Those of you who played the 2007 title Battlestations: Midway were treated to a deep, engrossing, and difficult to grasp game. It was a strategy game yet an action game, and an air combat game yet a naval combat game. The WWII fighter was also very complicated, and had a learning curve that frustrated even the most experienced strategy gamers. In this year’s title, Eidos Interactive is back at the helm (or cockpit or periscope, whichever pun you like best for this game) to improve on the 2007 effort with Battlestations: Pacific. I’m happy to say that this game does indeed improve on the first one. It is more accessible to newcomers to the series, but still has plenty of meat to it that will satisfy the veterans.
The first thing that will stick out to you here is the amount of stuff there is for you to do. As you might have guessed from the game’s title, the action focuses in on the back-and-forth battles between the US and the Japanese. Of course, the first thing you’ll do is play through the whole campaign as the red, white, and blue, and follow the battles as they happened. However, the most intriguing aspect of the game is that it lets you take control of the Japanese forces for the entire campaign, and try to change course of history. Both the US and Japanese campaigns will take you anywhere from 15-25 hours each, so you won’t run out of things to do too soon. Certain missions will take you quite a while, so you will be sweating it out to complete them.
If you’re familiar with this series at all, you know that the gameplay centers around switching between units in order to utilize the most appropriate killing machine for the moment. You can control three overall types of vehicles: planes, ships, and submarines. At first, you’ll mostly be commanding small groups of ships and planes. As you get used to the controls, tactics and strategy, you’ll gradually take on larger and more crucial squads, including submarines. The best part about managing the different vehicles is that you can switch between them with the push of a button. The command system is a bit simpler this time around, as you’ll have only a basic number of commands for your armies, such as attack, regroup, split up, retreat, and so on. It’s not as complete, but the AI does a good enough job of getting things done for you.
One issue I have with the game is its relatively slow pace of play. Most of the missions involve taking your field of ships or planes on a long trek across the sea until finally arriving at your target. It’s realistic, just not entirely exciting. If you do have an appreciation for the excellent roster of planes, ships, and subs represented here, it will certainly help. Even the combat is not too intense, and involves a systematic approach that often becomes tiresome. For example, in the cockpit of a bomber, you’ll fly over enemy ships again and again until you’ve eliminated all of your targets. Again, it is realistic, but the game could have used a bit more energy and excitement overall. It also doesn’t help that most of the missions are very similar, with a few exceptions (the submarine missions are always highlights).
Of course you’ll want to know how all these fighting machines actually handle. The answer is that they control very well. The planes are responsive, the ships move realistically, and submarines are a blast to putter around. However, they all feel pretty similar to each other. The main differences between the best planes/ships and the worst are the amount of damage they can take and the amount of ammo they can carry. It really would have been nice to see some more variety in how the different machines actually control and move.
Battlestations: Pacific looks very good in action. The most notable achievement is the water, which is done as well as I’ve seen in a game. This is critical for this game especially, considering the ocean is the backdrop for about 99% of it. The ships, planes and subs all look excellent as well. They are realistically shaped, and the shadow and sunlight effects are spot-on. You’ll notice your crew walking around the deck of the ship, the mechanical equipment rotating and moving, and water splashing on the side of the boat as the waves pass by. Guns look great being shot from your ships and planes as well; as good as I’ve seen naval gunfire done as well. It’s not a visual spectacle, but it looks good enough that you’ll be impressed for most of the experience.
The sound in the game is hard to put your finger on. While gunfire and sounds effects are generally very good, the voice acting will make you cringe most of the time. American commanders sound like someone from a comedy show, while Japanese commanders sound like someone trying to learn English for the first time. That’s right, Japanese voice parts are done in English. It’s very tacky, and not at all believable. Some more time could have been put into this, but I won’t complain too much because the game looks so good.
Battlestations: Pacific does improve on its predecessor in several ways, but overall it just doesn’t do enough to make it a must-buy. The machines control well, but the action is just a bit slow to keep you on the edge of your seat (or couch, or Lazyboy). There are many positive aspects: there are a lot of machines are on screen at once, yet commanding them is simple and accessible, and the submarine missions are a blast. This game is one that I can recommend to fans of the series, and fans of the genre. Outside of that, however, I would stick to the more arcade-type titles for your WWII naval and air-combat fix.