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War is Games: From the Civil War to the Iraq War and Beyond

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Posted May 30, 2011 - By Kevin Kelly








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War is Games: From the Civil War to the Iraq War and Beyond Memorial Day

Memorial Day. What does that mean? Well, to the typical America, it means beer, bikinis, and a day off from work! And if you're a gamer, it also means double experience in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Or even TRIPLE experience if you're diving into the recently updated Gears of War 2 experience. What better way to honor the valiant dead than earning tons of XP?

But in all seriousness, or as serious as we can be at G4, Memorial Day is a holiday that was enacted to honor to fallen soldiers in the American Civil War. Originally meant only for Union soldiers, it was later expanded to the Confederate soldiers as well, and the holiday currently honors all men and women who have died in military service. So besides a day off from the daily grind, take a moment to show some respect for the men and women who have died in service to our country.

After that, spend some time in one of these war game experiences, highlighting all of the major U.S. military conflicts since the Civil War ... and beyond.

The Civil War

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood Civil War Gameplay »


Pitting brother against brother in some cases, the American Civil War remains one of the bloodiest and saddest chapters in the history of our country. The nation was torn in two over the right to own slaves, leading to all-out war. Although the North eventually won the war, it waged for five bloody years and claimed the lives of 620,000 Americans.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood opens with brothers Thomas and Ray McCall squaring off against each other, but quickly flashes back to when they were both fighting in the war. As Confederate soldiers, they are locked in a bitter fight to try and defend Atlanta. However, the Union soldiers overwhelm them, and their commanding officer Colonel Barnsby orders them to retreat to Jonesboro. However, fearing their family will be facing execution from the invading soldiers, they quickly desert in order to protect them. A fact that Barnsby doesn't take lightly. He's one of those people who later refused to acknowledge the fact that the South lost the war.

The Spanish-American War

War is Games: From the Civil War to the Iraq War and Beyond Spanish American

This war only lasted 10 weeks, but it gave the United States colonial control over Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines (to the tune of 20 million dollars), and ceded them control of Cuba as well. It was a lopsided victory for the United Stated, as we overwhelmed the Spanish forces. This loss was somewhat of a victory for Spain, as they were able to ditch portions of their expensive empire, while gaining 20 million bucks in the process. The war also gave us the fame of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders from their famous Battle for San Juan Heights (not Hill as American newspapers named it). Roosevelt's bunch won the battle, and he was later awarded the Medal of Honor, and went on to become vice-president and then president.

Hopefully this miniature history lesson has shed some light on this "splendid little war," as a friend of Roosevelt's called it. For a more strategic look, check out 1898: The Spanish American War. It's a board game for two to four players, and give a historically accurate simulation of the war. It focuses on the naval combat, which was the largest part of the war, and unfortunately doesn't include Roosevelt and his famous battle. Hear that, developers? Rough Riders: The Game is still up for grabs. And don't be surprised if the WB is working on an emo version of Teddy for Rough Riders: The Series next fall.

World War I

War is Games: From the Civil War to the Iraq War and Beyond Diplomacy

In 1914, "The Great War" broke out and swept across the globe, killing more than 15 million people in the process. It was the first "modern" war on such a large scale, and brought many innovations to warfare, including things like: machine guns, trenches, howitzers, chemical warfare, flamethrowers, and also aircraft warfare. Although the United States wasn't officially part of the Allies at the beginning of this war and didn't enter into the conflict until 1917, it solidified their role as a world power.

There have been numerous video games that focus on World War I, including the recently bad Darkest of Days, and the recently awesome Toy Soldiers, but for my money, the best WWI game experience is, just like the Spanish-American war, in the board game realm. Diplomacy still stands as one of the best games ever created that encourages as much backstabbing as possible, and hammers home the point of diplomatic relations. And yes, there is warfare as well. Supposedly it was one of John F. Kennedy's favorite games. Although there have been a couple of very bad video game adaptations, you can still purchase the board game version. Warning: you will hate some of your friends after you play this game.

World War II

War is Games: From the Civil War to the Iraq War and Beyond WWII Call of Duty 2

The deadliest conflict in human history claimed over 70 million lives, which is a mind-boggling number. It mobilized entire countries to war, including the United States, and saw modern warfare evolve on the land, the sea, and in the air. It is easily the most popular war in terms of video games, having spawned dozens of titles including multiple series titles in games like the Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, Battlefield and Brothers in Arms series. We were trying to break down why this war above all wars has been the most popular, and it boiled down to two arguments: cool weapons like Sherman tanks, and the fact that no one feels guilty about killing Nazis. Especially when they go messing around with supernatural powers.

Everyone probably has their own favorite WWII game, and for me that experience was the wonder of Call of Duty 2. This was one of the most popular launch titles for the Xbox 360, and numbers show that 77% of people who bought an Xbox 360 at launch also picked up a copy of this game. The graphics and gameplay were seriously impressive, but what bowled me over was the sound design. Suddenly their version of the Battle of Normandy felt like I was in a scene straight out of Saving Private Ryan, and it was one of the best justifications for buying a 5.1 surround sound system. Although Infinity Ward also worked on the first Call of Duty title, this is the one that gave them a special place in our hearts. You can pick this classic up for a few dollars, and if you haven't experienced it yet, you really need to.

The Korean War

 War is Games: From the Civil War to the Iraq War and Beyond MASH

Although the United States and Russia never squared off directly against each other during the Cold War, the Korean War served as a stand-in. Korean had been divided into two halves at the end of WWII: the northern half was occupied by the Soviet Union, and the southern half by the United States, creating North and South Korea. In 1950, North Korea, supported by the Russians, invaded South Korea. South Korea fought back with the aid of the United States. Lasting from 1950 until 1953, the United States lost over 125,000 soldiers in the war.

The PC game Korea: Forgotten Conflict offered up a buggy version of that war, and the fictional Raging Tiger: The Second Korean War might have predicted the future, which has another war breaking out in Korea in September 2010. Based on recent conflicts with North and South Korea, and some saber-rattling by the United States, this might actually become a reality. Sadly, that game suffered from weak graphics, and the fact that you needed to read a huge manual (over 100 pages) to be able to play the game. Plus it couldn't predict its own weak sales.

There's a wargame from the 1980s simply called The Korean War, although it's for the hardcore as advanced games can take six to ten hours to complete. This is where we veer off the rails and offer up M.A.S.H. as one of the best ways to experience the Korean War. It isn't playable, but it sure is enjoyable. Sure, it's a bit dated at this point, and it doesn't feature any direct combat. But it does give you a heaping of the American attitude about the war, and gives you a snapshot of post WWII army life. Both the Robert Altman movie, and the later television series it was based on are both worth watching, but the film will give you just about everything the television show does in less time, albeit without the tearful goodbye of Colonel Blake. Oddly enough, the television show ran for 11 seasons and its finale had over 100 million viewers yet the actual war only lasted three years. Both versions are available in different flavors of DVD and Blu-ray.

The Vietnam War

War is Games: From the Civil War to the Iraq War and Beyond Battlefield Vietnam

America's most unpopular war is known for the controversy it spawned across the nation, especially on college campuses. But what was it about? Vietnam had become an independent nation after it broke away from China in the year 938, but in the 19th century it was occupied and colonized by France. However, there was a growing resistance to the French, and in 1946 the First Indochina War broke up, where communist Vietnamese nationalists fought against French forces. A ceasefire was negotiated in 1954, and the country was split into two halves: North Vietnam for the communists, and South for the former French loyalists.

Later, through a series of coups and military movements, North Vietnam began slowly invading South Vietnam, which is when the United States stepped in by sending military forces. After nearly 60,000 of its soldiers died, the United States withdrew from Vietnam, and in 1975 Saigon fell to North Vietnam and the country was reunited. This was the first defeat dealt to American forces.

While this controversial war has spawned a lot of movies (The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and many others), it hasn't really hit a home run in the video game department yet. Just ask the developers of Shellshock: Nam '67 and Shellshock 2: Blood Trails about that. As far other games go, we don't yet know if Call of Duty: Black Ops will be set in or around the Vietnam War, although given how unpopular that war tends to be, we imagine you'll be carrying out some sort of secret missions and not in an actual squad on the front lines. As far as games go, the best Vietnam experience so far has been in Battlefield: Vietnam. It came out in 2004 and featured a location capture system just like Battlefield: 1943. You could also jump into vehicles ranging from a Huey helicopter to an F-4 Phantom, and play licensed '60s music through the radio. They even had "Ride of the Valkyries" on there as an homage to Apocalypse Now.

The Persian Gulf War or Operation Desert Storm or the First Gulf War

War is Games: From the Civil War to the Iraq War and Beyond The First Gulf War Desert Strike
In 1990, Iraqi troops under the command of Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, claiming that the state had been "slant drilling" into Iraq and stealing their oil. President George H. Bush quickly responded by sending troops to the region, and after Iraq failed to respond to a withdrawal deadline, Congress approved the use of military force in January of 1991. Aerial bombardment took place on January 17th, and the ground assault on February 23. 100 hours after it began, the coalition and U.S. forces called a cease fire, having easily repelled the Iraqi forces. Resistance was nowhere near the levels that were expected. At its highest point, the coalition had nearly a million troops stationed in the region. Of that number U.S. soldiers represented 73%, and they began moving out in March of that year.

While this action against the Iraqis was universally supported by other nations, the extremely short duration of this war didn't make very good fodder for a video game. Unless you played out the conflict in real-time, you'd be looking at a very short game. Despite that fact, there were several efforts, including the second-ever game from Bungie called Operation Desert Storm. It was a top-down tank game for the Mac that only sold 2,500 copies. Ouch. However, Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf was an arcade-type game inspired by Choplifter that put you in the seat of an Apache helicopter trying to destroy enemy weapons and rescue hostages. You were fighting in a fictional state in the Gulf, and the dictator's name was Kilbaba, but it was obviously meant to be Saddam Hussein. It went on to become Electronic Arts' biggest selling title at the time, and spawned four sequels. You can still play it on your PSP as part of the EA Replay package, or on your Game Boy Advance or Nintendo DS.

Later, Conflict: Desert Storm and ConflictDesert Storm 2: Back to Baghdad brought the Gulf War to the Xbox, PS2, PC, and Gamecube, but both titles fell short on gameplay.

The Iraq War or The Second Gulf War or Operation

50 Cent: Blood on the Sand Review »


During the First Gulf War, the Iraqi people had expected that Saddam Hussein would be overthrown if they revolted, with the United States backing them up. That didn't happen, and the people were left under the rule of the dictator. Reportedly, Iraq has large numbers of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and the United Nations was tasked with making sure this wasn't the case. Their evidence remained inconclusive, but the United States decided to invade Iraq and overthow Hussein.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began on March 20 of 2003, and Baghdad fell on April 9. On April 15, Saddam's home town of Tikrit fell, and the invasion was declared over, even though Hussein himself wasn't captured until December of that year. President Bush flew out to the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln anchored near San Diego, California, and delivered his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech. But it's now more than seven years later, and we're still dealing with insurgencies and attacks in Iraq. To date, more than four thousand U.S. soldiers have died while in service in Iraq.

In February of 2009, newly-elected president Barack Obama announced an exit strategy for Iraq, and that the major U.S. combat operations would cease by August of 2010. Like Vietnam, the Iraq war hasn't been very popular, and it remains very controversial. While we've had several movies based on the war, the video games are nowhere to be seen. Especially as evidenced by Konami's canceled Six Days in Fallujah, which looks like it might actually come out.

Given the lack of games on the Iraq War Front, we're recommending 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. It features a story so bad that it's good, and the gameplay isn't actually that bad. When you're not laughing too hard at the paper thin story that has Fitty and his G-Unit crew tracking down a diamond-crusted skull that was offered to him in payment for doing a concert in an unnamed middle eastern country. It might not be Iraq, but it's a Fitty-ing sendoff to our troops, who probably enjoyed the comic value of this game, and wouldn't mind ending things with a smile.

The Future and Beyond!

Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will continue the franchise will go head to head with EA's Battlefield 3 later this year, returning players to the real of the near future. Both titles focus on squad-based combat, making you work hand in hand with your team in order to reach your objectives and survive. While the weapons are either modern day, or slightly future versions based on what the soldiers of today use, the scenarios are fictional, but likewise possible. 

With Osama bin Laden finally being taken down (and not by a squad of video game supersoldiers), expect to see that in video game fashion. The President and his cabinet reportedly watched the entire operation unfold via mounted helmet-cams, which will probably become a mechanic in the world of video wargames at some point. Only the future can tell us as new games are developed.

But Memorial Day is about looking back, and remember those who have fallen in service of this country. Have a very enjoyable, and very safe, Memorial Day. If you happen to see anyone in the armed forces, you might consider shaking their hand and saying thank you. Sadly, that's not something we can do for those this day is meant for.

War is Games: From the Civil War to the Iraq War and Beyond
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