WWII didn’t start on D-Day, and neither should Call of Duty

Or, why I’m tired of hearing the American side of the story.

Recently the newest iteration of the Call of Duty franchise was announced: CoD WWII. And with this latest entry the series is returning to its historical roots in much the same way that EA did with their Battlefield franchise. And personally, I’m a big fan of this. As a student of history, I always love to see developers delve into the past. The events of the 20th century shaped our modern world, with dozens of nation clashing in the most terrible conflict humans beings have ever engaged in.

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But if American portrayals of the war are to believed, the war was effectively won with the D-Day landings and the subsequent march on Berlin. With Allied soldiers closing in the suicide of Adolf Hitler would lead to victory in the European Theatre, and Matt Damon would get to go home. Similarly, this latest CoD will follow a familiar trajectory with its single player campaign being described thusly: “Call of Duty: WWII focuses on the actions of a squad from 1944 to 1945 in the European theatre of conflict, at a time when the Allied forces were starting to gather strength on their march into Germany. The campaign will cover fighting in occupied France, Belgium, and across the Rhine into Germany.”

During episode 490 of IGN’s Playstation podcast, Beyond, editor Marty Sliva (who saw the game behind closed doors) described the D-Day landing depicted in the game. This won’t be the first time CoD has depicted the famous amphibious assault, let alone the Normandy campaign, and it seems overdone to me. And that’s saying something, as I am an Australian, and we kind of wrote the book on glorifying botched naval landings.

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Speaking of which, Battlefields 1’s vignette style of storytelling allowed us to experience a lot of different perspectives that you don’t get to experience very often in video games. Being able to play as an Australian Digger during the Gallipoli campaign was a fantastic inclusion, not only because that particular battle is carved into the Australian psyche, but because I can’t think of another game off the top of my head that even allows you to play as an Australian, let alone an Italian or Bedouin.

And I think that’s the point I’m driving at here. Recently Polygon published an article titled “Call of Duty: WWII’s ‘diversity’ is nothing more than marketing”, in which the authors take umbrage with the diversity, or lack there of, in the CoD: WWII reveal trailer. That article is the reason I find myself writing this piece, just not for the reasons they were driving at. There IS a lack of diversity at play here, but it is not a matter of racism or sexism, it’s a matter of perspective.

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Let me preface this next part by saying that I appreciate the service of the military of all nations, not just my own. It’s a job I doubt I could take on, and I respect the sacrifice of the individuals who dedicate their lives to the service of their country, past and present. I also appreciate that the Call of Duty games are made by American companies, and have every right to depict their stories as they see fit. But the simple fact remains: the United States did not enter WWII until December 7, 1941, and did not land troops in Europe until November 8, 1942, with the advent of Operation Torch and the subsequent liberation of Italy. The D-Day landings, and the final push on Berlin wouldn’t begin until June 6, 1944. But the Second World War began on September 1, 1939, at which time the United States was determined not to be drawn into the war, maintaining a strict neutrality for the entire first half of the conflict.

That is not to downplay America’s contribution to the resolution of the war, the conflict would have ground on for years without them. And the United States were instrumental in the Pacific Theatre, doing a lot of the heavy lifting as far as combating the Japanese went. But I would like to see this conflict be explored BEFORE the bombing of Pearl Harbour. The darkest days of the war, and some of the most brutal, desperate engagements were fought without the aid of the United States. During the bleak early days of the conflict, when Hitler’s victory seemed almost a foregone conclusion, America remained neutral, despite the pleading of the Allied powers. There were three whole years of fighting before Americans arrived in Europe, and some of the heaviest fighting took place in areas that would be be fascinating to explore in a CoD game.

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For example, the fall of France. Once thought to be the greatest land power in Europe, and thus the world, the French were caught completely off guard by the stunning speed and ferocity of the German’s never before seen Blitzkrieg tactics. In just six short weeks, France would fall to the Nazis. I think we are far enough removed from the conflict now to explore the German side of the conflict and the elation they must have felt at this stunning victory. But to play from the point of view of the French forces, desperately trying to counter this new style of warfare and fighting for their very survival, would make for an incredibly emotional narrative experience.

Likewise, the contributions of the Red Army are often overlooked in the mainstream narrative of WWII. Long before American boots landed on the shores of Normandy, the Russians broke the back of the German army in the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. Historians have often described the battles of the Eastern Front as having been fought with a desperation and ferocity that was virtually unknown to the soldiers of the Western front. To be fair, earlier CoD games in the series have touched on these events, like Stalingrad, but they barely scratched the surface. The Russians engaged the most elite divisions of the German Wehrmacht at the height of its terrifying power, and won (despite being woefully ill equipped, and suffering hideous casualties).

And personally, and admittedly somewhat selfishly, I would like to to see the African campaign explored, and play as soldiers of the Commonwealth. For example, Erwin Rommel, commander of the Afrika corp and arguably the finest German commander of the war, was undefeated in his conflict with Commonwealth forces in North Africa. Until he came upon the town of Tobruk, which was defended by a small garrison of several Australian brigades, some British artillery and a small contingent of Indian troops. Ordered to hold the city for a minimum of eight weeks, Tobruk was held for five months, despite Commonwealth forces being vastly outnumbered and under-supplied. Known as the Rats of Tobruk, because of the way in which the defenders would emerge from their trenches and foxholes and scavenge supplies from the fallen Germans and Italians, this name would (in typical Australian fashion) be worn as a figurative and literal badge of honour, who would afterwards take on a golden rat as their insignia.

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These are just a few examples of areas of the war that did not feature American soldiers. And while I imagine Americans make up a majority of the audience of gamers that buy Call of Duty games every year, even they must be tired of playing out the same tired scenarios. Take a page out of Battlefield’s book and let us see this conflict through different lenses! Some diversity, but not for diversity’s sake, could reinvigorate the franchise. After all, isn’t that why WWII is the setting this time around, because we all got tired of futuristic shooters?

What do you think, would you like to see a different side of this conflict? Let me know in the comments below, and as always thanks for reading!

K.

My Personal Top 5 Video Games of All Time

Alright, lets do this. If I’ve learnt anything from the video game community, nothing goes down better than a biased, subjective list of video games. I thought this might be a nice way to let people know where I’m coming from, like a gaming resume of sorts. It wasn’t easy to whittle this list down to just five, so I have taken the liberty of adding some honourable mentions, in no particular order. And of course, this list is subject to change, as there are some incredible games coming out in the near future. Keep in mind, this is more of a why I love these games kind of deal, so I wont be explaining story lines or gameplay in depth, and there certainly wont be any spoilers. So without further ado, lets get into it!

Honourable Mentions

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

This game, man. So a bit of backstory on this one, I took a trip to Tokyo back in 2014, and I couldn’t turn around without seeing posters for this game (in Akihabra, at least). Known in Japanase as Eiyū Densetsu: Sen no Kiseki, everything about this game intrigued me from the get-go. The characters just seemed to pop, and from all the research I did, the battle system and adult story line told me this was my kind of game. But I don’t speak Japanese, and of course there was no English localisation at that time. So, like an idiot, I bought a copy for my Vita with that noble intention that I think all JRPG fans have at some point or another: to learn Japanese in order to play a particular game. Well, I still haven’t learnt Japanese (despite studying it at university), but luckily for me Cold Steel was released in English in January of 2016, and at long last I was able to play through this fantastic game.

Trails of Cold Steel has a lot of the cooler social aspects of Persona 4, which is something I still find novel and new. Spending time with your classmates at Thors Military Academy in between missions is a great way of mixing up the gameplay, and while admittedly it isn’t done as well as in the Persona series, its still something I appreciate. Combat, while maybe a tad too slow for such a long game, really shines. There is a lot of tactical depth in the way characters can be placed on the battlefield, and it even incorporates an upgrade system strongly reminiscent of Final Fantasy 7’s materia system, which I’m surprised we haven’t seen more games using. The story itself is right up my alley, more of a political thriller along the lines of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together than standard JRPG fare. It might take a little too long to really get going, though, and kind of overstays its welcome,. Seriously, this is a LONG game, and while I do recommend it, this one is definitely for people looking for something substantial to sink their teeth into.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Hey look, another “Legend of” game. But really, what more needs to be said about the new Zelda? Unless you have been living under a digital rock of some kind, you’ve heard about all the things this game does right, and read the rave reviews. Of course, this was slightly marred by the lacklustre Season Pass offerings that Nintendo pushed out, and occasional stuttering whilst playing in docked mode, at least at launch. Some people didn’t like this games approach to dungeons, or confining the more challenging puzzles to shrines. But really, these are minor quibbles when talking about a game of this calibre.

I’m admittedly not a die-hard Zelda fan, and I fell off the wagon a long time ago. Some of my favourite gaming memories, though, are of getting Ocarina of Time for Christmas for the N64, and playing it for what seemed like an eternity with my older brother. Breath of the Wild really brought those memories back to me, and I really enjoyed it in a way I find hard to describe. Definitely a nostalgic title, despite being revolutionary for the series. I think the highest praise I can heap on it, was the way it made Horizon: Zero Dawn (which I was playing simultaneously) seem empty in comparison. While I could see a world in which this game made my top 5 list, I think it is just too recent, and would feel disingenuous to give it a place so soon after playing through it. But with that being said, Breath of the Wild has truly set a new benchmark for open-world games, and I’m excited to see where the series goes next.

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The Last of Us

Now here is a title that I really struggled with placing. In the end, the games lower down on this list just resonated with me more personally, but I’ve got to give credit where its due. The Last of Us, a masterpiece of storytelling and gameplay from the wizards over at Naughty Dog, is an immensely important video game. When it was released, a lot of reviewers heralded it at as the title that would elevate the medium. And while a very cinematic game, TLoU is first and foremost, just that, a video game. Apparently there is a movie adaptation floating around in development hell, but I personally hope it never sees the light of day. While I could certainly see TLoU’s narrative working well as a movie, it could never do justice to the gameplay.

And gameplay truly is king here. You really feel like a survivor of this awful world. Combat, for the first time in a video game (in my experience), had a weight to it that could be sickening at times. From the incredibly gruesome death animations, to the simple act of breaking a brick over a guys head, the violence here feels dirty, visceral and a little bit too real. This was backed up by a looting and crafting loop that made you feel like a scavenger just scraping by.  Stitching together a Molotov cocktail on the fly while you run from a horde of Clickers is an incredibly tense experience, something that is helped by a truly unique world that feels like a real place. The journal entries that you come across are equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful, and are usually framed by fantastic environmental storytelling. Walking into an area and knowing something terrible has taken place is exciting, because more often than not, and with a little detective work, you really feel like you can recreate the last moments of the people that lived there. And that ending? Hot damn, I cant wait for Pt II.

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#5

BioShock Infinite

And now we come to the list proper. BioShock Infinite is a game I see a lot of revisionist history for, which is ironic, given the plot of the game. And while I can certainly see how people may have problems with its gameplay, or the narrative for that matter, for me this was the pinnacle of the series, and a truly unforgettable game. Dealing with themes like American Exceptionalism and the worship of America’s Founding Fathers as religious icons, BioShock Infinite goes to some exceptionally dark places. Its melding of real-world history in this fantastic, dystopian setting was something that really appealed to me, and its characters and storyline have stayed with me ever since. It sparked in me an interest in American history that I had never really had before, and the games take on actual events like the Boxer Rebellion and the battle of Wounded Knee are riveting, especially with the propagandist twists that are everywhere in Infinite’s Columbia.

Gameplay is what we have come to expect from the BioShock series, with gunplay and Plasmid (or Tonics) use being the majority of what you spend your time doing. But its the plot here that earns Infinite its place on my list. Its anachronistic tale of alternate dimensions and timelines is far and away the most thought provoking of any game I have played. And while I will admit Infinite’s big twist could have been more meaningful with another game or two in the series, its one that still gives me goosebumps just thinking about. And again, the world building here is just phenomenal. People have told me that they find this game hard to replay,  but I personally think this game is even better on a second or third playthrough. All of the major plot points are hinted at and foreshadowed from the very beginning, and all those strange little coincidences make perfect sense with the benefit of hindsight. Plus, this game had the Luteces, who are just the best. Constants and variables, anyone?

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#4

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

I never would have guessed that a visual novel would make it onto this list, but here we are. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc got under my skin in a way few games have before. I played through this dark and disturbing tale in just a couple of sittings, which consisted of me cocooned amongst my blankets until the wee hours of the morning. And this mysterious, incredibly dark tale of murder, suspicion, and hope drew me in, until I just had to know how it ended.

While initially very trope-y, the cast of Danganronpa very quickly break from their cookie-cutter moulds, and take on a lot of nuance. You spend a lot of time with these characters, some you hate, and others you root for. And then of course you have too watch them die, one by one, inevitably, until the conclusion of the game. And its legitimately hard, seeing characters you’ve grown to care for being forced to kill each other, all for Monokuma’s twisted enjoyment.

And while others will level (fairly valid) criticisms at this title for the class trials and the kind of gimmicky gameplay found therein, it wasn’t really an issue for me. The writing was just so solid. The sequel too was fantastic, but repeats a couple of plot points first seen here, and so I have to give this place to Trigger Happy Havoc. If you own a Vita/PS4, and haven’t  played Danganronpa, you really owe it to yourself to try it out.

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#3

Total War: Shogun 2

Every computer I have bought in my adult life has been in preparation for the imminent release of a new Total War game. This series is, without a doubt, my most played. I have spent countless hours (although Steam does count the hours, to my eternal shame) across every title in the series, and I love them all, but Shogun 2 is special.

The time period in which it’s set ranges, across all DLC, from the Gempei war, the Sengoku Jidai, and finally the Boshin war of the Meiji restoration. It chronicles the rise, the golden era, and the fall of samurai culture in Japan. It is a period I am incredibly fascinated with, and that fascination is mostly because of this game. Hell, I’ve aced history tests because of my time with this title.

And that’s saying nothing of its infinitely re-playable campaigns. I’m playing through two separate campaigns at the time of writing, and considering another one for the future! Its multi-layered strategy, from building economies and monitoring taxation, arranging marriages for the heirs of your clan, to commanding massive formations in combat, is something I don’t think I will ever get tired of. Sometimes I’ll even catch myself humming some of the tunes from the soundtrack, which at this point is baked into my psyche. I cant wait to see what the team at Creative Assembly come up with next (Total War: Victoria, fingers crossed).

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#2

Persona 4: Golden

Persona 4: Golden is the reason I love the PlayStation Vita as much as I do. It proved to me that long form gaming is not only possible on a handheld but that it is actually preferable, at least to me. P4G is a monster of a game, and the ability to pick it up and play through a week or so of in-game time lent itself perfectly to the Vita, and is largely responsible for the amount of time I have sunk into this game. Two full playthroughs and I’ve just started a third: still trying to get that platinum!

More so than narrative it’s the characters and their development over the course of this game that has earned it a place on this list. P4G’s characters really come alive in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible. Maybe it’s because of how long you have to get to know them, or that each is given their own private story arc in their respective Social Link, but Golden’s cast stand out more to me than any other. And that isn’t to say that the storyline of the game isn’t interesting, it certainly is. I love a good murder mystery and the supernatural twist that Persona games are known for really compliments it. But it’s Yosuke, Yukiko, Chie, and all the rest that really give this game its heart.

And that’s without mentioning the addictive Persona collecting and fast-paced traditional turn based gameplay which somehow doesn’t wear out its welcome despite repeated playthroughs. It will be interesting to see how I feel after playing Persona 5 as a lot of people are saying it’s an improvement in every regard. If that’s true then it would have to be an incredible game, and certainly worthy of a place on this list!

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#1

Final Fantasy VIII

And here we are, where it all began. I played a lot of video games before playing Final Fantasy VIII, but it wasn’t until I played it that I realised what their potential could be. That they could be this massive, and this immersive, was completely new to me. That they could look this good, or be this deep (I mean, for 1998) was truly eye opening. It was also the first JRPG I ever played, and there is a lot of nostalgia involved. But man, it was just so COOL to teenage me. The story, spanning multiple continents (and multiple DISCS!!!) absolutely blew me away. Witches and their Knights, floating schools for mercenaries, monsters falling from the moon. It all sounds like a fever dream. But it really made an impression on me, and that’s why it earns the #1 place on my list.

Now, I don’t have total fanboy blinders on when it comes to this game. I am aware of the criticisms, and I share some of them. The junction/draw system can be tedious, and Squall is kind of a jerk at times. But there is just something about FFVIII. It came along at the right time in my life, and introduced me to what would become my favourite genre. I appreciate that it’s not the most popular Final Fantasy title, in fact it seems downright loathed by some, but that’s never bothered me.

I replay this game fairly often and I really hope there is some kind of HD remaster for it one day. But the odds aren’t great, lets be honest, and I’d prefer Square Enix work on new titles. Still, Final Fantasy VIII is my favourite game of all time, and I doubt that will ever change.

 

So that’s it, that’s my list. Thoughts? What are your favourite video games? Let me know in the comments below, or just lambaste me for loving FFVIII, I revel in it. As always, thanks for reading!

K.