromit) and Digixart, the plot follows a German engineer who enlists to find his son and a Canadian buoyed by the promise of adventure and motivated to impress a woman he’s fallen for. Slowly, both plot threads join together. Shot through a gorgeous water-painted veneer, and mixing puzzle-solving into the narrative, 11:11 Memories Retold explores the consequences of war without bloodshed. This is a rare game, and well worth exploring.
Beyond the Wire
Released late last year, Beyond the Wire thrusts players into the frontlines of the First World War in a way that feels both authentic and harrowing. Confrontations are more desperate than in Battlefield 1. Not only do players have to keep an eye on their ammunition (which is scarce and can run out quickly), but weapons can kill in one shot.
Players also need to keep an eye on their teammates because friendly fire is active, mirroring the confusion of trench warfare. It’s large scale, with up to 100 players taking part in any match. Character models are kitted out with historically accurate weapons, gear and uniforms.
Between the immersive gunfights, large-scale struggle and challenges of trench warfare including mustard gas and artillery fire, Beyond the Wire delivers a brutal and definitive experience. What it skimps on story it more than makes up for in impressive virtual sensation. Fair warning, though: Beyond the Wire also aims to represent realistic graphic imagery.
Rise of Flight
A reminder, if any were needed, that the First World War wasn’t fought entirely in the trenches: Rise of Flight allows players to take to the air in a flight simulator that ropes in pretty much all aspects of air combat.
Players take on large squads of aerial foes in pitched battles which can be objective-based or simple dogfights in which they blast each other out of the sky. If your tastes move towards simulators rather than arcade fighters, Rise of Flight is a must-play title. First launched over a decade ago, it’s now free to play.
When it launched in 2015, Verdun was billed as one of the most authentic World War One games ever made. Verdun kits players out with period gear and weapons before plonking them in the boots of a soldier fighting on the trenches of the Western Front.
In this deliberately paced shooter, the action is all squad-based, with one player taking on the role of a squad leader. While the rest of the players secure territory and push their opponents back, squad leaders can improvise by calling in mortar attacks and barrages.
Not surprisingly, Verdun is inspired by the infamous Battle of Verdun in 1916. Developer Blackmill Games’ next iteration in World War One gameplay is Isonzo, which will explore the Italian Front later in 2021.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
With perhaps the most heart-breaking story on this list, Valiant Hearts: The Great War tells the interlocking narratives of five characters whose lives were torn apart by the First World War. It ropes in the themes of loss, heroism, love and hope, and it’s all underpinned by a gorgeous sombre comic-book style that lends its story beats gravitas.
On top of that, it’s fantastic fun. Valiant Hearts: The Great War mixes up platforming, puzzle solving and ranged combat. It pairs this with a set of collectable postcards which tell the stories of people who lived through this time.