Whether it’s picking my way through the dense, eerie Argonne Forest or coming across a blasted and beautiful French chateau, I often need a deep breath to process the sights serves up. As Phil points out in , one of the high points of the Battlefield 1 campaign’s portmanteau approach to the Great War is its pacing.
For me, BF1’s more considered spectacle feels that much more meaningful thanks to the game’s historically-conscious take on the dusty trenches, burned hilltops and pulverized landscapes of the Great War. And while the game makes some direct appeals to WWI history that will be familiar to many of us from films like , the story also takes in fronts from the war that certainly deserve their own ambitious and high-quality treatment.
In this edition of ‘If you like,’ we look at comics and films that take us to different theaters of World War I. With the terrifying scope of the conflict, this could be an almost-endless collection, but the following artifacts will bring additional background and nuance to your enjoyment of the game.
The Harlem Hellfighters, written by Max Brooks, illustrated by Caanan White
The Harlem Hellfighters
You may know Max Brooks from his detail-rich zombie novel, World War Z. With the , he turns again to the subject of warfare but this time based on real history. We get a short introduction to the African-American 369th Infantry Regiment in Battlefield 1’s story prologue, but in Harlem Hellfighters, we get a deep and textured look at the regiment’s participation in WWI, from basic training to the front lines in France.
The graphic novel feels like the perfect medium to explore the history—both political and military—that the Hellfighters took part in. Caanan White’s vivid black and white illustrations lend a suitably graphic and hard-edged style to the subject matter, which is often hard to stomach. But at 270 pages, Harlem Hellfighters has enough room to contextualize and deal with its often blood-soaked story. For additional background on the 369th Infantry Regiment, check out this on their activity.
Gallipoli, directed by Peter Weir
With its focus on the 1915 , Peter Weir’s drama is moving in how it shows the paths ordinary men took to find themselves caught up in the War to End All Wars. With a very-young Mel Gibson playing one of the film’s two main Australian protagonists, Gallipoli works hard to stoke a slow-burning fire about the history-defining violence of WWI and the soldiers who found themselves caught up in it.
A defining conflict in Australian, New Zealand, and Turkish history, the Mediterranean setting will be familiar to those of you who have already taken part in Battlefield 1’s single player campaign. But what Weir’s film so brilliantly outlines for us, is that despite the murky politics that led to the outbreak of WWI, the consequences of all that ambiguous maneuvering were all too real.
Charley’s War comics, written by Pat Mills and illustrated by Joe Colquhoun
Charley's War excerpt
Originally running from 1979 to 1986 in Britain’s , Charley’s War built a following for its unvarnished look at WWI, and warfare more generally. In an about his work, writer Pat Mills maintains he wanted readers to “appreciate the drama of war; but not to be seduced by it; and to sense some of its horror.”
When faced with a bayonet charge or flamethrower unit in Battlefield 1, I have to say I see his point. Even after so many runs through previous Battlefield games, the measured and more deliberate pacing of the latest entry adds a tinge of horror that I can’t say I experienced in any of the others.
The best place to get started with Mills’ and Colquhoun’s masterpiece is through the of anthologies now available that gather the entire comic strip together. For more background, a fantastic website archive of material that expands on the comics is available . There you’ll find features on some of the themes that surface in the extensive series, interview with the creators, and more.
And We Were Young, animated by Andy Smetanka, produced by Pat Cook
Created using paper figures and a Super 8 camera, And We Were Young documents the happenings of American “” soldiers in the last days of WWI. As we can see and hear in the excerpt above, the mixture of animation, oral history, and a particularly brutal battlefield event is startling. Animator Andy Smetanka’s unique approach to documenting his source material breathes life into the story of Sergeant Dan Edwards’s fateful encounter with an artillery shell, and then German troops. You may look at your in-game Bolo knife a bit differently afterwards.
The documentary made its debut just last month, and will be visiting film festivals. Let’s hope that an eventual wider release will get this unique film a bigger audience. One to watch out for. You can also check out a teaser trailer for the complete project .
Patrick currently works as web editor for Hinterland Studios, which is making The Long Dark. For more installments of ‘If you like...’, check out the other games he's covered in this series below:
- If you like Crusader Kings 2
- If you like Doom
- If you like Overwatch
- If you like Tom Clancy's The Division
- If you like Metal Gear Solid 5
- If you like Dead Space
- If you like The Witcher
- If you like Dishonored
- If you like Mass Effect
- If you like Skyrim
- If you like Fallout 3
- If you like Deus Ex
- If you like Company of Heroes
- If you like STALKER
- If you like Her Story
- If you like American Truck Simulator
- If you like Rainbow Six Siege
- If you like Far Cry Primal