Outside of just a handful of examples, it’s rare to see the German perspective of either World War depicted in the media. “History is written by the victor,” as the famous saying goes, and the boom of cinema and film in the decades following WW2 saw the war told from countless different angles. Whether it was the D-Day landings, Operation Market Garden, or something a little more sensational like Escape to Victory (based loosely on The Death Match, which pitted Ukrainian prisoners against Germans, and nobody resembling Sly Stallone, Pelé, Max Von Sydow or Bobby Moore) it’s the victorious Allied forces that typically take centre stage.
A handful of notable exceptions do exist – Das Boot and Downfall, to the two most notable – but it’s even more uncommon in video games than it is in film. During the heyday of the WW2 shooter, it was like playing a Hollywood highlights reel of the landmark battles from the Western Front, with an occasional trip to North Africa or Stalingrad. Battlefield 1’s War Stories saw DICE trying to sidestep the tropes of WWI, and Battlefield V sought to do the same. While their attempts to tell ‘untold stories’ missed the mark for two of the three stories included at launch, the fourth added with the launch of the Tides of War last week does.
It’s a bit strange when you have the same name as a fictional tank, and yet here I am, Tiger 237 reporting for duty. It’s been nicknamed ‘Stefan’ by its crew, and it’s a formidable beast. Battlefield’s War Stories are bookended by phrases slowly fading in and out on screen, and for The Last Tiger, it reminds you that just 1,347 Tiger I tanks were ever built, in comparison to the flood of Sherman tanks that were produced by America’s formidable industry. Where the Sherman was fast and easy to produce, and easy to repair or cannibalise in the field, the Tiger was time consuming, over-engineered, but much more durable and formidable on the field of battle.
The Last Tiger follows Stefan and its crew as they push forward to try and defend one of the bridges over the Rhine from the advancing Allies. Though not named, the most prominent landmarks represent the Hohenzollern Bridge and cathedral in Cologne, which was the site of one of the most famous tank duels, albeit with a Panther and not a Tiger. It’s all about the tank battles, sensationalised so that you battle dozens of Sherman tanks and rocket launcher-modified Calliope tanks, facing them two, three or four at a time. Of course, there are dozens of foot soldiers as well, often setting up shop with rocket launchers in the upper floors of the buildings that line the street, or running to get into cover and try to escape the Tiger’s implacable presence.
As with the story of a British tank in Battlefield 1, you won’t spend all of your time inside the tank, but also getting out of it to complete various objectives. One time it’s to capture and use an anti-aircraft cannon to lift the pressure from dive-bombing air raids, another to retrieve classified documents. They break up the action with relatively brief bursts of on foot combat, compared to the straightforward tank warfare.
But what stands out here are the characters under the pressures of the grim defence of Germany. Peter Müller, your character and the tank’s commander, is a typically stoic character, but he enjoys a certain degree of banter with the tank’s war weary driver, Kertz. At the other end, there’s the jittery, scared loader Hartmann and the new, young and impressionable gunner Schröder, who’s constantly spouting the party line on the need for Germany to stay united and strong in the face of the looming defeat.
You have no agency in the decisions that Müller makes, when faced with the impossibility of trying to follow orders to defend the city as the defences crumble and fall away. Sacrifices are made along the way, the morality of which are discussed like having an angel and devil on either shoulders, as the crew are pulled in different directions by the inevitable fall of the city. The repercussions are made absolutely clear. You can empathise with Müller, but DICE carefully avoid glorify his actions or those of the remnants of the Wehrmacht and German war machine. That said, outside of making him a flawed and fallible character as he seeks to follow orders to defend the city, while also protecting his crew, it does try a little too hard to give him a minor arc of redemption within this microcosm of Germany’s downfall.
Depicting the German side of the war, especially today’s political climate and rising extremism around the world, could have been one fraught with controversy, but DICE walk the tightrope. It’s effective on a more personal level than speaking to the context of the war around it. While The Last Tiger isn’t likely to be held up as the video game equivalent of Das Boot, and its design doesn’t push many boundaries, it is the strongest and most impactful of the War Stories within Battlefield V.