World War 2 is a setting that has been revisited numerous times in video games. These include first-person shooters such as Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and Battlefield, strategy games like Company of Heroes and Hearts of Iron, or vehicle simulators like Silent Service and Blazing Angels. Yet for the seemingly endless number of games that have allowed players to experience the greatest struggle in human history, they seem to always come down to the same few scenarios. It is easy to forget that World War 2 was a truly global conflict that involved hundreds of millions of individuals. Such a conflict contains countless fascinating stories that took place in far corners of the globe and are fertile ground for adaptation in the world of video games. In this list, we will be taking a look at some of the less-famous conflicts of World War 2 that deserve a chance to shine. All entries are in no particular order.
1. Winter War
After the fall of Poland in 1939, Stalin became increasingly concerned about a potential attack against the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany (fears that would later turn out to be entirely justified). In particular, he was afraid of the fact that Finland’s border was only about 35km away from the vital city of Leningrad and that Hitler might use the country as a staging ground for an attack into the heart of the Soviet Union. With this in mind, Stalin proceeded to make a series of outrageous territorial demands against the Finns, and when these demands were rejected, the Red Army invaded. In what was known as the Winter War, the Finns, despite being both out-numbered and out-gunned by a massive degree, managed to win many stunning victories. While the Soviets would ultimately claim victory, they did so with over 5 times as many casualties as the Finns and having only gained a tiny sliver of Finnish territory. This conflict would be perfect for a shooter, in particular, it is easy to imagine one in the style of the Sniper Elite games as the Finns had many famous snipers; most notably Simo Hayha, otherwise known as the White Death, who is often regarded as the greatest sharpshooter in history. Many other heroic feats were performed by the Finns throughout this conflict which would make for fantastic action set-pieces in any game.
2. Russian Partisan Warfare
When it comes to the eastern front, games tend to focus exclusively on the exploits of the Red Army. What is often overlooked is the contribution of the various partisan groups that fought a guerilla war behind enemy lines. Their contribution to the Soviet war effort cannot be understated as their efforts helped disrupt German logistics, something which would prove key to the Soviet Union’s ultimate victory. This was possible due to the massive size of the Eurasian plains that the Germans were invading which gave the partisans plenty of places to hide and perform hit-and-run strikes. As such it is fairly easy to imagine a Far Cry-esque sandbox game that has players traversing places like Ukraine fighting Nazis. Furthermore, there have been numerous games that have successfully adapted the struggles of the French resistance, and even a few that cover the Polish underground, applying a similar formula to a game that covers the Soviet partisans would likely lead to similar success.
3. The Chinese Front
With an estimated 34 million casualties among both soldiers and civilians, China suffered the second-highest casualty rate of any country in the Second World War. For that matter, it can also be argued that World War 2 more or less started in China as the second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937, two years before the Nazis invaded Poland. It is therefore rather bewildering that there do not seem to be any major video games (at least that I can find) set in the Chinese theatre of the war. It is a shame too, because this portion of the Second World War is fascinating, with a mixture of guerilla warfare and more traditional battles fought over a large geographical area, with several factions at play. You obviously have the Japanese and, opposing them, you have Chaing Kai-Shek’s Chinese Nationalists and the communist People’s Liberation Army led by Mao Zedong. Aside from fighting the Japanese, the Nationalists and Communists often fought against each other due to their differing ideology, creating a 3-way conflict with alliances of convenience and betrayal on all sides. On top of all that you even have the British defense of Hong Kong in 1941 and the Soviets who invaded the Japanese-controlled province of Manchuria in 1945. Needless to say, there is plenty that could be adapted into a wide range of games from differing genres. You could have shooters that cover major battles, sandbox games set in cities or the countryside that tell the tale of various guerilla forces, and strategy games that show a broader view of the conflict. The possibilities are simply endless.
4. The British Defense of India
If one were to ask most people what was the most devastating defeat that Japan suffered during World War 2, they would likely say the battle of Midway, and while that could be argued from a strategic standpoint, in terms of sheer casualties it would undoubtedly have to be Japan’s disastrous invasion of India. This campaign took place in the northeastern portion of India from March to July 1944, the Japanese went into it expecting an easy victory that would secure the rich natural resources of India for their empire. What they found was a stubborn and determined defense on the part of British and Indian forces which ultimately led to a decisive victory at the Battle of Imphal, often seen as one of the British Empire’s greatest military achievements. To make matters worse, the Japanese suffered from poor planning and logistics that assumed an easy victory and ultimately resulted in tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers starving to death. While it might not be possible to create an entire game around this scenario, I think that it would make for a great level, or series of levels in a shooter. If nothing else it gives game designers an excuse to create a major setpiece gun battle that takes place in an outdoor tennis court (true story) which I think that we can all agree would be a fun encounter.
5. Combat in Indochina
One theatre of war that is regularly ignored in games is the fighting in Indonesia between between British Colonial Forces and the Japanese. Starting in 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese sought to conquer European colonial holdings throughout the southeastern Pacific, especially in Indonesia so as to gain control of the resources in the region which were vital to their continuing their war efforts elsewhere. Most European countries were unable to fight back due to being occupied by the Nazis, however, the British were able to fight back for many years. One of the reasons why this theatre of war has not seen many adaptations is due to the fact that throughout the majority of fighting the allies were losing, with the British in particular suffering some of the most humiliating defeats in their entire history. That being said, it wasn’t all losses and there were still plenty of heroics and epic battles that would make this a good setting for a game. In particular, it would give players the opportunity to take on the role of a Gurkha, a group of Nepalese soldiers who were renowned for their amazing acts of valor. They fought with the British in this conflict and given all of the stories of heroism that they took part in it is frankly amazing that they have not been featured in dozens of games by now.
6. The Defense of Greece
One of the greatest stories of resistance against overwhelming odds during the Second World War was that of the defense of Greece. In the early fall of 1940, the Italian army invaded Greece as a part of Mussolini’s greater goal of trying to recreate the Roman Empire. In spite of the fact that they were heavily outnumbered and outgunned, Greek Forces were able to not only drive out the invading Italians but in a counter-attack were able to take control of a large portion of Italian-occupied Albania. It was not until the Germans became involved that Greece was finally defeated, and even then still managed to fight valiantly. I personally think that this would be the perfect setting for an action game — there are plenty of exciting battles and reversals of fortune. Even Greece’s eventual defeat can be done tragically in the style of Halo: Reach.
7. The Night Witches
One of the most fascinating tales from World War 2 is that of the Night Witches. Also known 588th Night Bomber Regiment, this was a Russian, all-female regiment of pilots who flew in old-fashioned bi-planes. Because these planes were completely outdated, they couldn’t be used in regular combat since they would easily be shot down. So instead they were repurposed as night bombers, a task that they were extremely well suited to due to their small size and light weight which allowed them to glide silently for long distances. When considering what type of game would be well suited to the Night Witches, a combat flight game is what immediately comes to mind. Indeed, a combat flight game that emphasizes stealth due to the player being badly outgunned would, if done right, likely work extremely well. Another option comes from a very unlikely genre, the RPG. There currently exists a Night Witches tabletop role-playing game, and while I have not personally played it, from what I have heard it is apparently well-liked. It is not difficult to imagine a video game adaptation of the tabletop game being successful.
8. The Defense of France and Poland
In video games, virtually all portrayals of combat by the French and Polish during World War 2 are limited to resistance movements that fought against occupation after each country had already been conquered by the Nazis. This is generally because games generally tend to shy away from parts of the war where the Allies lost, but I think this is too limited. Halo: Reach showed that it was possible to create a great game out of a military defeat by playing on the tragedy of the situation and emphasizing the courage of those who fight on, even in a hopeless situation. The falls of France and Poland are rife with this kind of tragedy as well as several heroic last stands such as the French rearguard at Dunkirk and the Polish battle of Wizna. I think it would be incredible to be able to experience the perspective of these soldiers fighting a doomed conflict against incredible odds.
9. East African Campaign
The East African theatre of World War 2 is often overlooked in media in general, video games included. It is a shame as not only was it the first major Allied victory in the war, but it also acted as a preview of Italy’s humiliating performance during the war. After the Second Italo-Ethiopian War Italy was able to fully occupy Ethiopia and controlled much of East Africa. Mussolini wanted more, in particular, he desired to link Italy’s North African holdings with its East African. The problem with this plan lay in the fact that the two countries standing in between these regions were Egypt and Sudan, both of which were controlled by the British. It was with this in mind that in 1940 Musilini began a campaign on two fronts, his forces in the North attempted to conquer Egypt, the beginning of the famous North African campaign, and his forces from Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland attempted to invade Sudan. The Italians in East Africa were at an immediate disadvantage because the British controlled the Suez Canal and thus resupply was extremely difficult. In the end, the British were able to fend off the attack and with help from Ethiopian resistance fighters were able to wrest control of East Africa away from Italy by 1941. The remnants of the Italian forces would continue with small-scale guerilla attacks until 1944. I think that the East African front makes an interesting setting for an action game. Far Cry 2 showed how such an environment could be utilized, plus players could get to experience the action from the point of view of both the British and the Ethiopian Resistance.
10. The Middle Eastern Front
There was also fighting in the Middle East during World War 2. Because of its oil fields and strategic position between British Egypt and the underbelly of the Soviet Union, the Middle East was greatly desired by both sides. Germany and Italy were unable to attack the region directly, and so instead fostered relationships with various nationalist factions who already didn’t much like the British due to their colonial ambitions in the region. This would ultimately lead to Britain invading Iraq and Iran to install governments more friendly to their war aims. It is not hard to imagine a game with this setting, especially given how there are already dozens of games set in the region due to the popularity of modern warfare games.