Even though World War II is “responsible” for a respectable percentage of the shooters and strategies released so far (or even about to be released) there are some of us who never tire of the subject, in hope that occasionally we will find that special game which manages to masterfully recreate that particular time period on our screens.
Company of Heroes for instance managed just that, by re-enacting the eternal USA vs. Germany conflict, while Medal of Honor and Call of Duty successfully moved the action into the Pacific as well, a theatre not exactly well represented in video games, perhaps because of the one-sided nature of the battles. The Eidos Hungary studios tried to combine action with strategy with Battlestations: Midway, and since that didn’t come out very well, they attempted to fix mistakes of the past with Battlestations: Pacific, a sequel that presents the air and sea confrontations that took place after Pearl Harbor.
As a result, the player has the chance to control most American and Japanese air and sea units, and as the action takes place mostly in the sky or on the sea, there are no infantry or armor units to speak of. Gameplay is a mix of strategy and shooter, so you can jump with a touch of a button from the cockpit of a Mitsubishi Zero to the helm of a naval cruiser, or inside an island base in order to issue unit commands. If this looks like a lot of responsibility, let me put your mind at ease: Battlestations: Pacific is not a hardcore simulator nor does it claim to be realistic, so you’ll be left with the experience of a pure action title.
Tora! Tora! Tora!
The main improvement over its predecessor is the introduction of a Japanese campaign, which is a welcomed addition. The American campaign pretty much follows the historical events, starting with the battle of Midway, where the Empire lost an important part of its fleet (and with it the war), up to the Okinawa invasion. The Japanese campaign on the other hand takes the road of an alternate timeline, on the belief that things went from good to better for the Empire following the attack on Pearl Harbor (if the player does his job properly).
Both campaigns are quite varied in terms of mission objectives, which can range from protection missions and destruction of key ships to stealth incursions. And the fact that you can easily jump from one unit to another offers variety and brings an important dynamic to the single-player mode, although the missions themselves are shamelessly scripted.
Although Check-Points have been introduced, in order to ease the repetition of a particular mission, certain assignments can become annoying due to the fact they were designed poorly. For instance, the ships you need to protect will only go through the bulk of the enemy forces (big surprise there), and sometimes timing is the only factor to take into account. And don’t even get me started on the Japanese mission where you are tasked with hunting down a group of enemy submarines. Which is like asking the canary to eat the cat.
As previously stated, you can control a vast array of ships and aircrafts, including bombers and fighters, destroyers, carriers and even the well-known kamikaze. The controls are quite user-friendly and intuitive, particularly if you own a joystick, and the in-flight commands are simplified to a few basic movements. Wingmen are available to take your orders, although only a few basic ones can be issued, such as attack or retreat.
This simple state of affairs does not fall into the extreme side however, as each vessel will behave according to its design, which means that fighters will be fast and agile, while bombers will be slow and cumbersome. Also, bombs of different weights need to be dropped while diving, as opposed to torpedoes which should be launched at point blank range and while flying level.
Aye- Aye, Captain!
Once aboard a sea vessel, thing change a bit. A Fletcher class destroyer only has anti-aircraft weapons and a few depth charges for the subs, but an Iowa class battle cruiser can have up to nine artillery cannons, which will wreak havoc from long ranges. Since they’re not exactly fast and agile, these vessels are slow to turn and react, and therefore allow for much more strategic decisions to use them.
Usually, ships are balanced around their class, which is to say that a Japanese destroyer will be no match for an American cruiser, while the battles between ships of the same class depend mostly on luck.
During ship to ship combat, specific areas can be targeted, such as the ammunition depot, fuel tank or the engines, resulting in fire on board, water leaking in or even a full stop. Repairs can be ordered on-site, but if the enemy is still around, it’s usually too late to mend anything. The submarines have their specific charm, thanks to the use of the periscope, a simple technical implementation which brings us closer to the atmosphere of the time.