By Fergus O’Sullivan.
Plenty of video games are marketed as being historically accurate, but few truly are. In this article, we’ll go over five games that stuck to the truth as best they could, though we should note that there will always be some liberties taken. After all, a game wouldn’t be very exciting if it stuck exactly to history as we’d already know the outcome.
Total War Shogun 2
The Total War series has been around for two decades and has produced hit after hit. With the exception of the recent Warhammer titles, all of its games have had a historical setting, and most of them have had a strong grounding in reality. Of course, Seleucid armies composed entirely of war elephants sacking Rome are fantastical, but the setting in general is usually spot on.
Our favorite of the many games put out under the Total War banner is Shogun 2, mostly because it is so restrained. Players are given a small roster of units and placed in 16th-century Japan where they need to play mostly by the rules of the day. As in real life, however, imported matchlocks will probably prove to be the struggle’s tipping point. An interesting combination of musket and katana. History Guild Members can buy Shogun 2 at our discounted member price.
L.A. Noire is a powerful example of historical re-creation. Set in the Los Angeles of the late ‘40s, developers Bondi meticulously recreated every facet of the City of Angels 70 years ago, based on old maps and photographs. Also included were period-specific automobiles, most of which, authentic to the era, handled like a brick.
This beautifully recreated city was the setting for a hard-boiled detective story that played as a cross between Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, further giving players the feeling of having stepped into a time machine. If cracking wise while diving deep into the drug-steeped world of jazz music sounds like your kind of thing, then L.A. Noire is the game for you. The video below shows the remarkable similarity to the real 1940’s L.A.
Though we would have preferred to have included only individual games, the many historical games Paradox Entertainment has brought out puts us into a bind. All of them, from Hearts of Iron to Victoria to Crusader Kings,are extremely well-researched and include real historical events into gameplay, sometimes to the detriment of a player’s existing strategy.
However, we’re going to give the title to the Europa Universalis series, mostly because it manages to cover the entire globe — giving players the option to play any nation from France to Congo — while also taking place over more than 400 years, from the Late Middle Ages to Napoleon’s conquests. If grand strategy is your game, then this series is a treat.
This video shows the borders and populations of each country in Europe, for every year since 400 BC.
A classic title and one that will bring back lots of memories for readers who played games using absolutely huge floppy disks, Oregon Trail was a great game as well as a historically accurate one. Though it’s technically the least advanced entry of this list, few other games can bring home the reality of travel in the mid-1800s like this game does.
As you guide your family to a new life in Oregon from Missouri, a journey that even over today’s Interstate takes over two days, you’ll be faced with starvation, angry bears, wild rivers and, of course, dysentery. Though it’s huge pixels may look dated today, few games convey the danger of being a settler in the United States as well as Oregon Trail does.
We. The Revolution
We’ll finish off the list with a relatively new title, We. The Revolution, which in many ways has the most original premise of this list. Players are placed in the shoes of a judge in revolutionary France — a few months before the Jacobins take full power — and they have to adjudicate on crimes ranging from petty to political, while keeping your family safe from the rabble.
It’s a masterful game that uses real historical events as well as realistic made-up ones to create a claustrophobic, danger-laden atmosphere, not much different than we imagine people in real revolutions are forced to live through. A great game for people with strong nerves.
This nowhere near exhausts all the historically accurate games out there, though we feel that this is a very solid start. Let us know if you have any other suggestions, and happy gaming!
Here are some great podcasts that explore these topics.