Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: January 30, 2007
I know what you must be thinking. "Not World War II … again." It seems that in recent years, the Second World War has become the most reused backdrop for video games. From large epic war battles and commando raids to controlling individual soldiers as they run up the beaches of Normandy, it feels like everything's been done. There are multiple game series dedicated to just telling another World War II story, and one could almost consider it a genre of its very own at this point. So what does yet another World War II game have to offer to the already-crowded genre? The sad answer is not much.
The old phrase "jack of all trades, master of none" applies very strongly to Battlestations: Midway. The game attempts to mix strategy and action and does not do either particularly well. The strategy aspect is incredibly simplistic. From the built-in map screen, you pick a squadron using the cursor and then click when you want them to go. Click an enemy, and they attack; click an ally, and they defend; click anywhere else, and they travel there. It isn't particularly exciting to write about, and even less exciting to play. Once you've made a selection, there isn't much else to do but watch your ship, plane or submarine move to the spot and fight without you. Technically, the game allows you to take control of one of your units whenever you want, but the ally A.I. is so solid that it is almost less efficient to control your own troops for most gameplay elements. The only time I found actual control more efficient was during bombing runs.
Planes are the primary assault force in Battlestations: Midway. Launched from aircraft carriers or airbases, planes are the number one way to cause damage to foes. Different planes have different specializations; some function best in dogfights against other planes, others do well in rapid bombing runs, and still others can function either way, although less effectively than the dedicated machines. Despite their importance, planes are some of the more clunky things to control manually. The dedicated controls are awkward and stiff, and compared to simply letting the A.I. itself control the machines, it feels rather pointless to control them yourself.
Combat boats tend to be the heaviest hitters you have. Equipped with a wide variety of weapons ranging from artillery to depth charges, they can devastate anything in their way. The catch is that they're a lot more vulnerable to damage than anything else, since they're slow-moving behemoths. Any damage to the ship can cause all sorts of damage, ranging from piercing the hull and causing flooding in the lower levels to setting the ship's store of ammunition on fire. Players can attempt to reduce the severity of this damage by entering a special menu and assigning crewmembers to the areas in distress.
Although this is a cool element, the damage control ends up feeling like a gimmick more than something real to worry about. Damage control occurs automatically and without any help, and reassigning the crewmembers just increases the speed at which it happens. However, taking the time to go to the menu means that you'll take more damage in the current fight, thus negating the bonus provided by the extra speed.
Like the planes, it's best to leave ships to their own devices; give them a few quick orders, and they'll work just fine. Unlike the planes, however, boats control pretty well, and getting them to fight well just requires a bit of tactics. While they do control well, boats are also exceptionally boring to play, as combat is very slow and mostly involves circling the foe and pounding the same button over and over.
The third major kind of controllable unit is the submarine. On the surface, submarines are not overly different from some of the smaller classes of combat boats; they have a token set of artillery guns and other weaponry. Unsurprisingly, the big difference in submarines is their ability to submerge. Submarines can launch torpedoes at unaware foes at depth level two; depth level three is useful for traveling without being detected by foes who do not possess sophisticated sonar technology; and depth level four renders the submarine all but invincible to damage.
Naturally, this many advantages don't come without a cost. Submarines are the only units vulnerable to the very powerful depth charge weapon, they have to surface every so often for air, and if they lose their periscope, they are basically weaker versions of combat boats. For the most part, they control identically to the boat, with the only major difference being the ability to dive. Thus, while they're a bit more useful to control manually than a boat (in order to take advantage of their ability to dive fully), they're also very slow and dull.
Beyond combat boats, there are also aircraft carriers and air bases, which have little to no combat ability, basically functioning as home bases for your planes and boats. While controlling an airbase or carrier, you can configure the weaponry and type of plane or boat that the base launches. These are the core of your combat ability, and should thus be guarded. In the single-player game, keeping them safe isn't usually a worry, unless the mission specifically starts them off in a bad situation. Obviously, controlling them is pointless.
The online play in Battlestations: Midway is a clear case of a good concept marred by sub-par gameplay. In online play, each gamer chooses to join either the Japanese or America side, but instead of picking a single machine or unit, the player chooses a pre-built "team" of ships and/or air bases. Working together with the other members on your chosen side, you use your team to eliminate the enemies' ships. It's a fine concept, but it suffers from all of the same flaws that pervade the single-player experience. Controlling the ships and planes isn't changed at all, and the only major difference is that you're facing players instead of computer-controlled foes. If Battlestations: Midway were a better game, the online play would be spectacular, but the basic design flaws mar the entire experience.
For a next-generation title, Battlestations: Midway just doesn't impress. None of the models are hideous, but nothing looks particularly great, either. The mechanic models are perfectly serviceable but are not as good-looking when compared to even some of the other war games on the Xbox 360. Perhaps the biggest problem is the in-game FMVs. Used between stages to tell the stories of the two sides, the cut scenes are surprisingly unimpressive. All of the characters look plastic and fake, and it makes watching those scenes rather difficult, since they are so unpleasant to view.
It's difficult to talk about the audio in Battlestations: Midway because it is so lackluster. There isn't a single original or memorable song here, and the music is composed of unoriginal and clichéd "heroic war themes" as found in every other World War II game. The voice-acting is of slightly higher quality, but like the music, it doesn't particularly stand out. The only character who has a voice I can remember at all is John F. Kennedy, who makes a cameo in one of the early stages. Like the graphics, nothing is particularly terrible in the audio department, but is isn't memorable, either.
Battlestations: Midway is a title with an interesting concept that gets too bogged down in its own mediocrity to use that concept well. Most of the game can be played on autopilot — issuing simple commands and then watching lackluster ship models fight until one explodes. When combined with the incredibly short single-player campaign and the unsatisfying multiplayer mode, it's difficult to recommend Battlestations: Midway for anything more than a simple rental.
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