Battlestations Pacific19 Aug 2009 0
Author: Anthony Micari
When studying World War II, the Pacific theater has always fascinated me even more than the European. The large scale carrier battles, island hopping, the last desperate throes of kamikaze pilots, and the controversial decision to unleash the atomic bomb?there is something poetic about the rise and fall of The Empire of the Rising Sun. A nation that was under the boot heels of history for so long had finally unleashed its industrial and military capacity. It is without surprise than that this is such a ripe subject for the musings of alternate history. Examining how Japan could have defeated the United States shows how tenuous victory can be in such a large scale conflict.
Battlestations Pacific attempts its own retelling. Sequel to Battlestations Midway, which saw release on the PC as well as the XBOX 360, Battlestations Pacific is a fine sequel to a very competent strategy/action hybrid, and while wholly recommended, this praise does come with some reservations directed at the hard core simulation fans that I know populate The Wargamer.
For players unfamiliar with the series, Battlestations Pacific lets the game take direct control of a variety of ships and planes from the Pacific theater of World War II. It isn?t strictly a simulator, however, in that the game relies on a heavy dose of strategy. While the player can individually control any of the dozens of vehicles, they can?t be everywhere at once, and so it is necessary to order other units around on a separate strategic map. It was a captivating combination in Battlestations Midway, and while not quite as fresh, still manages to impress thanks to some new additions and a new coat of paint.
Battlestations Pacific has 28 missions spread out over two campaigns, one for the Japanese, and the other for the United States. There is no storyline to the missions other than cutscenes and voiceovers explaining each side?s progress in the war and the next set of objectives. This isn?t really a problem, however, as the gameplay doesn?t lend itself to a strict narrative structure.
The campaign for the United States picks up after the first game?s finale at Midway. With the U.S. victorious at this decisive battle, they go on to systematically wrest control of the Pacific from the hands of the Japanese. Japan?s campaign rewinds things a little and starts with the attack on Pearl Harbor, which serves as a tutorial. In fact the first few missions for each campaign are fairly linear and serve to teach the basics of the different types of combat in the game: dog fighting, bombing runs, ship combat, submarine warfare, and carrier battles. There are also separate tutorials outside of the campaign that let players choose a specific ship or aircraft and practice on various targets.
Learning to control each of the vehicles is a fairly simple affair. As with Battlestations Midway, Battlestations Pacific is not a simulator. Players that require IL-2 Sturmovik or Silent Hunter levels of realism will be disappointed. Each vehicle is controled in a very arcade-like fashion. Planes can stall but can recover instantly while ships can turn and change direction at impressive rates of speed. Damage modeling is likewise as complex as it needs to be. The highest level of detail is in ship damage, which allows targeting of a ship?s fuel and ammo storage section to deliver possible quick kills, or hull hits to cause floods, but does not model details like armor ratings beyond ?bigger is better.? Ammo is also unlimited, even on planes. This is offset by the amount of time needed to reload, which prohibits players from simply unleashing round after round.
Despite the more accessible gameplay, the game?s strength is in the variety. In the course of a typical mission the player will control combat aircraft to protect its fleet, take control of a carrier and launch reinforcements, bombard coastal fortifications in a destroyer, and dive or torpedo bomb enemy ships while desperately trying to avoid incoming flak. One great addition to the series is the ability to capture enemy held islands by launching troop carriers from transport ships, allowing reinforcing aircraft or ships to then be launched. The variety extends to the amount of weapons systems available. Options vary depending on the class of aircraft or ship being controlled, but through the course of the game players will utilize ship artillery, antiaircraft weaponry, torpedoes, depth charges, and more. The arcade control of the vehicle?s movements also transfer to utilizing their weapons. There are no complex ship systems to access or loading procedure. The player simply chooses their weapon, lines up the targeting indicator (which differs depending on the type of weapon) and fires. Firing again is a matter of simply waiting for a reload. The targeting indicators also assist players in hitting targets. For instance, when firing artillery, the targeting indicator displays a colored circle for each gun, which turns great when a shot is lined up. Dive or torpedo bombing , arguably requiring the most skill, is also made easier by a lead indicator.
Players can switch to any allied craft at will from accessing the strategic map. This gives an overview of the battle in real time, and allows the player to set waypoints, assign targets to allied craft, or choose which reinforcements to launch from carriers, airfields, or shipyards. Overall the system works well, with my main complaint being the effectiveness of the friendly AI. In one mission, I tasked my ships with bombarding a variety of land targets, including coastal guns and bunkers. They would close into range and fire, but could not seem to destroy them, often reducing their target?s damage bar to just a click above annihilation. I eventually had to step in and do it myself. I don?t know if this is intentional, as limiting the effectiveness of computer controlled craft makes it necessary for the player to do most of the dirty work. But either way it creates some frustration. Especially since the computer will destroy a target with brutal efficiency at other times. If a third installment in the series is made (or a nice patch to gameplay), it would certainly be great to see some kind of command rating that affects performance.
It must also be noted that the game essentially requires a Windows Live account. One can play the game without one, but the ability to save the game, as well as play multiplayer through the service, is lost. Being well acquainted with the Xbox 360, I was able to use my existing account, so I did not have to go through the account creation. It does allow for the easy purchase and installation of the downloadable content, but I know people have varying opinions on this so I?ll leave it up for the readers to decide how this impacts their decision to purchase.
Graphics, Sound, and Control
The first thing I noticed upon playing the sequel was the improved textures. The ocean and sky are simply beautiful to behold, and vehicles textures are much more detailed and offer a grittier feel than the first game. Explosions are also nicely done, and little touches such as plumes of dirt being thrown around when bombarding coasts add touches of realism to the frenzied combat. Equally impressive are the battles that take place during storms, with lightning pelting the surrounding waves. The other weather effects are equally beautiful, and it is thrilling to control a carrier as it cuts through the waves during a stunning Pacific sunrise. A very cool touch is the addition of a camera mode that lets players track their torpedo and bomb shots. By holding down a hotkey, the camera will follow the ordnance to its target, while the vehicle is temporarily controlled by the AI. A nice little touch.
The main theme is catchy, and overall the music is serviceable, if unmemorable. Sound effects are top notch. Explosions and bombardments have satisfying booms while the ricochet of strafing runs and kickback of artillery provide plenty of aural detail.
While I did not have any trouble controlling the action within the strategic map, doing things from within the 3D portion is not as ideal. I could tell Battlestations Pacific was designed with a console controller in mind, as the game also saw release on the XBOX 360. Players with a 360 controller and PC adaptor may find this preferable to mouse and keyboard control. While pressing keyboard hotkeys is to be expected in a strategy game, completing actions like launching reinforcements requires bringing up a menu with one keystroke, and then scrolling through the options using further keystrokes, whereas the same action could be completed with a click or two with a mouse. It?s a shame that the PC version was dumbed down since these interface problems are easily avoided on a PC.
Once I got used to this, however, things went more smoothly, and considering the number of different vehicles and weapons systems to utilize, everything is relatively streamlined.
Outside of the main campaign, Battlestations Pacific offers a lot of replayability, something sorely missing from the first in the series. Battlestations Midway did not offer any single player gameplay outside of its single campaign and tutorial missions, meaning that those gamers who like to fly solo were out of luck. Battlestations Pacific allows all five multiplayer game modes to be played against AI controlled enemies, and with the addition of island capturing, matches are now more dynamic. The game modes on offer range from dueling battles between set numbers of ships to all out island assaults.
There are eight initial maps to choose from, but since release Battlestations Pacific has had a few different online content packs offered for it, adding new planes, ships, and maps. Each player?s mileage will vary when it comes to this, but it?s nice to know the additional content is there. The only downside to all of this is that Battlestations Pacific?s servers are not exactly teeming with players.
It must be said that despite what one thinks of the arcade-style gameplay, it is clear the game was created with a love of the subject matter and attention to detail. Missions have secondary objectives, as well as secret objectives that have to be discovered and will unlock more powerful classes of ships and aircraft. Some missions have optional objectives that pop up from time to time and if completed, provide ?naval supplies? which allow for the purchase of reinforcements or other abilities such as hardened ship hulls, the ability to increase radar range, or boost the speed of aircraft. The completion of these objectives is tracked, and medal rankings based on the difficulty level are also awarded. There are also achievements through Windows Live for both single and multiplayer games.
Best of all is the Tactical Library, accessed from the main menu, that allows the player to view all of the planes and ships in the game and read a short history of each one and see either a static picture or in-game model of the craft. There are also short tutorial movies on every aspect of the game, providing a great refresher if the player forgets a game concept.
While Battlestations Pacific boils the complicated details of naval and aerial combat down to its bare essentials, it also provides players with and engaging action/strategy mix and a graphically beautiful representation of Pacific combat. If another entry is made in the Battlestations series, it should probably move to a different theater or war, but the developers have created an overall game design that is rock solid.
Battle At Sea: 3,000 Years of Naval Warfare, R.G. Grant ? This reference book from DK Publishing is an utterly engrossing overview of naval warfare of all ages, and has a great section on the War in the Pacific. Complete with detailed ship diagrams, maps and overviews of the major battles, and great photography, it?s a casual read that won?t insult your intellect.
Rising Sun Victorious, Edited by Peter G. Tsouras ? A collection of speculative essays by various historians examining what might have been.
Days Of Infamy, by Harry Turtledove ? Readers seem to be divided on Harry Turtledove, but I?ve found his stories to be interesting reads. This one has the Japanese capturing the island of Hawaii.
I have a number of books I can suggest, but I?d be glad to post any that you would recommend, too.
OS: Windows Vista/XP
Processor: 3Ghz or higher single core processor.
Memory: 1 GB RAM (XP) / 2 GB RAM (Vista) ? 8GB free hard drive space.
Video Card: 256 MB memory