Developer: 2×2 Games Publisher: Divaput Platform(s): PC
Risk aficionados should get a kick out of Unity of Command, a strategic war game that tasks players with battling across Stalingrad during the campaign in the Eastern Front. Take control of either the Axis powers or Soviet forces to turn the tide of war and take the city of Stalingrad as a vantage point for the remainder of World War II.
Things may not have gone well for the Wehrmacht in the real Stalingrad Campaign and the culmination at the Battle of Stalingrad, but Unity of Command gives you the chance to rewrite history.
To do so, you must carefully place units, command aerial attacks, and dominate slivers of the map. While a bit more interactive than Risk, victory in Unity of Command doesn’t come without careful consideration of every move you make.
The turn-based format gives you time to plan your attack or defense, which can include bolstering your forces, moving units, and preparing for your own attack. Despite progressing based on turns, the game has a fast pace to it that prevents it from dragging on. Also unlike a real game of Risk.
9. Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30
Developer: Gearbox Software Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS2, Xbox
Somehow, we made it 6 entries into this list before coming to our first action-based war game.
Brought to life by the development studio behind Borderlands 2, We Happy Few, Half-Life Blue Shift, and Alien: Colonial Marines (okay, bad example), Brothers in Arms is a story-driven game of war that puts you in control of teams of soldiers on the frontline. Praised for its system of commands, Brothers in Arms took things a step further than previous war titles like Call of Duty.
Though it took on the first-person shooter format, Brothers in Arms wasn’t about running-and-gunning. Even the slightest movement would set off the game’s realistic accuracy, which required players to take things slow and steady. To survive long enough to line up a shot, you have to work with your team to suppress enemy fire or flank their positions.
Players used to picking off Nazis with sniper-like aim may get frustrated over how sensitive the aim system is, but it lends a bit of realism while requiring you to rely on ally AI and your ability to control them.
Based on Mission Albany and the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment dropped behind Nazi lines during the Normandy Invasion, Brothers in Arms is an emotional journey sure to tug at the heartstrings while also fuelling your adrenaline.
8. Panzer General
Developer: Strategic Simulations Publisher: Strategic Simulations Platform(s): PC
Set in World War II, Panzer General’s campaign enlists players into the Axis forces as a German Generallisimus fighting across 5 locations. To push ahead in your campaign for victory, you’ll engage enemies in turn-based warfare. There is a lot of strategy to mastering Panzer General and plenty of menus to click through to ensure your military power vastly outweighs that of your enemy’s.
In Panzer General, resources are limited. Can you decimate the enemy without completely draining your resources? Or will your last few troops drop under the weight of the Allied armies? It’s all about how you place your tanks, infantry, support vehicles, air defense, and recon units.
Learning how to play Panzer General isn’t too tricky. Learning how to play it correctly is where the challenge comes in. Careless unit placement can have infantry going toe-to-toe with tanks or cavalry units trying to bring down enemy aircraft. Like many strategy games, every move you make will get your heart racing as you wait for the inevitable misstep that leaves you with limited troops.
7. Company of Heroes
Developer: Relic Entertainment Publisher: THQ Platform(s): PC
Real-time strategy is an all-too-perfect format for war. You can man an army of troops, oversee an entire map riddled with conflict, and make decisions that will get a ton of people killed for your cause. Company of Heroes shows just how well it works with a solid RTS that thrust you into the thick of World War II during the Battle of Normandy.
The single-player campaign puts you in charge of American forces as they battle across France. As part of the Able Company of the 29th Infantry Division’s 116th Infantry or Fox Company of the 101st Airborne Division’s 506th PIR, you’ll command infantry and vehicles in an effort to liberate the French.
Since you’re not battling on your home turf, resources are limited, and you can only suffer so many losses before the Axis emerge victoriously. Company of Heroes captures the chaos of war. Bombs blacken the ground, bullets are exchanged between positions, and the ruins of war-torn cities are scattered everywhere you look.
6. Arma 2
Developer: Bohemia Interactive Publisher: Bohemia Interactive Platform(s): PC
If it’s fast-paced action, nonstop explosions, and waves of Nazis that you want out of your war game, you’re not going to get it out of Arma 2. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great war game. In fact, it’s placement on this list indicates it’s one of the best.
Arma 2 is more of a simulator with elements of an FPS and RTS sprinkled in. Your campaign across the fictional Eastern European state of Chernarus requires patience and careful planning.
You’re in command of multiple units, so with every action you take, you have to consider how it will affect all of your troops and not just one soldier. To break up the slower-paced ground missions, players will also take the wheel and cockpit of a variety of ground vehicles and aircraft.
Military buffs will love the accuracy of Arma 2, which is jam-packed with 80 weapons and 130 vehicles, all faithfully recreated from their real-world counterparts. A multiplayer component is a bit more hectic and utilizes many of the same features as the single-player campaign. The result is a frantic battle that still requires a bit of strategy and teamwork.
5. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Developer: Westwood Pacific Publisher: EA Games Platform(s): PC
What if all those fears of a Soviet invasion of the United States were founded? Command & Conquer: Red Alert explored that scenario with an alternate history where Adolph Hitler didn’t exist.
Instead, a great war was fought between the Allies and the Soviet Union, resulting in the latter’s defeat. Though the Allies thought they had control of the Soviet Union, the Red rose again, backed by a military force strong enough to take on the United States.
Red Alert 2 is one of those games you can expect to see in most “best strategy games” lists. From the solid gameplay to the corny live-action cut scenes, everything comes together for a classic gaming experience. Whether you play as the Allies or the Soviets, you’re treated to a robust campaign across expansive maps.
Build up your forces, research the best upgrades, and launch a massive attack on your enemies. It’s all standard RTS fare, but Red Alert 2 executes it better than most.
4. Total War: Shogun 2
Developer: Creative Assembly Publisher: Sega Platform(s): PC
RTS games generally let you control groups of units at a time, giving you a modest amount of control over what unfolds on the battlefield. The Total War series, which, admittedly, is partially turn-based, extends your control to complete armies of units. We’re talking entire phalanx of infantry units that crowd massive battlefields. Shogun 2 is the 7th Total War game and arguably the best in the entire series.
Beyond visual enhances, Shogun 2 makes some mechanical adjustments to bring fluidity to the battlefield. The game is beautiful, and you have plenty of time to admire the landscapes as you plan your army’s next move. Total War has always been about large-scale warfare, and Shogun 2 doesn’t stray from that.
Set in 16th-century feudal Japan, in the aftermath of the Onin War, players control one of 9 clans vying for control of the country. Taking control of Japan means dominating the large-scale battles, which requires strategic planning and placement of infantry. When the battle begins, chaos erupts on the battlefield.
It can take a little bit to get used to how to manage the fight, but once you get the hang of Total War’s system, Shogun 2 is an addictive war game.
3. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
Developer: 2015 Games Publisher: Electronic Arts Platform(s): PC
We feel sorry for anyone that’s grown up with nothing but the newer Call of Duty games. Not that they’re all bad, but games like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault helped define the genre. An incredible score coupled with a veracious depiction of the horrors of World War II created an unforgettable experience that’s been tough to match.
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault opens with one of the tensest scenes in any war game. The Normandy landings have become a staple of World War II games, but Allied Assault was one of the first and remains among the most memorable. There may be a noticeable difference in visual quality between Allied Assault and other depictions, but 2015, Inc.’s portrayal sticks with us even 17 years later.
Allied Assault doesn’t have to hang on the opening moments to be memorable. Battling across German-occupied Norway, dismantling Axis bases in Algiers, and pushing through North Africa culminate in one of the best war games and one of the pioneers of FPS World War II shooters.
2. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Developer: EA Dice Publisher: Electronic Arts Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
There are a lot of Battlefield games to choose from, and though 1944 and 1942 may have been better at depicting historical warfare, Bad Company 2 is overall simply a better game. The Bad Company series introduces squad-based gameplay, where you’re almost always fighting alongside a team of AI-controlled allies.
As part of Bad Company, you’re thrust into a series of conflicts during the fictional Second Russo-American War. The diverse environments, from the snow-covered terrain of Russia to the small villages and rainforests of Ecuador, help keep the firefights from getting stale. The modern warfare is still grounded in realism and features an authentic and varied arsenal.
The campaign was solid and worth playing through but suffered from repetition and predictability. The multiplayer, on the other hand, was the shining star, advancing on the strides that had already been taken in its predecessor.
1. Call of Duty 2
Developer: Infinity Ward Publisher: Activision Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
You can’t mention the best war games of all time and not expect Call of Duty 2 to come up in at least the top 3 on said list. Before the Call of Duty series became repetitive and reliant on reworking the formula that made Call of Duty 2 so good, Infinity Ward was delivering an experience that immersed you in every aspect of war.
There are many shining achievements with Call of Duty 2, but the team in charge of the sound design deserves ample praise. Distant sounds of battle echo throughout every level, reminding you that the war is so much bigger than just the part you play. In a way, you feel less like an action hero and more like just another grunt.
Visuals are also a remarkable improvement over the original Call of Duty, which helps bring every battlefield to life with bullet impact and the particle effects of scattered explosions.
Call of Duty 2 is designed for longevity and is something you can easily pick up today and play without the usual frustrations that come with playing old games.
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