5. Rome: Total War
It’s one thing to create a historically inaccurate game. It’s quite
another to create a game that’s considered accurate enough to be used as a
visual aid by the History Channel (with some modifications), and which then
draws so many complaints from history enthusiasts that a group of them get
together to correct your “mistakes.”
Above: When you think about it, team sports have really diminished our ability to follow ancient battles
From a historical perspective, Rome: Total War was an interesting beast, sometimes
lavishing exacting accuracy on minor details while completely re-inventing
major ones in the name of fun gameplay. Its version of Rome was divided into
three separate factions, its depiction of Egypt’s armies was about a thousand
years out of date, boundaries of empires were redrawn to be inconsistent with
the time period, and anachronistic units and armaments were present all around.
And that’s to say nothing of its units, which apparently performed much more
quickly and efficiently than their real-world counterparts ever did.
Above: Yep, probably no bright-green Legions back in the days of Caesar
Was it more fun that way? Probably. Did the bulk of the game’s audience
really care? Probably not. However, it infuriated the hell out of history
buffs, some of whom banded together to create the Rome: Total Realism mods, which brought everything from unit capabilities to faction colors in
line with reality, making for a more historically sound experience at the
expense of things like brisk pacing.
Above: It's kind of hard to tell who everyone is in RTR, but hey - realism!
Never mind the ridiculous accents, the sexy Nazi women in low-cut
uniforms or the Wehrmacht soldiers who throw down against an enemy agent using
just their fists. Never mind the strippers, the cartoonish French Resistance
fighters, or the way that breaking Nazi control over sections of Paris restores
color to them. We can accept all that in the name of this being a silly romp
that’s more about making things go boom than it is about re-creating a point in
history. However, there’s one thing we can’t
accept, and that’s rewriting the beginning of World War II for no clear reason.
Above: On the other hand, it let us do things like this, so maybe we shouldn't complain
In real life, World War II began (in Europe, at least) in September 1939,
when Germany, led by Hitler, annexed and invaded Poland, forcing Polish allies
Britain and France to declare war shortly afterward. France was invaded eight
months later, after Germany conquered Belgium and cut through the Ardennes
Forest to skirt around France’s fearsome Maginot Line – a series of machine-gun
nests, bunkers and anti-air emplacements that spread across the Franco-German
border. By this time, of course, the war was already in full swing, and the
invasion was hardly unexpected.
Above: When the German side of the border is more heavily fortified than the French one in 1940, something's not quite right
The Saboteur’s version of the war, meanwhile, begins in 1940, when
relations between France and Germany are apparently friendly enough that it’s
possible to simply drive over the border to participate in an auto race. Then, fictitious
Nazi commanders order the invasion of a completely
unprepared and apparently defenseless France. There’s no Poland, no Belgium
and certainly no Maginot Line, just the unchallenged Nazis rolling tanks (and zeppelins,
which were no longer in service at the time) right over the border, taking out
one of WWII’s most significant early combatants before the war really even begins.
Above: "Faith 'n' Begorrah, if only we could've seen it comin' somehow!"
Yeah, we get that this is hardly a straight-faced version of history, and
that it’s more about two-fisted Nazi-fightin’ than it is about World War II.
But taking artistic license doesn’t mean you get to just invent your own
version of WWII in which the French are even more pathetic.
Defender of the Crown
OK, yeah, we know: complaining about historical accuracy in a game that
stars Robin Hood is asking for trouble. But this game plays such weird havoc
with both history and Robin Hood’s (admittedly
haphazard) mythology that we just had to include it.
In the game, Robin Hood, while starting out as the familiar bandit of
Sherwood, is suddenly thrust onto the national stage when Maid Marian and Wilfred
of Ivanhoe convince him to lead a military campaign against Prince John. King
Richard the Lionhearted has been captured and held for ransom, and in his
absence the paranoid John has seen fit to seize the throne and declare
Richard’s supporters traitors. This prompts Robin to conquer England, county by
county, in order to wrest it from John and several rival lords to make it safe
for Richard’s return. Oh, and while he’s doing that, he’ll need to raise money
– through taxation – to pay off Richard’s ransom.
Above: See, even Robin knows something's amiss
In real life, Richard – by many accounts a terrible king who had no
interest in governing, spoke only French and treated England as his personal
war chest – was indeed captured and held for ransom by Leopold V of Austria,
while Richard was returning from the Third Crusade (although this actually
happened in late 1192, while the game begins in early 1191). And his ransom was raised through taxation – but they
were taxes levied by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his brother, Prince
John (who also tried to seize the throne, to be fair, but was eventually
forgiven by Richard).
Above: Not that it did much for his disposition or poofy sleeves
Interestingly, those taxes took a harsh-enough toll on the country that
they are, in fact, sometimes depicted as what Robin Hood was rebelling against
in the first place. That sort of implies that the game makes Robin complicit in
the oppression of the lower classes. Shoving that tidbit aside, there wasn’t
actually a war for succession while Richard was captive – although some years
after Richard’s death, King John’s reign annoyed his vassals enough that it
eventually sparked a short-lived rebellion, the First Barons’ War, in 1215.
Above: "So yeah, better start taxing the shit outta those peasants, bro"
Robin Hood, for his part, never actually raised an army or made any move
to conquer or liberate England, assuming he ever even existed at all. But
that’s beside the point.