Development of "realistic first-person tactical shooter" Six Days in Fallujah began all the way back in 2005, less than a year after the actual Iraq War battle it's based on. On June 22, it will finally release in early access on Steam.
Six Days in Fallujah was originally going to be published by Konami, but in 2009, the company abandoned the game following outcry over its subject matter. Call of Duty was also being criticized at the time for turning contemporary military adventurism into entertainment, but got by with its over-the-top fictional thriller plots. For many, basing a videogame directly on a recent battle in which thousands were killed or wounded went too far: Six Days was seen by critics as tasteless at best, grotesque propaganda at worst.
At the time, developer Atomic Games said that Six Days was a kind of documentary: "For us, games are not just toys. If you look at how music, television and films have made sense of the complex issues of their times, it makes sense to do that with videogames," studio president Peter Tamte told The Wall Street Journal in 2009. But a comment from Konami suggested that Six Days was essentially entertainment, and even that it had no political message.
"We're not trying to make social commentary," Konami told WSJ. "We're not pro-war. We're not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to bring a compelling entertainment experience. At the end of the day, it's just a game."
Skeptics were not convinced that Six Days was somehow going to deliver a neutral, comfortable, but compelling depiction of the battle, and some accused it not only of being vulgar, but also a pro-US puff piece designed to garner sympathy for an unpopular war. Six Days had supporters, too, but Konami backed out, and it seemed like the project was done for. In 2021, however, Six Days in Fallujah made a surprise reappearance with a new publisher founded by Tamte and a new developer, Highwire Games.
The premise hasn't changed. "Six Days in Fallujah is a highly realistic first-person tactical shooter based on true stories of Marines, Soldiers, and Iraqi civilians during one of the world's toughest modern battles," says the publisher. "Players lead a fireteam through real-life encounters enabled by unique technology that simulates the uncertainty and tactics of urban combat."
The initial early access version of Six Days will include four co-op missions (up to four players) on maps that are procedurally generated "to recreate the uncertainty of combat." In the future, Highwire plans to add more cooperative missions, "as well as story campaign missions recreating real stories from the Second Battle of Fallujah from the perspective of both coalition forces and Iraqi civilians."
In the making of Six Days, which was "conceived by a Marine who was wounded during the battle," the developer says that "more than 100 Marines and Soldiers" were consulted, as well as "28 Iraqis, 24 of whom are from Fallujah." In an FAQ, the studio also says that Six Days will address the "controversial aspects" of the Second Battle of Fallujah, although it doesn't specify which. Among those aspects are the US military's use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium, the hundreds of civilian deaths, and the disputed legality of the Iraq War itself.
That same FAQ also says that Six Days in Fallujah tells inspirational stories about the individual courage of US coalition soldiers, and the new trailer announcing the release date, embedded above, declares that the "greatest fear" of those soldiers "was not death" but "failure." Clearly the game has a point of view which will continue to be criticized from an anti-war, anti-imperialist perspective, as it was in 2009 and again when it reappeared in 2021. Industry analyst Daniel Ahmad, as one example, called the game "a shallow attempt at explaining away the illegal Iraq war."
Compared to 2009, when there wasn't even such a thing as early access and Valve still hand-selected the games that appeared on Steam, Six Days in Fallujah is releasing into a less-managed, more diffuse gaming industry, where controversy is spread across a larger volume and variety of new games. Some controversies still become major cultural debates—recently, Hogwarts Legacy was at the center of one such debate—but I wouldn't expect the launch of Six Days in Fallujah to get as big of a reaction as its announcement got back in 2009, although it'll certainly be scrutinized.
As for how Six Days in Fallujah actually plays, well, the footage in the trailer looks pretty awkward, in the way military sim FPSes can, but not totally dissimilar to the Red Orchestra and Rising Storm games. Six Days is expected to stay in early access for a little over a year before reaching its 1.0 version.