Shoot for the Moon
While real-life war generally isn’t anything to be celebrating or glorifying in any way, shape, or form, you don’t exactly get that impression when you look at just how very many war-centric video games there are out there. Specifically, some of the best console games of the past decade have been war shooter games, with obvious titles like Call of Duty, Medal of Honour, and Battlefield all enjoying huge quantities of success with successive titles forming series that aren’t far from stretching across a generation, and indeed multiple generations in terms of console cycles. This list isn’t here to definitively inform you of the best and only war-based shooters that exist bar none; it is rather a compilation of some of only some of the best titles of this niche genre that have graced our PS3s, Xboxes, and other (in my opinion) less-important consoles in recent years. Some may be surprised at the lack of some of 2013’s big releases (particularly from the Call of Duty camp), but this list documents games that are simply greater than what 2013 necessarily had to offer, so sit back and enjoy the list, or allow it to irritate you enough to go ahead and make your own.
Medal of Honor: Frontline
This may be going back to the good old days where the number 2 was the only thing you’d expect to see after the letters P and S on your Sony console, but it is undeniable that the Medal of Honor games represented and encompassed some of the best wartime shooting experiences that you could possibly engage in on your games console. It is Medal of Honor: Frontline that has been chosen to carry the torch for the whole of the series in this list today, and it is fully deserving of such a responsibility.
In spite of the limitations of the hardware at the time – and these are only seen as limitations because we are looking back at the PS2’s hardware through the lens currently-available and superior technology – Medal of Honour: Frontline upped the ante for the series in terms of presentation and gameplay, implementing a somewhat unfamiliar interface. It was always a bit of a shame that it suffered from some awkward and unnatural control issues and a somewhat predictable progression through each level. Nevertheless, Medal of Honour gave us some of the most iconic and awe-inspiring wartime scenarios to play in our living room, and although the series has truly waned into the throes of history now, Frontline is representative of a war shooter saga that was once considered one of the best.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Ahh now, why has the humble Black Ops been chosen over the more recently-released Black Ops II or Call of Duty: Ghosts, you say? Well, in spite of the obvious graphics and content advantages these aforementioned follow-ups have, the original Black Ops set forth a precedent for the Call of Duty series, invoking a variety of new features as well as resurrecting some much-missed ones (namely the zombie mode that made its debut in Call of Duty: World at War.
Though sceptics of the series constantly try and remind everyone that the game is extremely similar year after year, they are forgetting that Black Ops possessed some very unique features. The gritty and non-linear storyline that is told from the fractured and retrospective point of view of a man that is being held against his will is engaging and highly compelling; online play was given an overhaul with the introduction of a new currency system; even the levels themselves were packed full of variation and gave you a taste of pretty much every battle scenario imaginable. I can’t tell you how many collective hours that have been spent playing the online modes of the game (Sticks and Stones matches are a personal favourite), with the only drawback being the devastatingly short campaign mode.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
The reason that there are two Call of Duty titles in the list is because, well, the games are just so incredible that it would be an insult to the genre and an attack of the very credibility of this whole list if they were absent. For many, Modern Warfare 2 is where the Call of Duty franchise peaked, even with the graphics and content developments of its successors. The game was developed by Infinity Ward and of course published by EA. At the time, MW2’s scope was so vast and superior to its predecessors/competitors that it blew everyone away. A sublime Hans Zimmer musical score punctuates an addictive campaign mode, solid graphics, and a multiplayer that to this day has even the current-gen nuts reaching for their PS3/Xbox 360 to enjoy the best Call of Duty iteration of all time.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Though Call of Duty may get the vote of many, the Battlefield series has always taken war almost as seriously as those who actually fight wars in real life. Bad Company 2 has some unbelievably stunning visuals which make it clear of the game’s lavish budget, but don’t think for a second that its presentation is the only redeeming quality. Its multiplayer has been described by many as the very best you can play, and its campaign is pretty incredible as well. What does it for me is the interactive surroundings: almost everything is destructible if you try hard enough, and it’s in these small details that Battlefield: Bad Company 2 excels.
Digital Illusions CE (known colloquially as DICE) likely never imagined that their creation, the first in the Battlefield Series, could have reached such ridiculous heights. Instead of opting for the realism angle, Battlefield 1942 was developed in a way that makes it instantly accessible to anyone; a true pick-up-and-play experience. This game was the beginning of large-scale war games in which you can interact with almost anything in the environment, and its multiplayer set forth a precedent that its successors and rivals have been trying to match ever since.
Sniper Elite V2
Sniper Elite dates way back to 2005, setting a precedent for sniper games everywhere by being the only title to offer a hugely-detailed sniping experience in such a well-presented manner. I cut my teeth on the original but nothing could have prepared me for the joy upon hearing about 505 Games’ follow-up, Sniper Elite V2.
You won’t find a better World War 2-centric sniping game than this since it puts you in the shoes of a trained sniper, with all of the painstaking detail that this entails: checking wind speed, compensating for bullet drop, and relying on a stealthy approach to create your own opportunities for taking out your enemies and completing each challenging mission. Campaign mode is quite a lengthy member on the body of the game, though multiplayer also offers a great experience and augments the unique brand of innovative first-person greatness that this game has cornered the market with.
Alright, so this isn’t technically a console game. Yet. Arma II from Bohemia Interactive will hopefully be arriving on Xbox/PlayStation at some point and you’ll soon be enjoying the game on a Steam Machine (technically a console). The ultra-realistic war simulator is one of the most detailed war games you will ever play. Highly detailed presentation, sublime graphics, and realism that sometimes borders on the frustrating are just a few of the game’s features, and the fact that you can kill or be killed with a single bullet makes the action all the more tense and demanding of your tactics and skill.
Battlefield 4 (PS3/Xbox 360)
Another Battlefield? You’d better believe it. Battlefield 4 possesses the greatest features from previous versions as well as giving players some brilliant new experiences. Commander mode makes a return, new and expansive maps make for some seriously epic exploration, and as usual the graphics are sublime and though they aren’t quite up to the standard of those in the next-gen console version, they still pack a punch. Most notable though is the multiplayer facet of the game, which pushes the boundaries of online gaming and vastly improves upon its predecessors.
It’s been nearly five years since the release of Killzone 2 and I still have fond memories of the game that will stay with me for years to come. Both its multiplayer and single player campaign modes offer a ridiculous amount of fun for the player, with fantastic physics and an almost unforgiving level of difficulty in parts. The gameplay is so intense that at times it can be overwhelming, but this kind of relentless gameplay places you right in the middle of an epic war comprised of various levels that simply do not let up. The graphics (at least for 2009) are nothing short of astounding in this game, and the multiplayer provides such longevity that it can be difficult to know where the time goes while playing it. The only thing missing is a cooperative campaign mode.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
There was a time when this franchise ruled the gaming charts with its incredible blend of stealth-based gameplay and all-out tactical action. Chaos Theory was by far the best game in the series, taking it to dizzying heights and acting as one of the best third-person shooters of all time, even to this day. Better graphics, refined control systems, cooperative missions (on and offline), and a greater emphasis on action this time around makes the game intensive yet enjoyable; you simply don’t get games like these anymore, with Splinter Cell predecessors and successors never quite matching up to this game’s greatness.