Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: May 12, 2009
It seems as if war games always shy away from the idea of a battle being an intensely personal experience or something to be viewed from so far away as to become almost impersonal. Even games that thrust the player into the middle of large battles tend to be forced on small aspects of those conflicts. One of the more unique exceptions to this rule, at least on consoles, was Battlestations: Midway. Released a little over two years ago, Battlestations: Midway had some unique ideas, playing players in control of an entire fleet, while also giving them the ability to step in and take control of a single unit in the fleet. Unfortunately, the game was held back by some rather nagging issues, and as a result, it was met with a fairly lukewarm reception from gamers. Fortunately, Battlestations: Pacific is shaping up to fix many of its predecessor's problems and give gamers a chance to experience something between the usual battlefields.
Battlestations: Pacific is divided into two story lines: U.S. and Japanese. The American campaign is pretty simple, opening up with the aftermath of the Battle of Midway and ending with the invasion of Okinawa. The Japanese campaign is a little more special; due to your interference, the Japanese campaign does not follow the actual course of World War II. Battles that were lost can be won, and the entire story progresses on a fictional path where things change quite a bit. If you're not a WWII buff, it might not be blatantly obvious where the story diverges and doesn't, but even folks who merely glanced at their history books will be able to enjoy these battles as something they haven't encountered in another video game.
A Skirmish mode is also available for gamers who want to hop into the action without worrying about the historical backstory. The Campaign mode offers players secondary and "hidden" objectives, in addition to the required tasks to complete the stage. While you can avoid these objectives, completing them improves your overall ranking, which in turn can unlock new units, so they shouldn't be overlooked unless you're in danger of losing the stage.
When you first pick it up, Battlestations: Pacific seems fairly similar to its predecessor, although a lot has been done to make it more user-friendly. The interface has been cleaned up, making it much easier to see exactly what you have available. The controls are functionally very similar, but everything feels a bit smoother and easier to grasp, giving the entire experience a slightly more arcade feel than the prior game. Players take complete control of one unit on the battlefield so they can use it in whatever way they wish. You can pilot anything from tiny patrol boats to dive bombers, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. You're given a series of tasks to complete, and you must use your available units to accomplish these tasks as best as you can. Use them foolishly, and you'll be forced to retreat and the game will be over. Use them wisely, and you can turn the tide of battle or possibly change history.
Despite the arcade-like nature of the title, Battlestations: Pacific isn't a one-man army game where you rule the skies as a single ace. You simply take control of one part of the battlefield at a time. You can jump between almost every unit under your command, switching from bases to planes to submarines at the touch of a button. This can be done either through in-game commands or by using the tactical map screen, which gives you an overhead view of every unit under your command. You can choose to see their positions or issue commands for the AI to carry out without your guiding hand. Bases are the most stationary of units, and you can capture new ones as the game progresses. They're where you launch new units from, and each kind of base, ranging from airport to navel port, allows you to deploy different vehicles. You don't have an infinite number of units available, so you should make careful choices when selecting the ones that you want.
Planes are your primary offensive force in Battlestations: Pacific, and you'll probably spend most of your time flying them because they're by far the most versatile. Controlling them is simple, with the left analog stick handling speed and the right analog stick controlling your pitch and roll. Most planes are armed with a basic machine gun, but a few have unique special weapons — including bombs, rockets and torpedoes — that can be used at the push of a button. Your machine guns can be used at will, but anything stronger than a peashooter is going to require recharge time between attacks, so you have to make every shot count.
One of the most interesting new features for planes in Battlestations: Pacific is the addition of kamikaze fighters for the Japanese side. Usually, a fighter who rams into an enemy ship does no damage and simply results in the loss of the ship. The Japanese side has access to kamikaze units, including planes, explosive-loaded boats and even "human-guided" torpedoes and missiles. Ramming these into an enemy ship provides an incredibly accurate and extremely powerful weapon, at the cost of one of your men and his craft of choice. It's worth noting that not all Japanese units can do this. A suicide unit has to be loaded with explosives and is generally lightly armed, so using it requires actual planning on the player's part, not simply a desire to ram into the enemy at any time. It's also a unique Japanese ability, and U.S. soldiers won't have access to any suicide machines.
Ships are the heavy hitters of your forces and probably will be what a player controls when he's not using an aircraft. Ships come in all shapes and sizes, and tend to represent some of the greatest firepower you can bring to bear in the game. Ships are much slower and less versatile than aircrafts, with your left analog stick controlling the ship's course and speed, and your right aiming whatever weaponry you're current controlling. Most ships have a number of different weapons available, ranging from artillery to torpedoes, and you can switch between them at will. The catch is that your weapons tend to be positioned on certain places on the ship. A ship may have eight artillery batteries, but you can't use all of them at once unless you're positioned in a very specific way. This means that the key to controlling a ship is rooted as much in ship positioning as it is in firepower and accuracy. Ships can be damaged in a number of ways; depending on where the enemy hits you, you can lose your engines, weapons, or even suffer a hull breach or fire. In order to fix these problems, you have to assign crew members to certain parts of the ship by clicking the left analog stick to open a mini-menu. It's very easy to do, but a player who isn't keeping tracking of his ship could very quickly find himself dead in the water.
The final major kind of unit is the submarine. Compared to ships and planes, you probably won't be spending as much time in submarines. They're very situational, but powerful, units. Movement controls are almost identical to those on a ship, and a submarine can be controlled in basically the same way, although you also have the ability to dive underwater. There are four levels of "depth" for submarines. Level 1 is the surface and allows you to move at top speed and use all your weapons, but you're quite visible and vulnerable to enemy attacks. Level 2 lowers the submarine just under the waves and renders the submarine invisible to units without radar. You can still fire torpedoes at this depth, but your deck weapons are useless, and you're extra-vulnerable to depth charges. Level 3 takes away your ability to attack but offers additional protection from depth charges, although you're not invincible. Level 4 is an "emergency dive," which causes the sub to go to a depth where the pressure is enough to rupture the hull; remaining at this depth for extended periods of time will cause the sub to implode. On the plus side, you're invisible and invulnerable to enemy attacks and radar at this depth, which makes it a useful way to escape from enemies in a pinch. On top of that, any depth below Level 1 begins draining a sub's oxygen, so it has to resurface from time to time to replenish. Run out of air, and your sub automatically surfaces, which can be quite bad if you come up right next to an enemy destroyer.
As with Battlestations: Midway, Battlestations: Pacific is a multiplayer-focused title. While the single player campaign looks to offer a good amount of play value, the thing that is going to keep players coming back is Xbox Live gaming. As such, Battlestations: Pacific offers a number of potential gameplay modes that focus on different aspects. Island Capture is probably the closest thing to the single-player campaign. Each player begins with a base and can order units to deploy by spending command points, and your goal is to capture new bases to earn more points and unlock new units. Capture all bases or earn enough "victory points," and you win. Escort mode pits two sides against one another, with each side trying to destroy his opponent's defense targets while protecting his own with pre-determined units. Siege has both sides fighting over island bases, with one side trying to protect them and the other capture them, and this is once again done with pre-determined units. The last two modes play up the arcade-style changes and focus almost entirely on the player's skill. Competitive mode has two sides, U.S. or Japanese, trying to destroy the most enemy units or conquer the most objectives within a certain time limit, with each player controlling only a single unit at a time. Duel mode is a head-to-head battle, where players take a single unit against a lone opponent to see who will be the last one standing.
Battlestations: Pacific isn't a tremendous change from its predecessor. A lot of the same elements are present, and anyone who played the original is going to find that a lot is familiar here. There are a number of new features that make it a much more pleasant game to play, including some small interface tweaks and a slightly more friendly control scheme. The two campaigns should provide a fairly lengthy single-player experience, but like the prior title, the real replay value looks to be in the many multiplayer modes. Players looking for a chance to change history, or just for a military game that doesn't involve a single viewpoint, will want to check out Battlestations: Pacific when it hits next month.
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