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They say history is written by the victors. Unfortunately, when it comes to video games, history is sometimes written by those who don't care too much about history. Some games, like Assassins Creed, get around it by creating an alternate timeline set against actual historic events. Other games get around it by simply not caring about accuracy whatsoever - which is a shame, since a video game that's engaging can be a great educational tool as well.
Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War
Bladestorm was an interesting blend of military strategy and third person combat. Loosely based on the Hundred Years' War fought between England and France between 1337 and 1453, players controlled a mercenary as they participated in numerous battles during the span of the war. Except for certain major historic battles, players would be allowed to choose mercenary contracts for either side. You could fight for the English one day, the the French the next.
Mash X to conquer France
Once on the battlefield, you could lead numerous types of units, including cavalry, pikemen, and archers. The game had a sort of rock-paper-scissors system to it, where some unit types were more effective against others (or more vulnerable, if being attacked.) While it did follow actual events, it's still a Tecmo Koei game, and had that Dynasty Warriors vibe to it, with extravagant outfits for important characters and countless creative liberties taken.
It's an interesting period of history to adapt to a game, and it really is fun at first. Unfortunately, it's only barely based on historical events, and the game eventually turns into a frustrating slog of vague objectives and game breaking glitches. With a little more work, it could have been not just a great game, but a historically accurate one, too.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms' louder, more popular cousin, Dynasty Warriors is set during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, following the conflict between the Wu, Shu and Wei Kingdoms. While the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games were more closely tied to historical accuracy and had a focus on strategy (everything from keeping your people well fed, to raising armies, to diplomacy,) the Dynasty Warriors games are fast paced and action packed. While still drawing from history for notable characters to include and rough events to follow, they bear only a passing resemblance to anything factual. It is also Koei's most successful franchise, having sold over 18 million units worldwide.
And then you simply summon the great Wind Serpent, just like in real life.
Velvet Assassin takes place during WWII, following British agent Violette Summer as she engages in several missions aimed at undermining the Nazis. While the game's events are not historically accurate, Violette Summer is based on real-life British agent Violette Szabo, whose life (while far too short) was fascinating.
She apparently owed Brad Pitt one hundred Nazi scalps.
Married at 19, widowed at 21, Violette joined the British SOE and participated in two missions behind enemy lines before being captured, tortured, and executed by the Nazis at the age of 23. SouthPeak Studios captured the essence of her contribution to the Allies' effort by giving her tight leather pants and a butt-shot for the cover of their game. Because, what better way to handle adapting someone's life story?
Nothing says 'sexy' quite like being executed by Germans at the age of 23.
Rockstar's LA Noire approached history from a different angle. While your protagonist may not be based on a real person, many of the cases you'll investigate are based on actual crimes that took place around 1947 Los Angeles. Rockstar and Team Bondi made news with the camera system used to capture the incredibly lifelike facial animations used in the game, and sadly the work they put into going through piles of newspaper clippings and police paperwork to draw inspiration for their in-game criminal cases received less attention.
The modern day DLC has you figure out which celebrity got high on cocaine and commited a hit and run.
Medal of Honor
Military accuracy in video games is a touchy subject these days; several Navy SEALs were recently disciplined for sharing classified information with EA as part of a consultation on Medal of Honor: Warfighter, and two Arma developers were recently arrested in Greece on espionage charges (although the camera footage in question was not related to game development.) A number of actual military members consulted on Medal of Honor, and the events depicted in the game closely match the events of Operation Anaconda, particularly the battle for Takur Ghar (also known as Roberts' Ridge.)
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The level of detail present throughout the game is simply incredible when scrutinized side by side with events from the actual operation. The campaign shows aspects of war that the media are sometimes reluctant to (or discouraged to) report on, such as a friendly fire incident where miscommunication lead to allied air support opening fire on friendly Afghan units. The game parallels real events to the extent that - unless I'm comparing two similar incidents - it's possible to place actual names to individuals depicted in the cinematics.
At approximately 0610 hours, Razor 01, under the command of Captain Nate Self, reached the landing zone. The aircraft immediately began taking fire, and the right door minigunner, Sergeant Phillip Svitak, was killed by small arms fire. A RPG then hit the helicopter, destroying the right engine and forcing it to crash land.
Medal of Honor provided a unique and somewhat unfiltered look into a war that, at the time it was released, was still being fought in Afghanistan. Rarely do games go to this length to recreate the mistakes and losses that occur during war; it's much safer to paint a black-and-white picture where we're the good guys and can do no wrong. Moral grey areas are something more games are taking chances with these days; Spec Ops: The Line did it well, and before it was canceled, Six Days in Fallujah sounded like it would pull no punches.
Unfortunately, the game was mired in controversy surrounding the fact that multiplayer initially allowed gamers to play as the Taliban. Many found it in poor taste as the US was still actively engaged overseas, and even after EA made the change to calling the faction "Opposing Force," the controversy overshadowed what could have been an intriguing and informative experience.
What about you? Have you ever played a game that accurately depicted historical events, or that you learned from by playing it?