2016 was a historic year, especially for historical video games. This year saw the release of several sequels to well established history game franchises, such as Civilization, as well as the release of several new and exciting history game IPs, including 1979 Revolution: Black Friday. 2016 was also an important year for History Respawned. This year we achieved a more regular publication schedule and managed to finish some long-planned episodes on our historical games bucket list, namely Red Dead Redemption and BioShock. We also launched the History Respawned Podcast this year, which allowed us to offer longer interviews with scholars on games and their own research. Of course, the podcast also gave John and I more valuable opportunities to hear ourselves talk! Joking aside, History Respawned provided us a positive outlet amidst a brutal year. To celebrate that fact and historical games more generally, here’s our list of the best history games of the year.
5. Battlefield 1
While EA has made some very questionable decisions regarding the marketing and promotion of this game, Battlefield 1 nevertheless manages to strike a balance between a serious subject matter and modern game play conventions. Of course, problems remain, particularly with the lack of France or Russia in the base game. But at the end of the day, I’m left thinking this: because of Battlefield 1, millions of players around the world now have more knowledge about one of the most important events in human history.
4. Civilization VI
I’m not quite as bullish on this game as many others, but I really appreciate Civilization VI’s emphasis on the relationship between development and geography. The new district system adds a new layer of management that reflects historical pressures related to the environment and urban planning. I also greatly appreciate the changes made to diplomatic negotiations, which make peace treaties count for something more than just an end to war.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. But hear me out. I’m putting Doom on this list because I think it’s one of the best games of the year, and because it continues the long tradition of gaming’s fascination with the devil and the occult. We explored some of this tradition in our episode on Diablo III with Michelle Brock. Games like Doom and Diablo are important because they build upon and add to the cultural history related to religion and spirituality. We may need a thematic History Respawned episode starring the Doom Slayer that discusses the relationship between video game protagonists and medieval heroic epics.
2. Mafia III
In terms of gameplay, I didn’t particularly enjoy Mafia III. It’s very much a standard open world game with very few innovations. But in terms of story and setting, Mafia III is one of the best historical titles of the year. My time with the game, as well as my research into the game’s setting, gave me a new perspective on a historical topic that I thought I knew backwards and forwards. And, as I wrote elsewhere, this game forever changed the way I look at and treat NPCs.
1. 1979 Revolution: Black Friday
1979 tops my list because it does three things very well:
- It tackles an important and controversial historical topic that is rarely discussed in Western countries.
- It provides the players with multiple perspectives (clerics, nationalists, communists, etc.) on the Iranian Revolution, but gives the player the freedom to choose their own path through the story.
- It manages to weave historical detail – through audio clips and archival photographs – into the gameplay without tumbling into overbearing edutainment.
One of my hopes for 2017 – beyond avoiding thermonuclear annihilation – is that iNK stories will have the opportunity to finish the story they started with Black Friday.