Remembering World War II (Video Games)

In honor of D-Day, I looked back on the history of games based on WW2.

There is an unholy trinity of video game bad guys. They appear in some incarnation in just about every game. Not only are they copy-pasted by the thousands, but they also die really easily. And they can be killed in any number guilt-free.

One is slimes. One is skeletons. And one is freakin' Nazis.

Since Modern Warfare came out, World War II games have kind of gone out of style. But for much of gaming's history, Nazi-killing was as common as treasure chests. They're the perfect bad guy, really. They were historical, way scarier than fantasy bad guys like goblins, and they were evil/alien enough that you could mow down masses of them and never feel bad about it. And because they were so into the occult and weird science stuff, you could put Nazis into all sorts of awesome scenarios.

So naturally, WW2 games permeated every genre imaginable, from shooters and flight simulators to RTS titles and interactive novels. We killed Nazi zombies, Nazi werewolves, cyborg Nazis, time-traveling Nazis, more Nazi zombies, and lots and lots and lots and lots of regular Nazis. They're too evil to be allowed to live, and so much fun to kill.


The ancient-looking game above is the first example of a WW2 game I could find: Castle Wofenstein, for the Apple II, 1981. Not to be confused with id Software's Wolfenstein 3D, Muse Software's Castle Wofenstein was an action/stealth game where you were supposed to infiltrate the castle, kill the Nazis, and blow it all up. Yes, Wolfenstein 3D ripped them off and became the legendary landmark game while this one was forgotten. Yes, Metal Gear was lauded as a "progenitor of the stealth game genre" when it came out 6 years after this one. Technically 005 is older, but I think it's safe to say that Castle Wolfenstein is the true granddaddy of all stealth games and WW2 games. Shame that more people don't remember it.

A year later, Sid Meier released his first major project, Spitfire Ace, in 1982 on the Atari 400/800 and other 8-bit home computers. Not satisfied with letting the player just kill Nazis on the ground, Sid Meier made several simulators and strategy games throughout the '80s that allowed for wholesale pixel-Nazi slaughter by air, land, and sea. It's nice to know that before he became world-famous for his Civilization series, Sid put down roots in about 40 cubic feet of jackboot guts. Good start.

But of course, it was Wolfenstein 3D that really got the ball rolling.

It's no great surprise that the world's first FPS was all about killing Nazis.

Who else could you have gotten away with graphically gunning down by the hundreds in 1992? I might be a little peeved that the game piggy-backed on Castle Wolfenstein's idea, but regardless, Wolfenstein 3D is influential and legendary for a reason. This is the game that paved the way for decades - literally decades - of WW2-themed FPS titlesCall of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battlefield, Brothers in Arms...all of those series owe this game about 20 years-worth of Father's Day neckties. And thanks to this game's popularity, all other genres under the sun jumped on the WW2 wagon.

While nowadays cyber-robotic-future-style warfare is more in vogue, let's not forget that WW2 games have been there at every step of video game innovation, even back to the beginning. Never has there been a war more romanticized, more easily reduced to a timeless battle between good and evil. What better war could there possibly be to adapt to video games than that? Even well into the 21st century, it will be a long time before we ever get truly tired of murdering Nazis.

What's your favorite WW2 game? Got any veteran's tales? Let us know in the comments below!

Published Jun. 7th 2015
View Comments
  • Bo_9930
    In Europe they play anti Nazis games but in the rest of the world, fortunately they still knew the truth and created dozens of anti Allied games...mostly anti USA of course
  • Stan Rezaee
    Featured Contributor
    WWII games need to come back, I miss killing Nazis. They don't have to be historically accurate, just put me in the role of some Aldo the Apache like hero and toss me into Nazi Europe so I can do one thing and one thing only, killing Nazi's.
  • Curtis Dillon
    Nice article. I would really love a good WWII game to come out nowadays. I loved COD3, which was awesome, and World At War was great too, but now it's all super-soldiers and drones. Bring back the Nazi's, with 3 running series', Activision could take one back to WWII!
  • Matt Amenda
    Featured Contributor
    Wolfenstein still brings me the Nazi mayhem I need. If you haven't played Wolfenstein: The New Order, I highly recommend it. It's my favorite FPS of all time.

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