No period of history has inspired as many virtual conflicts as the Axis-Allies fight of 1939-45, with almost every major battle and subplot recreated in either shooter, or strategy, or flight-sim form. Where do you start if you want to sample these often eerily accurate trips back in time? With History Hit’s guide to the essential World War Two shooter games, of course.
1. Sniper Elite 4 (2017)
Stealthy, tactical shooter set in 1943 Italy. You play as American OSS agent (Office of Strategic Services) Karl Fairburne, tasked with both fighting off fascism, and preventing Axis forces from unleashing an all-powerful new weapon.
The game’s X-Ray kill-cam is its most popular feature, tracking a successfully aimed bullet from sniper rifle to target, then offering a close-up view of body parts or organs being smashed when it lands. An additional downloadable content pack offers the chance to visit an island near Crete and assassinate Adolf Hitler himself.
2. IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey (2000)
Missions at the helm of aircraft such as the Mustang P51 B and A-20 Havoc Boston Mk III come from six different passages of war: the Battle of Britain (1940), Battle of Stalingrad (1942-43), Allied invasion of Sicily (1943), Battle of Korsun–Cherkassy (1944), Battle of the Bulge (1944-45) and Battle of Berlin (1945). Your main weapons are rat-a-tatting machine guns, making this a strong pick-up-and-play dogfighter.
3. Call of Duty (2003)
The first entry in a shooter series which would go on to make $17 billion – the third most successful gaming franchise of all-time, after Mario and Pokemon.
Call of Duty places you in the boots of various infantry soldiers: a US paratrooper at Operation Overlord, a British sergeant in Operation Tonga, and a Russian corporal at the Battle of Stalingrad. Indeed it’s the latter, Sergeant Voronin, who ultimately storms the Reichstag building and raises the Victory Banner atop the roof, ending the game.
4. Call of Duty: WWII (2017)
Curiously, the 16th game in the Call of Duty franchise is the first to feature World War Two in the title, although Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 3 ventured back to the same period.
This edition begins at the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, then follows a 1st Infantry Division squad along the Western Front, with stops at Aachen, the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, and the Battle of the Bulge. An incredible late-game mission centres on capturing the last bridge over the Rhine. If you own a PS4 or Xbox One it’s still well worth a look.
5. Battlefield 1942 (2002)
The rival series to Call of Duty has experimented with various past, present and future settings over the last two decades, but this debut effort remains entrenched in, well, the trenches.
Brilliantly, you can choose your infantry role (Scout, Assault, Anti-Tank, Medic, and Engineer) across Pacific, European, North African, Eastern, and Italian fronts, with maps based on real battlefields. Whether you’re flying a plane, storming a beach or piloting a tank, Battlefield: 1942 puts all players on the same page. It has for the most part been superseded by sequels, but there’s still a community to be found if you know where to look.
6. Battlefield V (2016)
In 2016, Electronic Arts and DICE hit pay dirt by taking their fantastic shooter series back to World War One with Battlefield 1. For their next instalment, the design philosophy seemed to be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Battlefield V places players across the varied theatres of World War Two, from the Western Front to the Pacific. It hits the same beats as its predecessor, and it is a stunning piece of work for doing so.
As was the case with Battlefield 1, DICE fills its campaign in Battlefield V with a series of ‘boots-on-the-ground’ stories spread across characters from different backgrounds. They highlight the global shockwaves of the war. Beyond that, the game’s multiplayer remains fantastic.
7. Hell Let Loose (2019)
A hardcore playing experience like few others, Hell Let Loose sets a harrowing stage for 50 vs 50 multiplayer on iconic World War Two battlefields. Teamwork, communication and spontaneous connection with other players is central to its gameplay.
It sits somewhere between the ceaseless action of Battlefield and the deliberate strategy of Squad. Hell Let Loose is still in pre-release phase on Steam, with the developers continually adding new content to the game.
8. Silent Hunter 3 (2005)
No Axis or Allies choice to speak of in this life-at-sea simulation. You’re a Lieutenant on a German U-boat, about to embark on a career attempting to blow opposition subs out of the water.
The game starts in 1939, and missions include protecting the Bismarck from British ships (1941), engaging merchant boats in Malta (1942) and sinking the USS Guadalcanal en route to Casablanca (1944). It’s showing its age now, but still a truly unique experience.
9. Medal of Honor: Frontline (2002)
One of the most memorable game openings from the PS2/Xbox era saw you storm Omaha Beach in the shoes of Lieutenant Jimmy Patterson, as part of Operation Overlord. Through Operation Market Garden and a tense crossing of Nijmegen Bridge the action never lets up, with missions seamlessly mixing infiltration, espionage, rescue and recovery.
Considered on par with Call of Duty and Battlefield at the time, sub-par sequels sullied the Medal of Honor name – but this remains a good’un.
10. The Saboteur (2009)
An open-world adventure set in 1940, with a clever twist. You play Irish resistance fighter Sean Devlin. As you move through Paris, the French countryside, and parts of Germany, any area under Nazi control turns black-and-white. Coloured zones are therefore much safer, and engaging German soldiers in a these parts brings the French Resistance to your rescue.
The Saboteur zips between tension-filled stealth missions and car chases without missing a beat. Devlin is based on William Grover-Williams, a British Grand Prix driver who doubled as an agent for the SOE in France. A unique, and highly personal, take on World War Two.
11. World of Tanks (2010)
Any of three MMO (massively multiplayer online) games by Belarusian developer Wargaming could’ve appeared here, but it’s the predecessor to 2013’s World of Warplanes and 2015’s World of Warships which gets the nod.
As the title suggests, you control one of more than 600 customisable vehicles of war from Britain, China, Japan, Sweden and the US, to name five. It’s free-to-play, but you can pay to unlock premium features – an ingenious model which had raked in $372 million by 2013.
12. Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 (2005)
Yet another entry in the run of console shooters which delivered Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Medal of Honor, Brothers’ hook is its tactical element: you control cohesive units, and can order troops and tanks to move, lay suppressive fire, rally, find cover, and charge the enemy.
This one is set late in the war, with the 1944 Normandy Landings as its centrepiece, and the majority of the action takes place within a single week of D-Day.
13. Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (2008)
In games set in World War Two, players can often take a few bullets, find cover and then everything is fine. It falls to storytellers to hammer home the proximity of death. The squad-based Brothers in Arms series does this very well.
Its pinnacle is perhaps Hell’s Highway, which follows a tight-knit platoon of soldiers and their push into enemy territory. Borrowing a little from HBO series Band of Brothers, it situates the player on Hell’s Highway. This was a nickname for Highway 69 during Operation Market Garden. The unsuccessful operation to capture the Netherlands took place between 17 and 25 September 1944. It’s gritty and tries not to skimp on the horrors of conflict. It’s also a more personal narrative than we’re used to in war games.