Due to the arcade nature of its combat and presentation, Battlestations: Pacific screams “average!” at you from the off. While it’s tempting to dismiss it as a bland arcade fly-fly bang-bang game, this would be doing it a great disservice. It falls between that particular stool and the one marked “Incomprehensible simulation”. So, while it does appeal to adrenaline whores, it also has a deal of depth to it that will surprise many.
Set in the Pacific theatre of World War II, the game is nothing if not ambitious. It allows you to control planes, boats, short-mounted artillery and flak cannons and submarines. You can dive straight into the action yourself, dive-bombing dreadnoughts and carriers, or take a step back and issue commands either in-cockpit or using a relatively clumsy tactical map. With over 100 air, sea and undersea units to unlock there’s plenty for the obsessive to aim for.
The meat of the offline game is in the two campaigns, one featuring the usual US post-Midway missions, and the other allowing you to fight for the Japanese forces, perhaps screaming “For the Emperor!” and “You build bridge now!” at the top of your lungs. Each campaign is set up with a particularly rousing (and long) cinematic, before you head into each mission, which could involve bombing the US troops at Pearl Harbour or eliminating waves of Japanese Zeroes as they attack your bombers.
However, perhaps the most intriguing thing about the game is the great potential the multiplayer has. Eidos Hungary have provided numerous different modes that cover all the material within the game, including Island Capture, Domination and Escort. All of this sounds like great fun, but the arcade nature of many aspects of the gameplay, and the very fact that there are so many different facets to it all, makes the whole slightly less than the sum of its parts. While each individual element is fun, there’s almost too much to consider at any one time, especially on the Island Capture multiplayer mode.
Controlling the battleships is perhaps the weakest of all these modes, with not enough feedback coming from your broadsides to know whether you’ve done any damage or not. This is actually a problem in other areas too, where there’s so much going on it can be difficult to accurately determine what you are doing in comparison to your squad mates. There were even a couple of occasions where our swine allies stole our kills!
There’s also the issue of in-game help being slightly confusing and badly presented. We find it essential nowadays (due to a new-found laziness) for a relatively complicated game to have a spoken tutorial or help section. While Battlestations does have ample help prompts (some that can be intrusively annoying, in fact) and training videos, they don’t help the information stick well enough. Trial and error seems to be the best way to progress.
This leads us onto one last major point: while this is definitely better than the original game (Battlestations: Midway) it has some of the same problems plaguing it. As mentioned above, an apparent easy-to-use console interface segues into “what the...?” control schemes, not helped by the poor tutorial elements. Thankfully, ships can now be repaired during battle, so that’s one old problem that has been fixed. This sequel’s design seems to be a mix – some bad things remain, while others have been scrubbed away.
Still, for those looking for a flying game (primarily) that’s just about fun, but that also has more depth than, say, HAWX, Battlestations: Pacific is a decent bet. While it might have some problems, there’s plenty of interesting elements to get stuck into, and, if the multiplayer can take off (no pun intended) Eidos might be onto a winner. It has nice fluffy clouds too.
May 13, 2009