Sunday, April 3, 2011

Top Five Military Sim Games (sorry, Halo.)

Hey, before I get totally flamed, I agree that most Top Five lists are total, total bullcrap. This is a one off experiment.

First thing. What counts as a military sim game? Preferably, a real life unit, or fictional one with believable skills and equipment. Second, set in our universe. Maybe a good alternative history at most. No sci-fi stuff. I love Gears of War and Halo, but neither are particularly realistic. Thirdly, it should realistic. Call of Duty, I'm sorry.

Then, without further bullshit. I give you...

5. Full Spectrum Warrior.

Brooding Leader like dude in the corner? I see a twist!

In Full Spectrum Warrior(henceforth called FSW, for my general sanity) was the child of U.S Army recruiting, and the need for an Xbox based training tool. Unable to use the Xbox console without releasing a commercial release, and the fact the PS2 didn't allow for it to be used by a military as a tool, led to the creative solution of making a difficult, engaging tactical command game. Which just happens to have a U.S Army code to allow them to play a more difficult, less forgiving, training sim. On the same disc.

Like any good sim game though, it has to be fun. And it is. While the storyline is typical middle-eastern asshat of the day, the characters range from a west-point captain, to an Arab-American law school dropout who enlisted to piss off his parents. It worked. It also helps that you never actually control any, instead, you hover slightly over shoulder level, commanding them to move to positions, peek around corners, open fire, etc. Its like an RTS, but you can't see around the next corner, without actually moving to the next corner. It's intense, engaging, and at times, stressful.

It only gets number 5 on this list, however, because, well, it has a crippling flaw. The M203(to COD players, that's the Noob-Tube) is overpowered, allowing you to fire accurately at snipers and well placed enemies in a way the game did not intend, directly at them. An M203 in real life, and most games, has significant arc to its fire. Not so in FSW. This thing fires directly in a straight line. Imagine at as a 40mm homing grenade. Its cheap, and while its use is limited to the number of shots you have left, its all to easy to resupply and continue blasting Zeki's to bits.

Not a bad game by any margin, but needed polish.

4. Ghost Recon

I've noticed something. Both FSW and GR have armed men looking vaguely towards the east.

Ghost Recon. This game I assume you've all heard off. At least the newer ones. The first, released in 2001, was my first try at the tactical shooter genre. It was slow-paced, fun, and offered unique gameplay unlike anything else released on consoles. Set in 2008, the game was about Russia invading the Republic of Georgia. Just like, you know, actually fucking happened in 2008. Your the Ghosts, an American Special Forces team, and the first to respond. Quickly. And Silently. Like, you know, a Ghost. Ok, fuck that was awful.

But it was interesting. You know you did well, if the enemy had little to know idea you were there when you killed them. Sneaking around, placing charges, it had it all. The second mission had you rescuing downed pilots. It was fun, night vision goggles, and had this overall air of feeling like it could actually happen.

But hey, like every game on this list, its got flaws. You can't see your gun, not a big gripe, but it does ruin the immersion. Its also Nintendo Hard, with a mistake ending in painful, AK-47 bullets. To the Face. Not a big issue. What really bugged me though, is the storyline taking a left turn at wacky. The last mission is American tanks in Moscow, attacking the Kremlin. It makes sense in context, but not much. The expansions were an improvement, with believable storylines. But it was too late to change my opinion of the first.

3. Il-2 Sturmovik

Again, this time its a heavily armed aircraft, flying in an Easterly fashion. Wat.
OK, not every Military Sim is a shooter. Il-2, a popular flight sim, was probably the last really good WW2 flight sim. Released in 2001, it's still going strong, with the online community injecting new life into this old warbird with mod after mod. It's a blast, fun, and comprehensive.

It is a flight sim, and with that, comes full use of your keyboard and joystick. This is not a newbie friendly game, but its hardly Microsoft Flight Simulator. The goal here is, to get airborne and fighting, not ask Air Traffic Control for permission to take off. You can make the controls as realistic, or arcade-like as you want, which is a feature a lot more of these games should have. It has many expansions, offering the pacific, and a hypothetical 1946 scenario, which means the game is chock full of WW2 flying goodness.

It has several campaigns, all of which are fun, but nothing compares to online play. Dogfighting against online opponents is a harrowing, intense affair.

Really, while its not perfect, its as close to it as an flight sim should be. It is, however, showing its age, with my newer joystick not fully able to map the throttle controls.

2. ArmA 2.

Holy hell, this guy is not facing east. But he is trying to shoot over my shoulder. I'm afraid to look.

Well, this had to come up sooner or later. I love this game. Its simply got so many options.

The OFP and ARMA series, have always been on the cutting edge of tactical games. Realistic to the extreme, this game features buttons to sit, salute. You can fly a helicopter, drive a tank, or fight on foot. You can fight as a true-blue American soldier, armed with everything his nation can give, or a Takistani Insurgent, armed with a WW2 era rifle. Overall, not other game offers so much sheer content as ArmA 2 potentially does.
With a very active mod community, your never lacking for new content. And the wide open maps offer everything from Chenarus, a country like the Republic of Georgia, or the fan-made gem Isla Duala, an African style island, that only lacks the animals.

This game, is also the most flawed. Frequently, ArmA games are released in a buggy state, only to be fixed in patch after patch. The voice-acting is laughable, at the very least, but is improving. They record dialogue in words, not full phrases. So if teammate number 6 dies, the other squaddies will yell "Oh, no, SIX is DOWN" in a scary, dry, cold monotone. And, the campaigns, while ramping up in quality, are also very trigger dependent. A single trigger fails to fire, the whole mission could fail and not work. ArmA 2 is saved by its patches and sheer content, but only just.

1. Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 and Earned in Blood.

Hey, no-ones looking east. But that helmet can't be a good sign.
Holy shit. This game is probably the most accessible, and fun tactical game of its day. I still enjoy it. But, a lot of people will look at it and say 2 things. 1. Its another fucking WW2 game. 2. Its probably shite. Released in 2005, its unique in its simple, but smart, gameplay, and its total motherfucking lack of scruples. People die in this game. And they die horrible, miserable deaths. Its a deconstruction if their ever was one.

I bought Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, after me and a friend saw a really good trailer. It looked action packed, and it indeed is. Just not in the typical way. We, as young, misguided youths, though Medal of Honor was realistic. We loved any game where you could teach the Third Reich that you just could not beat the glorious allies. So we lapped this one up, another game to play till the next one came along, soon forgotten. The game might as well of slapped us with a fresh tuna.

The main character, your player, talked. He was no mute. His name, Matt Baker, was a reluctant Sergeant, promoted after a training accident. He was poetical, smart, but not a natural leader. The game, like many WW2 games, focused on D-Day, or in this case, the airborne landing the night before. Your the first of your squad to jump, and drifting over flak illuminated battlefield, we noticed one thing: No music. If this was any other game, heroic music would be playing. But nothing but the risers of your chute whipping against the wind. Our first sign this wouldn't be a normal game, but we missed it.

We tried to play the game like a Call of Duty player. We died. A lot. But we got the hang of it, and soon, commanding the squad like a pro, finished the first few levels. But it was...affecting us. We were young. A grenade in most games, just makes a big boom (at least in 2005). So when we first got some, we chucked them over cover, and one short, concise German plea later, we looked to see our handiwork. Holy shit. A german infantryman, with a look of utter horror on his face as he died, legs going in a separate direction. And this was not stylized, cool looking gore. This looked, nasty, ugly, and inhuman. THAT was our first clue this game was gonna fuck with us. We continued, playing the game, and actually, it was the squadmates that got our attention. They were funny, witty, and not a total cookie-cutter role of war heroes. They were people, or as close as polygons ever got. Some of the shit they said was hilarious. We liked these guys. There were two in particular, Allen and Garnet. Inseparable, jokers and dorky. They made superman references. They were awesome. You can see how this ends. We, in hindsight, should have seen it coming. It was a mission, take a German held farmhouse. Simple enough. We even got a tank to help us. Allen and Garnet were ordered to take another route.

They didn't make it. We just found their corpse's, and Legget, the radio guy, yelling at himself. It was like a slap to the face. We had a collective, shit just got really real moment. The Wham moments happened like this, with men dying in horrible, random ways, that despite your best commanding, you just could not control. And it was graphic. One man, stomach open, blood everywhere, was the scariest. He had a look of pain etched in his face, long after he was dead. It was haunting. The end, of the first game, was at Hill 30, a reverse slope defence outside of Carentan. Legget, the radio guy, finally lost it, after his radio fails to call in promised support. He jumps up, firing a pistol point blank at a Panzer. He loses. It wasn't pretty. The second game one ups this, showing another view of the same storyline from the first game, and then shows us what happened after Hill 30. Another squad leader, a man named Doyle, probably the most likable Irish-American character I've ever seen. He gets hit by an unseen tank shell in St. Saveur. Enough of him was left to fill a soup can. I figured the best way to explain this game was to explain how it feels to play it. Its an intense game, and well, satisfying to finish and see to the end.

Lesson? Box art designers are filthy, filthy liars. Also, facing east again? GODDAMNIT.

Best thing, the controls are tight. Aiming down the iron sights is a must at range, and spraying away at close range is risky at best. The best part, is the squad command. Its the left trigger, just pull, aim, and they go to the position you indicate. They peek around corners, take cover, depending on where you put them. Aim over an enemy unit? They will suppress them with gunfire. Press another trigger? They will assault, with grenades and melee. This is bets used in very good conditions. But its intuitive, as easy to learn. The game focus's on the 4 F's. Find them, fix them, flank them, finish them. The game comes with a whimsical 40's era style comic to show exactly what they mean. This game teaches you. Then unleashes you into 1944 France, and you best hope you remember what they told you. And, that tanks are right fuckers. You will hate tanks. Enemy tanks will kill you horribly, and that bazooka? Yeah, your gonna need to hit some more times. Once just isn't good enough. It can also destroy cover. And they have infantry support. Seriously. Fuck tanks.

Flaws? Well, to be frank, the AI pathing for your squad sometime fucks up, leading them to die horribly in a totally preventable and frustrating way. But beyond that, and a limited multiplayer, it was a great, great game. Split-screen allowed squads, and became a tactical duel, with each side having different objectives. No death matches here!

So their you have it folks, a top 5 list. Disagree? I'm sure some of you do. Leave us a comment, and I'll be sure to answer you. I love debate.



  1. I'm sorry to see this never got a single comment. If you ever read this, you did a great job. Especially at describing what you felt while playing brothers in arms. Not many people can properly review a games emotional aspects. Hope you still write these.

  2. Couldn't agree more with what the other guy said, all credit to you review.