Video games as a whole aren’t exactly known for conveying the horrors of war in a realistic manner, with popular series like Call of Duty and Battlefield doing a particularly bad job at it. But while some franchises go out of their way to glorify war and turn it into an over-the-top spectacle, there are still examples of war-based video games that try to keep things grounded. At least for the most part.
With that in mind, we invite you to join us as we take a look at the top 15 most realistic war-based video games of all time. For the purposes of this list, we’re primarily looking at games that depict warfare in the 20th and 21st centuries.
If you’re looking for titles set further back in time, you may want to check out our list of top 10 grand strategy games.
Enlisted is a squad-based MMOFPS released in early 2021 by Gaijin Entertainment, the same company that brought us War Thunder. Just like its older brother, Enlisted features realistic vehicular combat complete with an extensive collection of tanks and aircraft to choose from. However, the main focus this time around is on the infantry.
Unlisted gives you command over a squad of anywhere between 4 and 9 soldiers. Each with their own unique specializations and weapons. You can only control one of these soldiers directly (with the rest being controlled by AI) but can switch between them at any time.
Though squads are fairly basic at first, they can be upgraded with better equipment over the course of the game. In addition, you can also recruit new specialists to bolster your forces.
Infantry squads, tank crews, and aircraft fight each other on massive battlefields that can potentially host hundreds of soldiers at once, including bots. Matches are fought across four campaigns based on real-world battles. Namely, The Battle for Moscow, The Invasion of Normandy, the Battle of Tunisia, and the Battle of Berlin.
14. Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
Another WW2-based title, Red Orchestra 2 is one of the best war-based video games centering around the Battle of Stalingrad. Despite being a little over a decade old at this point, Red Orchestra 2 still holds up pretty well in terms of both graphics and gameplay.
Red Orchestra 2 puts a lot of emphasis on realism, especially when it comes to guns. You’ll need to take into account things like bullet drop, bullet spin, and cover when firing at an opponent.
The HUD doesn’t feature an ammo counter so you’ll need to either check manually or just try to remember how many bullets you have left. You’ll get a sense of the number of rounds found in a magazine when you reload but don’t expect any specific numbers.
Likewise, don’t expect to be able to heal in this game. There’s no health regeneration or anything like that and bandages are only good for preventing blood loss.
13. Insurgency: Sandstorm
This next game isn’t based on a real war but it was clearly inspired by many of the real conflicts that have been raging across the Middle East over the past several decades. But while the setting may be fictional, Insurgency: Sandstorm is easily among the most realistic war-based games out there in terms of close quarters guerilla-style combat.
Players can join one of two teams – Security and Insurgents – and work together to complete objectives in versus or co-op modes. The Security faction is comprised of the equivalent of real-world militaries like the US SOCOM or NATO forces. Meanwhile, the Insurgents are based on groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Similarly, the weapons are also based on real-world counterparts. With Security forces using modern guns like the M4 carabine and the Insurgents being restricted to older weaponry like the AK-47 and even some WW2-era guns. Most weapons pack a serious punch and there’s no respawn system. Avoiding getting shot at is a top priority in this game regardless of what mode you’re playing.
To add even more realism, the game’s HUD lacks traditional FPS elements like a health bar, ammo count, or even a minimap.
12. Hearts of Iron Iv
We’re moving away from first-person shooters to talk about something a bit different. Whereas most other games on this list allow you to control an individual soldier or a squad of soldiers, Hearts of Iron IV is a grand strategy game that puts you in charge of an entire nation.
The game goes to great lengths to replicate the political situation present at the start of World War 2. You can take control of any nation that was around at the time while leading its armies and engaging in politics as you see fit.
Given that your actions have a direct impact on the course of the war, you will inevitably end up playing through an alternate version of WW2. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Hearts of Iron IV can still give you a realistic look at how wars are fought on a large scale even without trying to perfectly recreate historical events.
11. World of Warships
If you’re into war-based video games you’re probably already familiar with this one. World of Warships is a free-to-play naval warfare simulator with over 400 battleships to choose from. Including quite a few historical ones like the Yamato or the Bismarck.
The game features four different classes of ships, each specializing in either artillery, torpedoes, or aircraft. Just like in the real world, some ships are small but fast while others are gigantic but difficult to maneuver. There’s very little cover out in the open sea and usually quite a few enemy warships to deal with, so picking the right class for each mission is crucial.
One of the main highlights of World of Warships is the progression system. The game lets you play as a major naval power of the first half of the 20th century. You can pick between the US Navy, British Royal Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy, and more.
Your choice will dictate the types of ships you will be able to access. You’ll start off in command of low-tier ships regardless of your choice, but will have plenty of opportunities to build an impressive fleet over time.
10. World of Tanks
Don’t like warships? Well, maybe armored land vehicles are more of your thing. If that’s the case, you’ll find plenty of them to play around with in World of Tanks. This is another Wargaming title that features a similar level of accuracy as World of Warships in terms of vehicles. But with even more variety.
There are over 600 military vehicles to choose from, ranging from various tanks to tank destroyers and self-propelled artillery. Matches usually occur between two teams of 15 players each and are won by completely obliterating the opposition. Though there are certain game modes with more complex rules.
If you’re familiar with World of Warships, you already know what to expect here in terms of progression. You can play as one of several nations, each with its own tech trees and vehicles ranging from tier I to tier X. However, World of Tanks offers more customization as it allows you to replace pretty much every part of your vehicles, including the tracks, engines, guns, and more.
9. America’s Army: Proving Ground
For better or worse, our society has reached the point where militaries are now making their own video games to serve as recruitment tools. The rather unimaginatively titled America’s Army: Proving Grounds is one such example. The developers? You guessed it, the actual U.S. Army.
Proving Grounds is the latest entry in the America’s Army series. Which has been running since 2002 believe it or not. This particular installment focuses primarily on small unit tactical maneuvers and the type of training exercises you would expect to find in the real army. Well, at least to a certain extent.
Most people would agree that Proving Grounds is one of the weakest entries in the series but, unfortunately, it’s the only one you can play right now. The U.S. Army releases these games for free and always removes the previous title whenever a new one comes out.
Having said all that, Proving Grounds is still a pretty interesting game to check out seeing as how it’s “the official game of the U.S. Army.” Plus, you may end up playing against some actual soldiers online; the handful that aren’t already playing Call of Duty or Battlefield.
8. Post Scriptum
Post Scriptum is a bit of an underrated FPS that was initially meant to be a mod for Squad, which is easily one of the best war-based video games of all time.
Unlike Squad, Post Scriptum takes place at the height of World War 2 and focuses on three major battles that took place on the western front. Namely, The Battle of France, Operation Market Garden, and Operation Overlord (The Battle of Normandy).
Post Scriptum offers quite a lot of variety in terms of what role you can play in each battle. In addition to various classes of infantry, you can also become part of a tank crew, order gun runs and artillery as a commander or, perhaps most interesting, join the logistics team. This role lets you build fortifications, barricades, and other infrastructure crucial to the war effort.
The developers over at Periscope Games have been constantly improving the updating Post Scriptum with new content ever since its initial release back in 2018. And, by the looks of it, some of the best content is yet to come. An entirely new chapter and a game engine upgrade are set to launch in 2022. Keep an eye out for that.
7. Wargame: Red Dragon
You can’t talk about realistic war-based video games without mentioning the Wargame series. Red Dragon is the most recent entry in the RTS series but we also recommend checking out previous Wargame titles because they’re all pretty solid.
Wargame: Red Dragon takes place in an alternate history Cold War setting where the Soviet Union is still going strong in 1991. In this universe, Asia serves as the primary theater of war and there are many more nations involved in the conflict.
Major participants include China, Japan, the two Koreas, Australia, Israel, and the Scandinavian coalition. In addition to the regular Western and Eastern Blocs of course.
As you would expect from an RTS game, Wargame: Red Dragon involves a lot of management. There are over 1,000 units to play around with, including infantry, armored vehicles, aircraft, and warships.
Most units feature some level of customization and you can mix and match them to wage massive battles across land, air, and sea. Matches support up to 20 players clashing together their armies in real-time. It’s not uncommon for battles to become hectic just a few minutes into a match.
6. Hell Let Loose
Hell Let Loose is probably the most appropriate title one could come up with to describe a WW2 video game. Or just WW2 in general. This is the newest game on our list, having been officially released just a few months ago after spending two years in Early Access.
Hell Let Loose features massive 50 vs 50 multiplayer battles across nine maps based on real-life theaters of war. Such as Carentan and Omaha Beach to name just a couple of examples.
The developers went out of their way to recreate these iconic battlefields in-game using actual reconnaissance images and satellite data. Guns, uniforms, artillery pieces, and vehicles are all period-accurate as well.
Another important aspect that makes Hell Let Loose one of the most realistic war-based video games around is its emphasis on teamwork and communication. Both of which are necessary not just to win, but to survive. Make sure to use voice chat if you want to get the most out of this experience.
5. War Thunder
War Thunder markets itself as the most comprehensive vehicular combat MMO out there. And it’s honestly hard to argue with that claim. The game is basically World of Tanks, World of Warships and World of Warplanes all wrapped into one.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find another title that lets you switch between battles on land, air, and sea with as much ease as War Thunder.
Also, unlike similar games, War Thunder lets you play around with military vehicles ranging from the pre-WW1 era all the way up to modern times. All in all, there are around 2,000 playable vehicles currently in the game. Provided you include the ones unlocked via DLC packs.
War Thunder is a very versatile game that offers a little something for everybody. You can engage in arcade battles if you want to take things slowly at first before jumping into realistic and simulator battles against other players. Alternatively, you can stick to single-player missions based on historical campaigns.
You will need to grind a lot if you want to progress at a steady pace in War Thunder, but that’s to be expected from a free-to-play game.
Squad is a fantastic tactical FPS that tries to depict all aspects of modern warfare as accurately as possible. This includes not just firefights but also base building and chains of command. Just like Post Scriptum and Hell Let Loose, Squad puts a lot of emphasis on teamwork and features a robust VoIP system that encourages communication between players.
Battles take place on large-scale maps where two teams of 50 players each engage in combat using infantry, artillery, and vehicles. Teams are broken down into smaller squads comprised of a maximum of nine soldiers.
Each squad is led by a leader who relays instructions between soldiers, other squad leaders, and the team’s Commander via voice chat. The game also includes a few other tools to ensure effortless communication between team members.
The teams are similar to what you can find in games like Insurgency. With one side being comprised of factions like the US Army, British Army, Canadian Armed Forces, and Russian Ground Forces. Meanwhile. the other team is made up of quasi-fictional forces like the Middle Eastern Alliance, Irregular Militia, and the Insurgents.
Verdun is the first entry in a trilogy of WW1-themed first-person shooters developed by M2H and Blackmill Games. Each title focuses on a different front, with Verdun featuring western armies and battlefields. Meanwhile, Tannenberg and the upcoming Isonzo cover the eastern and Italian fronts, respectively.
While by no means perfect, these are hands down the most realistic war-based video games centering around WW1. And also some of the hardest ones. Weapons are often difficult to handle and take ages to reload. Meanwhile, you can forget about the Rambo-style gameplay found in other first-person shooters because it only takes one or two shots to put your down in Verdun. And with up to 64 players running around the map you can expect to get shot at a lot.
The main reason why Verdun is such a great WW1 game doesn’t have anything to do with the realistic bullet physics or the period-accurate weapons and uniforms. Though all of those certainly help. But where the game truly stands out more than any other is in the trench warfare department.
Slowly crawling through trenches and foxholes praying not to get hit by an artillery strike or gas grenade is the quintessential WW1 western front experience. And it is being depicted perfectly in Verdun.
2. Arma 3
To say that Arma 3 is one of the most realistic war-based video games of all time would be an understatement. Arma 3 is the most ambitious and complex military simulator ever made where you can create scenarios as realistic or as far-fetched as you want.
The user-generated content is one of the main highlights of Arma 3. Over the years, the community put together very impressive mods, some of which went on to become standalone games. With DayZ and PUBG being some of the most well-known examples. However, those are only the tip of the iceberg as Arma 3 has enough incredible mods to rival even the likes of Skyrim.
But don’t worry if you’re not into modding because Arma 3 also offers a very solid single-player campaign along with action-packed multiplayer matches.
You will need to buy some of the DLC to experience Arma 3 in all of its glory, but that’s a small price to pay for a game that you can easily sink hundreds or even thousands of hours into.
1. Command: Modern Operations
We’re not even sure if Command: Modern Operations can be classified as a video game. It’s more akin to the type of advanced military software we imagine governments and armies use to simulate and plan real-world combat scenarios.
Command: Modern Operations plays out sort of like a grand strategy game in real-time and with the entire globe at your disposal. And we are talking about the actual globe here, which was painstakingly recreated using tons of satellite imagery and data. You can even zoom in anywhere to get a closer look at any region pretty much exactly like on Google Earth.
Map gazing aside, this game is primarily about waging war anywhere and everywhere in the world. You can set up any sort of engagement you can think of, ranging from 1v1 duels between small boats, to global warfare, and anything in between. Command: Modern Operations gives you access to ground forces, aircraft, warships, submarines, satellites, and more. What you do with them and where is entirely up to you.
Just make sure to watch a bunch of tutorials before jumping in. This game is incredibly difficult to wrap your head around.
There are a few more realistic war-based video games we couldn’t quite fit on the list but we wanted to give them a quick shoutout regardless.
- Medieval II: Total War
- Escape From Tarkov
- Brothers in Arms
- Silent Hunter: Wolves of the Pacific
- Steel Division 2
If you enjoyed this list check out some of our other ones down below.