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 411mania » Games » Columns

The 8 Ball 03.04.14: Top 8 Historical Games
Posted by Marc Morrison on 03.04.2014

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball where the topic is about historical-based games. This is an interesting topic because a lot of games try to tackle history. It usually is broken up into three general time periods: Wild West, World War 2, and then more ancient times (Samurai or Medieval times). I tried to pick games that have a mixture of good gameplay as well as teaching the player actual history. Most games tend to go in either one direction or another to not-great results, but that was my big criteria. Let's begin:

8. Europa Universalis 4 (PC)

This may be the first game that I break my "Only putting stuff I've played" criteria that I have for my lists. I did play it for about 30 minutes and exclaimed "Yep, this isn't for me." and uninstalled it. That's not to say it's a bad game, just one that I couldn't hope to figure out if you actually paid me. That isn't to say that the game isn't jam packed with historical facts though, having a range of Nov. 11th 1444 to Jan. 2nd of 1821 gives the game incredible variety in what it can introduce. From the discovery to America, to elements of the 100 Years war, to political maneuvering with marriages, royalty and children, Europa Universalis 4 offers games and history buffs a wealth of facts if they can get passed the intricacies of the actual gameplay.

7. Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? (Multi)

Carmen Sandiego came out in a time where having educational games on the PC (where it's most known) was the only thing you could really do with them. Like with a later game on this list, Carmen sought to try to blend fun gameplay (detective work) with learning about history. It did the double whammy of teaching kids historical facts and deductive reasoning skills at the same time. While the game was basically a slightly odd version of Clue, it still went a long way in actually making history fun and interesting to play, as you tried to chase down Carmen. The series went to spawn a live action game show, like World did, which was also successful for PBS. Also, RIP Lynne Thigpen.

6. Company of Heroes (PC)

Having fictional elements in historical games is somewhat par for the course which is what Relic did with Company of Heroes. While the framework of the war is the same, D-Day, Battle of Cherbourg, Operation Lüttich, the company you command (Able) is fictional, as are the main characters. Even with the fictional elements though, the game still had a lot going for it with its historical accuracy, aside from the battles themselves. From the types of warfare included, to the names and strengths of various tanks, and weapons, Company of Heroes did strive to be a fun if fairly serious representation of World War 2.

5. Call of Duty 2 (Multi)

The popular adage of "If it's a World War 2 game, there has to be a mission about D-Day" applies to not only CoD 2, but Company of Heroes and almost every other World War 2 game there is. CoD 2 has you start the American campaign (three in all, others were British and Soviet) literally on a LCVP as bullets are whizzing by you as you're about to land on Pointe du Hoc. The inclusion of real historical video, other important WW2 events (in the other campaigns), and authenticity all lent itself to CoD 2 being sometimes compared to Saving Private Ryan (even having an achievement called that). The later CoD games flirt with history as well, Black Ops 1 and 2, and Modern Warfare 1, but CoD 2 was the real deal when it came to history.

4. The Oregon Trail (Apple II)

Everyone loves The Oregon Trail, and if you don't, you're a monster. Like with Carmen Sandiego, Oregon Trail flirts with mixing fun gameplay and history, only it tends to slide more towards the gameplay part rather than history. The historical side of Oregon Trail is mostly related to the various Forts and other landmarks you pass as you travel on west. You would often see screens denoting a few facts, if that, about Independence Rock and the like. The gameplay involved you trying to get your family west, keeping them fed/clothed, the wagon moving, the ox in good health, and ultimately keeping them alive. Hunting played a big (and fun) part, killing various buffalo and squirrels that would cross your path. Sure the "This person has dysentery" is a meme at this point, but Oregon Trail is still fun, even almost 30 years after it came out.

3. Total War: Shogun 2/Napoleon: Total War (PC)

I'm grouping both of these games because they kind of share a similar pedigree. While Shogun 2 focuses on the rise of your chosen clan, Napoleon focuses on his specific rise to power along with his military campaigns. Both games draw heavily on technology and tactics of the time frame they take place in, as well as trying to manage the social aspects of the overall nation as well. Both games definitely have their fans though which is more than I can say for Rome 2.

2. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (Multi)

I almost put Red Dead Redemption down but that game only is in a historical setting, with completely fictional elements. Gunslinger is in a fictional Old West area as well, but the designers have blended real life places, people and events to make it feel more authentic…even if you do have a bullet time mechanic. The game is told from the unreliable narrator of Silas Greaves who is a fictional character. However, he tells stories of escaping jail with Billy the Kid, dueling with John Wesley Hardin, or getting knocked out by Pat Garrett. Having these historical figures, as well as the various secrets you pick up which can further give backstory (Nuggets of Truth), gives the game a good sense of the Wild West landscape.

1. Assassin's Creed 2 (Multi)

I joked with Liana that I almost considered populating my list with just all of the Assassin's Creed games and being done with it. All of the AC games have a lot of history to them that is kind of the point of the series, really. I'm picking AC2 above the rest for a few reasons. The first of which is the relationship Ezio has with Leonardo is a big one. AC's spin on Leonardo as a somewhat nebbish but jovial, and good-natured was fairly inspired. The second was how they used other historical characters, Machiavelli, Rodrigo Borgia, Lorenzo Medici was all handled well, not completely accurate but close enough. Exploring the tombs in the Santa Maria Del Fiore church or in the Basillica di San Marco was fascinating to see. Lastly was all of the notes Shaun would put in about the various buildings and people themselves while you were in the Animus. It's not completely historically factual, but no game is. Still, I think AC2 tried hard to go in that direction and I respect it for it.

The Better Half with Liana K


Top 8 Historical Game Series

I love games based in history or alternative history. Granted I like futuristic games as well, but there's just something about nostalgia that works so well across so many different types of games. So I tried to give you a diverse list this week, spanning from the early 80s to now in terms of when they came out, and from the stone age until now in the historical periods they cover. I also tried not to get stuck on one type of game or period of time. We could do a whole list just on World War II. One final FYI: when I refer to a game, I mean the entire franchise. It would be easy to fill an entire list with just one series. Okay, here's the list!

8: B.C's Quest for Tires

What do you mean cavemen didn't really ride stones like unicycles?! Okay I know that this 1983 game has no connection to real history, but it blows my mind to believe that it's an early ancestor of Temple Run. The moral of the story? Game genres never really die.

7: The Ancient Art of War

Okay so maybe this 1984 Broderbund classic is a bit short on real historical details too, but it does give references to real battles fought by great military leaders throughout history like Napoleon, Geronimo, Alexander the Great, and Genghis Khan. Come to think of it, it's more racially diverse than most games are today. Wow. That puts things in perspective.

6: Age of Empires

Age of Empires used history more as a flavoring than a backbone, but the primitive tone of the early stages of the game was welcoming. The history-inspired units and buildings were also slick. The best part for me, however, were the Holy Men. Their "noonoonoooooooo" noises always made me giggle. Watch the video if you want to see what I'm talking about.

5: Call of Duty 1 – 3

If I wanted to be a hipster, I would have said Brothers in Arms, but let's face it, Call of Duty deserves an acknowledgement because of its massive pop culture status. It rose above the over-saturation of World War II games to become market dominant, so it deserves the Nazi slot. Also, it's funny to remember when the Call of Duty franchise was a historical warfare shooter.

4: Crimson Skies

Aw man the 1930s was just so pretty. Yes, Crimson Skies used an alternate Dieselpunk timeline to the 1930s, but they don't get too silly with the technology. And the big characters and satirical voice acting were just a joy. It was more like playing a movie from the 1930s than playing a game in the real 1930s.

3: God of War

God of War as number 3 on an historical games list? Come on Liana! No I'm serious. God of War is the result of a meticulous amount of research on the part of the developers, and not just in terms of the look of the monsters and levels. The culture of Sparta informs Kratos and his story deeply and consistently, right down to the bewbies. "Historically accurate sex and violence" is a very real part of the God of War franchise.

2: Civilization

This one is probably an easier sell. Do I have to talk about how Civ draws from real cultures, real historical marvels, and even nifty quotes from smart people throughout the development of mankind? I think I just did.

1: Assassin's Creed


Complainer's Corner

There are a *lot* of other historical games out there that I didn't mention. The big one that other people suggested was Civilization 5. While that game can teach you about history, it's entirely based on your own progress as a civilization. You can unlock atom bombs in the mid 1850's if you go quick enough, or never bother to research refrigeration. In that game, history is what you make (or not make) of it, and is a bit fluid in that regard. Other games that didn't make my list were: Dynasty Warriors, Ryse, Red Dead Redemption, LA Noire, Velvet Assassin, The Saboteur, Brothers in Arms, other Call of Duty games, other Assassin's Creed games, Age of Empires 3, Mario's Time Machine, the Shadow Hearts series, and Darkest of Days

The General Roundup

There were some decent comments from last week, now that the trolls have gone, that I'll address here: Regarding last week's list I wasn't generally going for games where you just play as a robot (outside of maybe Vanquish). I was trying to go more for games that had difficult control schemes, or gave you a sense that you were actually piloting a mech/robot. You do play as a robot in Mega Man, but that isn't really a mech game. The Complainer's Corner section is for a second list of games I considered for the full one, but didn't qualify for it. It's to dissuade people from commenting "Why didn't put X game on your list?!" when I did consider it, but likely thought it didn't belong on a specific list. I usually don't put platforms down for games, because a lot of time it's obvious what version I mean. Or else the games are multiplatform, so it's moot. Also, Google exists, so you can search it out, if you so desire. I did think about Chromehounds for last week's list but with the servers being shut off and that being the big draw of the game, I dismissed it.

Next Issue

Top 8 Fantasy Games


Would Guardians Be A Hit Without Marvel?

Boardwalk Empire Review: 'Good Listener'

Top 8 Comic Abuse Storyline Moments

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