Battlestations: Pacific Review
Written Thursday, May 21, 2009 By Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
I think it is pretty much a statistical fact that if you play all the WWII games back to back that it would take you much longer than the actual conflict lasted (I may be guessing here though), which is to say that the market for games based on that particular blot on the global copybook has become amazingly saturated. Therefore when another WWII title sails into view, I cannot help but let out an imperceptible groan. Thankfully Battlestations is not your regular WWII title (read FPS) and offers an entirely unique experience. Considering the fact its predecessor was hardly welcomed with open arms however leads me to wonder if this game may be a little too niche for its own good.
If an enemy plane turns into smoke, then you’ve done good.
Eidos have tried to deliver a game that outstrips the previous offering in every sense, with polished graphics, a far longer campaign and a plethora of multiplayer options. While the original Battlestations was hardly terrible it did have a few rough edges that needed ironing out, and this sequel sets out to address them in every way possible. Even for those who never dabbled in the original, this game comes across as incredibly polished.
The basic premise of the game is to show an overview of the naval and aerial conflict that took place between Japan and the U.S in the Pacific (surprise, right?). Having the choice to play as both sides during the conflict adds a nice sense of perspective to the campaign and does not hurt in the longevity stakes either. Completion of each mission will unlock the next one, though you can go back and replay missions at any time should you so wish and are encouraged to do so thanks to the inclusion of secondary and secret objectives alongside your main tasks. Obviously the story takes a few liberties with actual events but it all adds up to create a dramatic set of campaigns with some great set pieces – from the attack on Pearl Harbour, to gunning down cargo ships and hunting submarines. Not to mention doing a little submarine command yourself or even strapping into a kamikaze plane if you feel the need. The Pacific Theatre is supremely represented and playing both sides gives you a good feel for the units and tactics that were actually used.
For novices, this is a game where you simply have to dabble in the training modes as otherwise you may be overwhelmed by what is going on. The game does provide the occasional hint to prod you in the right direction, but the controls are such that you really need to master them separately from the pressures of combat. Even the training is not as comprehensive as it should be and my first attempts at flying a plane were met with numerous crashes and stalls. You can get tips from the pause menu but even they do not really help you master the subtleties of combat and resource management. So it comes down to a bit of trial and error before you truly feel confident with all of the units and what is expected of you when you man them. If you complete the training objectives you also get booted straight back to the main menu, rather than progressing to a new set of instructions – this lack of flow breaks things up and means you are not allowed to smoothly progress from mastering one unit to the next.
Think of it as Battleships – but fun.
Once you have mastered the basic art of steering a ship and unleashing artillery salvos on a target a mile away, and figured out how to unleash a dive bombing run without crashing into your target (this seemed to take me a while – clearly I will never make it as a pilot). Then you can move onto the strategic aspect of the game. Via the map, you can also order your units to undertake said actions on your behalf. You can also get them to protect each other, attack specific foes, capture or destroy certain locations or just move in a nice formation should you so desire. It is a lot to take in overall, as you have to master the controls of specific units if you want to get the best out of them, and also navigate the rest of your command into a tactical advantage. Frankly it can take a few hours just to master the controls and this is the major obstacle that most players will have to overcome. It can feel like you spend the first few missions with only the vaguest clue of what you are doing and it is not until you grasp ever facet of your command that you truly start to have fun. By this point though I expect most people will have had enough and something should have been done to make the learning curve a bit more tolerable.
Once it clicks though, it really does open your eyes to the possibilities. As you can command your units through the map screen and then leap into the action at any point to guide your men to victory. The campaign mixes up the missions superbly, so that you never get bored of controlling the same units over and over again and each of them have their own superb highs. There is nothing more satisfying than sinking a ship from a mile away with pinpoint cannon fire, or watching a dive bombers torpedo arc through the water into the hull of your target. Little moments like these keep things ticking along nicely and bring a small smile of satisfaction to your face every time. The pace is pretty slow though and some of the units are extremely cumbersome, especially when it comes to reloading weapons, which means every miss is especially painful. I suppose that means you should make you shots count or just get used to switching to the next available unit – but it also gets kind of annoying to see your shots miss their mark and force you to wait around for a second chance.
Just looking at the game is a pleasant treat as, with so much going on, you would expect there to be a letdown in terms of quality at times. Instead the game looks superb and the scope of battles is top drawer, with detailed battleships slugging it out while fighter pilots vie for supremacy overhead. Every mission offers up at least one standout moment and you could play the levels over again and always be amazed by something that you did not see on your previous attempt. The planes all look and act like they should, and the vistas on which you wage war are truly beautiful at times. There are a few minor gripes about collision detection, and some ropey explosions – but on the whole this is a game that looks the part. In fact the worst part of the game comes outside of combat with some extremely drawn out video footage to set up each mission and some lengthy loading screens far too often.
The multiplayer aspect of the game offers a number of novel ideas, as the pace of the units on offer makes for a more languid and tactical experience than most players may be use to – even compared to regular strategy games. Players can go head to head in regular combat, try and take out a specified target before their rival or even go on an island capturing quest – the ideas all offer up different approaches and make each and every game a struggle for supremacy. The main problem is the fact the games can take an inordinate amount of time to reach a conclusion and this, coupled with thescarcity of current online players, can mean you are sat around waiting for opponents for a long time. It is a shame really as there is plenty of fun to be had, and creating an alliance with friends to take on like minded commanders will provide plenty of entertainment ... if only you can find a game.
Planes versus ships – a more interesting battle than you may think.
The achievements gave me some pause for thought but, overall, the list is pretty solid. The only issues are the fact you need to have played the previous game to get the full 1000 points (which seems to be against the Microsoft terms) and you will have to play one hundred online games with each faction which is decidedly over-the-top. However, I do like the fact that a lot of points come from doing fun things during the game rather than just through mere campaign progression. This approach encourages innovative play and makes things a lot more interesting too, not to mention the fact it makes getting the points a bit of fun – which is what the system should be all about.
This game surprised me quite a bit after I got over my initial discomfort, the only real problem is this; just how many people can spare a few hours to get used to a game before they actually start enjoying it? The learning curve (and controls) will be quite steep for anyone that did not play the original and that may well be off putting for the vast majority. It is a shame too, as this game has plenty to offer in terms of a lengthy campaign, a variety of units and great replayability. The online modes allow you to test your metal against your friends but the community is sadly deserted, which is hardly a good sign this close to release. Give the demo a chance and see if it lures you in, as you may well find a real gem if you are prepared to invest the time.
Decent voice work and a fairly subtle but impressive score. The cut-scenes are good too but have a distinctly History Channel feel to them which can make things seem a bit stuffy.
Superb considering the scope of the battles and the amount of units potentially occupying each location. A few minor rough edges can be easily overlooked thanks to the spectacle of events.
A tough game to get into and the few hours of initial investment may prove too much for some. Get past the rocky start though and the game opens up superbly.
Pretty much the only game of its kind but that does not detract from the quality on show here; dog-fighting, artillery bombardments and submarine hunting, all in the palm of your hands. Or you can just order your guys to do it, lovely.
A tough list to call and the two hundred online matches required does no one any favours, as I expect the community will remain quite small. A good level of invention though and one that is not just about regular game progression.
After a slow start this game blossoms into a superb action-strategy title. It is not going to be for everyone though so you might want to check out the demo before committing yourself to a full purchase. The balance between combat and strategy is perfectly managed. Give it a chance (and take a few hours to get used to the controls) and this becomes a great way to spend some time.
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User Score is based on 160 user ratings.