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Top Ten Tuesday: Best And Worst Alternative History Games

by Zaid Kriel (Zaid)  Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 2:00:00 PM

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The cool thing about videogames is that they can take you anywhere. And over the years developers have exercised their creatives muscles and taken us to some fantastic, scary and weird places. Places where all you need to rescue a kidnapped princess is a plumber with a couple of mushrooms; or defeating a ghost pirate in a sword fight is dependent on your ability to deliver a witty comeback. Its a pretty wide ranging field.

They can also take you anywhen. Because you don't always have to come up with a completely original world for your game to take place. When done right,  playing what-if with established history to can result in some enthralling videogame experiences. Or, you know they can be really crap.

So here's the MWEB GameZone approved list of alternate history games you should play and those you should avoid.


The Best


Resistance: Fall of Man
Set in an alternative 1951
PS3

Resistance.jpg
For a while there, if aliens weren't invading, then you weren't making a videogame. Resistance:  Fall of Man is a worthy alternate history game as it takes that most original scenarios and asks, "but what if the aliens rocked up before we had all our cool stuff to fight them?" Featuring a wholly outmatched human race against a vastly superior foe, the games still manages to feel hopeful. That against all odds, humanity will prevail. 

Bioshock
Set in an alternative 1960
PC, PS3, Xbox 360

BioshockBigDaddy.jpg
You would think that getting a chance to see the Beatle's perform live during the peak of their careers would qualify as a utopia. Not according to a chap called Andrew Ryan. No, Ryan's idea of a utopia is to lock a whole bunch of people in an underwater city and to put no limits on scientific research. Or anything else really. Spoiler alert, but it didn't end well.

Bioshock's city of Rapture worked because despite featuring some really high concept  sci-fi elements in what is supposed to be the 1960s, developers were able to make everything feel authentic. All the tech and machines were conceived within the limits of 1960s technological know-how, or at the very  least appeared to work in those limits. The realness of Rapture was the main reason that Bioshock's excellent story worked to well.

Fallout 3
Set in an alternative 2277
PC, PS3, Xbox 360

fallout3.jpg
OK, technically, this is cheating, seeing as how Fallout 3 actually takes place in 2277. But the 1950s sensibilities of Fallout's wasteland is so pervasive, that even with mutants running around and auto-targeting Gatling guns, its still difficult to think of this game as not taking place in the distant past. If you want to be pedantic about it, Fallout 3 would be classified as Retro Futurism.

Fallout's scenario works, because we know that during the 50s, the world really was for a moment there, just seconds way from nuclear war and the world that Fallout shows is just one of hundreds of likely scenarios that would have followed if cooler heads had not prevailed.  

Assassin’s Creed
Set in an alternative 1191
 PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Assassins-Creed.jpg
Assassin's Creed's changes to the history books are much more subtle than the wide ranging alterations that the other games on the list bring to the table. As far as this game is concerned, the events of the past  haven't changed all that much, it's the how and the why that gets a major make over. 

The game takes a number of genuine historical figures and keeps their recorded actions largely intact, but includes the secret history of an unspoken war between the Hashashin and the Templars as a major motivator for their actions and the ultimate reason for many of their deaths.

Crimson Skies
Set in an alternative 1930
PC, Xbox

Crimson_Skies-s6.jpg
Now Crimson Skies was something special. Set in the post-World War I 1930s, where the aircraft superseded the car as the  primary form of transportation and United States has collapsed into a number of smaller countries thanks to - get this - prohibition being decided on a state by state basis rather than on a national one. Basically America split up into countries where it was OK to blackout and wake up in your own vomit and places where it was still OK, but you had to be sneaky about it.

Anyway, Crimson Skies was also a game with lots of humour, unlike the rest of the games on this list. The entire premise played like swashbuckling pirate movies of the Hollywood Golden Age, just with planes and zeppelins. Kinda of like Disney's TaleSpin, minus the talking bears.

And the Worst


Turning Point: Fall of Liberty
Set in an alternative 1953
 PC, PS3, Xbox 360

turning point.jpg
"Nazi's defeat the British. Targeting America." That''s the premise of Turning Point in a nutshell. With Winston Churchill dying well before the start of World War II, there Allies lack effective leadership to stand up to the Nazis. And as far as alternate history stories go, that not a bad one at all. It stands to reason that if ole Adolf had taken out the British it wouldn't be long before he set his sight on the Americans. 

Where it falls flat is in the execution. The game wastes the potential of the scenario, you kow the one where GERMANS ARE ATTACKING AMERICA... by, you know,  never really talking about. The game just sort of devolves into a cookie cutter WWII shooter, of which there were already like thousands good ones. 

Genji: Days of the Blade
Set in an alternative 702 - 1877
 PS3

genji.jpg
Genji: Days of the Blade was a launch title for the PS3. And as launch titles go, it was satisfactory. It was a good showcase for the machines graphics capability and the gameplay itself was pretty sweet, by no means groundbreaking, but cool nonetheless. Where the Genji loses it's claim as an alternate history title was at E3 when the games producer Bill Ritch claimed that epic battles were based on "famous battles which actually took place in ancient Japan." And as we all know, anciet Japan was just covered in Giant Crab that had to stab in their glowing bellies.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Set in an alternative 1950
PC, PSone

red alert.jpg
No one is saying Red Alert is a bad game. Quite the opposite, Red Alert is actually a brilliant game. Don't believe, these guys will back me up. The premise itself is also quite sound and executed really well. Except for one minor detail that just puts it in the "Hell No" pile for. 

It goes like this, a man goes back in time to kill Hitler before he has a chance to lead the Nazi party and invade Poland. Rather than create peace, the absence of the German armed forces leaves the world open to attack from the Soviets, the titular Red Alert. The problem? The man that goes back in time is: Albert Einstein. Right. As if the genius that is Einstein wouldn't have been able to foresee that taking out Hitler could result in something worse. 

Dark Void
Set in an alternative 1903 - 1930
PC, PS3, Xbox 360

darkvoid.jpg
Great alternate history, makes one or two small changes and extrapolates from there how everything would turn out. Dark Voids problem was that it had to many disparate half-assed  plot points that after a while it just became this awful mess of sci-fi and fantasy. 

It starts out when pilot Will Grey crashes his plan into the Bermuda Triangle and discovers that it is actually a portal to a place called the Void. the Void is controlled by a Alien race called the Watchers. There is a human resistance movement within the Void at war with the Watchers. The Watchers are secretly supply the Nazis with resources... from the Bermuda triangle... which is off the coast of the United States. Also, they have been posing as high powered political figures and industrialists. And Nikolai Tesla is also there, because science or whatever.

It just a really stupid and confusing mess of a scenario. It doesn't play well either.

Damnation
Set in an alternative 1865
PC, PS3, Xbox 360
damnation.jpg

Damnation at least picks a time period and place we don't often see in videogames. America just after the Civil War. The problem though, is that the game takes its alterations to the timestream so far, that the world is barely recognisable as post-Civil war America. Nothing about the look and feel of the place feels... authentic. Sure theres Indian and accent and six shooter, but all across as so much window dressing. Damnation's whole world just lacked effort.

Also, like Dark Void, it just plays crap too.


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