We will fight them on the beaches.
Around 10 years ago, I was backpacking through Europe, wide-eyed ready to explore the world outside of Australia’s continental island. During my first ever visit to France, the tourist attractions of Paris kept me entertained for a few days, but what I was really interested in was visiting the beaches of Normandy. The film Saving Private Ryan had piqued my interest about the D-Day landing invasion on June 6, 1944, a scene which had also been depicted in the Word War II-themed first person shooter video games I had played in the early 2000’s.
Jumping on a train to Bayeaux, and finding lodging in a charming castle-like hostel, I signed up for a tour of the D-Day landing sites to see the area with my own eyes. What I found was that neither the video games or the movies had done those battles justice, the sheer width of Omaha Beach at low tide that those infantrymen had to cross under heavy machine gun fire was so much further than the couple of short sprints I’d seen ducking between cover in Medal of Honour. The bombarded terrain at Pointe du Hoc – preserved in its craterous state to this very day – was a somber reminder of the near-impossible assault led by Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder and 2nd Ranger Battalion, the soldiers forced to climb 100-foot cliffs with ropes and ladders while being fired upon and having grenades dropped on them by the German forces above.
Nothing will ever quite represent that bloody day in 1944, but that doesn’t mean some well-researched and developed video games haven’t come close. On the 71st anniversary of the D-Day landings, here’s my pick of its best video game depictions.
4. Company of Heroes (PC, 2006)
The first mission of Company of Heroes begins with Able Company’s assault on Omaha Beach, the first flash point of Operation Overlord and the planned invasion of Normandy. The stratosphere RTS view of the battlefield hadn’t been explored much before and while most of the “movie” action was left to the cutscenes, this was an interesting look at how soldiers were forced to brave direct MG42 fire in order to “regroup at the shingles.”
3. Call of Duty 2 (Xbox 360, PC, 2005)
Back in the WWII heyday of Call of Duty, instead of recreating the Saving Private Ryan scene Call of Duty 2 chose to focus on the 2nd Ranger Battalion assault on Pointe du Hoc. Scaling the cliffs as comrades were shot above you and fell to their deaths below was as dramatic as war shooters get. After destroying the artillery batteries (which were moved from the point to avoid the Allied bombing), you had to hold the point against several German counter attacks. Nazis in front of you and cliffs behind you? Better make that ammo count.
2. Battlefield 1942 (PC, 2002)
This was perhaps the most basic rendering of the Omaha Beach scene of all the games on this list, but one of the most addictive to play. Here you could actually play as the Nazis and man the machine guns inside the pillboxes, or group up and push with the Allied forces until you held the points of control. The multiplayer co-op battlefield experience was relatively new at the time when broadband internet connections were becoming the norm, making this one of the most enjoyable WWII sims to date.
1. Medal of Honour: Allied Assault (PC, 2002)
I’ll never forget the first time I played the D-Day mission in Allied Assault, this was as close you could get at the time to playing the famous first scene of Saving Private Ryan. The sounds of bullets being deflected off the hedgehogs, screams from wounded soldiers and orders from the Captain to press ahead were just a few of the sounds that stuck with me from the third instalment in the Medal of Honor series, well before it lost its way. Frontline, the follow up sequel for consoles opened with a the same mission but never quite captured the same atmosphere. A true classic.