Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: Q1 2009
Battlestations: Midway was an interesting, if flawed, game. Being able to simultaneously command a fleet and take control of a single part of that fleet sounded great, but a confusing interface, lackluster story mode and poor visuals meant that it was doomed to obscurity from the moment it was released. It didn't help that the Xbox 360 version was basically a port from the Xbox and PS2 versions. Thankfully, a lukewarm reception wasn't quite enough to douse this promising franchise's flame, and Eidos Interactive is giving it a second shot with Battlestations: Pacific. Designed exclusives for next-generation systems and rebuilt with the customer's complaints about the first game in mind, Battlestations: Pacific is shaping up to be one heck of a sequel.
As with the first game, Battlestations: Pacific places you in control of a platoon during the heaviest days of the Japanese and Allied fighting during World War II. Your goal is to lead your side to victory by fighting your way through the various battles. One of the really interesting features in Battlestations: Pacific is the inclusion of a what-if scenario that assumes that the Battle of Coral Sea had gone the other way. You take control of the Japanese fleet as they advance through battles that never existed in a completely alternate version of World War II. During our demo, we got a walkthrough of one of these what-if scenarios at the hands of the game's leader designer, Boland Szalacsi. In this case, it was the Battle of Port Moresby, one of the Allies' last strongholds against the seemingly unstoppable Japanese juggernaut. If the Japanese, under my control, could take over the island, the tide of the entire war would turn drastically in their favor.
The game is similar to Battlestations: Midway yet refreshingly different at the same time. The biggest and most obvious change is that the entire title was far more user-friendly. While I was a vet of Battlestations: Midway, I was shocked at how incredibly easy it is to hop into Battlestations: Pacific and play. The rather confusing head's-up display and controls from the prior title have all been smoothed out and cleaned up. The AI is generally more intelligent, and the game has a lot of tweaks to make it much easier to get your forces in motion. One nice addition is a Beginner's mode, which makes it easier to target the vulnerable parts of an enemy's ship. In the regular mode, you have to know where the weaknesses are and aim manually, but the Beginner's mode targets them for you, making it less frustrating for new gamers to figure out how to take out a ship.
The Command Interface for commanding your army is also much improved. Setting up waypoints and commanding your task force is made much easier and more enjoyable than before, and the improved AI among your computer-controlled allies means that it's much easier to get your team into a good attack position. The screen is much clearer and easier to use, and we could set up various filters to keep our objectives clear. While it isn't a radical change and most of the basic features from Battlestations: Midway are here, everything had been cleaned up and streamlined so much that I had no trouble grasping it after a few moments of play.
As the battle progressed, we tried out a few of the various vehicles. The planes felt fairly unchanged, although the controls are similarly smoothed up a bit, and I had very little trouble completing my objective, which involved using torpedoes and explosives. One nice feature is that your ammo is no longer limited. If your plane survives, it will slowly regenerate rockets, which helps to keep the action flowing smoothly. The differences between the various kinds of air vehicles are still quite noticeable, and even the different airplanes under my control felt noticeably different. It's a nice balance of arcade-style action and realism that helps Battlestations: Pacific to really stand out.
The other major vehicle we got to try out was the Destroyer, a heavily armed boat. The primary purpose of the Destroyer is to show off one of the game's major new features: Island Capture. By sending a troop transport to an enemy-held island, you can land forces on the island to take it over. You see the human soldiers battling it out on the ground, and you can use your various vehicles to influence the outcome of the battle. In this case, we took our Destroyer's massive cannons and began bombarding the enemy formation just as our troop transport landed and spilled out a swarm of battle-ready soldiers in front of them. Between the Destroyer's constant attacks and my AI-controlled soldier's own actions, we quickly took out the enemy forces and conquered the island, giving us control of the resources there.
Battlestations: Pacific is going to have plenty of the same multiplayer action that was present in the first title. While we didn't get to see any of this, we found out that the online portion is going to be larger than the last game, with both online and offline multiplayer available to gamers. Considering that the online play was easily the strong point of Battlestations: Midway, hearing that this is only going to be improved in Battlestations: Pacific can only be a good thing.
One thing that really stands out about Battlestations: Pacific is how much better it looks than the last title. Unlike its predecessor, Battlestations: Pacific is only going to be launching on the next-generation systems, and as a result, it isn't held back by the graphical limitations of the Xbox and PlayStation 2. Unsurprisingly, that means the game looks much better. The terrain and models are all much crisper and visually pleasing, and the explosions are just fantastic. Throwing a barrage of rockets into an ammo depot and watching it go up in a glorious fireball is incredibly satisfying indeed. Despite the game's early state, it looks quite good, and its visual quality already blows the previous Battlestations out of the water.
Battlestations: Pacific is shaping up to be an excellent addition to a promising franchise. While the basic gameplay is mostly a refinement of the original Battlestations: Midway, it has been streamlined and cleaned up enough that it ends up being much more fun. The updated and more user-friendly interface makes it quite easy to sit down and play, and it takes no time at all to grasp the various important indicators on the screen. Combined with the improved visuals, Battlestations: Pacific just improves on the last game in every way, without losing the ideas that made Battlestations: Midway such a theoretically interesting title. If this high level of quality and effort carries through to the game's release, Battlestations: Pacific could be the title that turns Battlestations into a big-name franchise.
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