What would have happened had Admiral Chester Nimitz taken personal command of a battleship in the Pacific Theatre of World War II? What would have happened if the commander of the Japanese forces had personally decided to take flight in a bomber plane and attack Pear Harbor? Eidos Hungary‘s eclectic combat simulator, Battlestations: Pacific, answers these questions and more by letting you play as virtually every role player in the Pacific Theater of WWII.
Battlestations: Pacific, the sequel to Battlestations: Midway, is no mere World War II simulator/strategy game. Though most WWII strategy games let you experience the second Great War from one perspective, be it a foot soldier, fighter pilot, or battleship commander, Pacific lets you lets you play from the perspective of everything from a ship captain to a flight commander to a gunner on land. But like many sim-everything games, Pacific suffers from unfocused and unrefined gameplay.
While Battlestations Midway puts you in the shoes of one US Naval Officer as he rises through the ranks, Battlestations: Pacific dispenses with any coherent storyline. Instead of an individual character, you play as the omnipresent commander. Your omnipresence allows you to take command of almost any game vessel, vehicle, craft or gun at almost any point in time in the game without excuse. Unlike its predecessor, Pacific doesn’t confine you to commanding American forces only. For the first time, you will be able to command Japanese forces in a completely separate campaign from the American levels.
In the game’s American 14 campaign levels, you lead U.S. forces from the Battle of Midway to the end of the Battle of Okinawa. In the Japanese 14 campaign levels, you can change history and lead Japanese forces to victory in fictionalized versions of battles like Midway and Okinawa. In each of the campaigns’ levels, you can maneuver your troops from a command menu, or personally take control of fighter planes, bombers, aircraft carriers, submarines, battleships, or land-based gun rigs to get right in a mission’s action. Even if you take control of a single craft, you still have to command all your side’s forces in the mission—a major responsibility.
You can play each of the game’s levels in Rookie, Regular, or Veteran mode. Before you enter a mission, you are treated to video and audio presentations of its objectives. Though levels are recreations of historical battles, they follow a familiar formula: most involve destroying enemy airbases, sinking enemy ships, or protecting craft from enemy attacks. While playing levels, you will often receive new level objectives through radio transmissions.
At the beginning of most missions, you will find yourself in direct command of either a naval vessel or aircraft in a squadron. Having direct command means that you have full control of a vessel/craft’s steering and weapons. You can also control the actions of the squadron your vehicle is apart of, which means you can order other squadron members to line up, attack, and disband.
It’s important to remember that in each level, you fight to achieve level objectives with the help other air, water and land squadrons backing your squadron up from other points on the level map. As you are technically the commander of all forces in a level, you can directly control almost every vehicle, craft, or gun in a mission, no matter the squadron.
Using the E and R buttons, you can switch from controlling an aircraft carrier in one squadron, to controlling a plane in another squadron. Or, you can shift from manning a gun on land, to commanding a battleship at sea. You can shift perspectives at any point in a level—-though you will likely only change a perspective for a reason (for instance: aircraft carriers don’t have excellent weapons, so when they’re attacked by battleships, it’s best to switch an airplane perspective to fend off the boats). Game vehicles share the same WASD control scheme for maneuverability, but each has specialty controls for certain purposes.
In levels, you often have to put out multiple fires at once. All too often, while you’re commanding a battleship in a sea battle, a radio communication will inform you that bombers are attacking one of your airfields. Or, similarly, while you’re trying to bomb a building with an airplane, you’ll be informed that your side’s battleships are under attack. Sometimes, your enemy will attack three different parts of a level map. You can rotate between squadrons to handle all the attacks, but that can get complicated. In fact, you might say that far too much of your time is spent organizing your troops. Or, alternatively, one of the more unique/challenging/aspects of the franchise is juggling all of these different forces at once.
The best way to handle the multiple enemy attacks is to press your Tab button, which will take you to a tactical map of a level with the location of all your squadrons on it. On the map, you can order any of your squadrons to fight in, or protect areas of the map that you’re too busy to defend.
While you’re fighting a battle, radio transmissions will keep you informed of the progress your unsupervised forces are making in their assigned battles. Still, you should check in with them from time to time, or you’ll lose track of what they’re doing. While playing, I often neglected my duties as commander of one squadron so that I could command another. Frequently, while helping one squadron complete a level objective, I would find out that I had failed another objective because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to another troop under my command. You truly have to be a gifted manager to play Battlestations: Pacific or else you won’t be able to handle the chaos of some levels.
How easy it is to command squadrons sometimes depends on the difficulty setting you’re playing. In a Regular mode level, I was able to leave a squadron of planes unsupervised to fend off enemy bomb attacks on one of my naval bases without having to constantly check in on their progress. The squadron, with little instruction from me, was able to handle the attacks. Granted, the squadron lost a lot of lives, but they successfully fended off enemy bombers. However, I went back and played the same level in Veteran mode. In Veteran mode, I had to take a much more active role in commanding my plane squadron, as the enemy bomber planes seemed more intelligent and more maneuverable than they were in Regular mode.
Not only is it hard to keep track of your forces, it’s also hard to maneuver game vehicles. I often got really frustrated trying to make battleships and aircraft carriers turn. Battleships can only fire at enemy ships when parallel to them, and parallelism takes a lot more effort to achieve than it should. To me, most game vehicles seem to move very slowly. As battles are constantly happening in game missions, it’s desirable to have vehicles move fast to get to attack points. All too often, I felt like I was watching a pot try to boil while attempting to get a vehicle from location to the next. The only thing that boiled over was my patience.
The universal WASD control scheme makes controlling game vehicles, from submarines, to fighter planes, to bombers not unique experiences. For example, I noticed very little difference between Japanese and American vehicles. Pacific fails to achieve the realism of having different fighters/ships control differently.
Graphically, the game seems less advanced than current combat games out there. Game objects, like planes, aircraft carriers, etc. seemed more animated than realistic. I felt like I was watching a Pixar animation at points rather than engaging in a combat simulation. I played the game on an i7 iMac and environmental details never seemed crisp or bright. The game takes place in the Pacific Ocean, an area known for such beautiful locations like Hawaii and Samoa, but the game’s lighting doesn’t do its settings justice. The game’s lighting felt like was meant to light East Germany, not Pacific Ocean environments. Still, there are details in the game that are really well rendered. Water, for example, looks very realistic in the game.
I was once an ardent player of The Sims. I loved that game because I was able to take full control of every detail of my sim’s life. In many ways, The Sims and Battlestations: Pacific are alike. You have an almost God-like control of your gameplay in both. The Sims however, is a slow game, not a lot happens in it unless you make it happen. Battlestations: Pacific is a war game, which means that by definition, it’s fast, making omnipresence harder to accomplish. In fact, Pacific makes you shift your focus way too often. One minute, you’re controlling a battleship, the next you’re a fighter pilot, the next you’re a submarine captain. In levels, when you’re trying to accomplish one task as commander of a single craft, you still have to keep track of every other force under your command. Because you’re attention can easily get divided in the game, it is hard to get bored, but at the same point its hard to enjoy one aspect of combat because you’ll have to switch to another aspect quickly.
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Unfortunately, experiences like controlling an airplane, controlling an aircraft carrier, or controlling a fighter plane, are not distinctive enough. What should be distinct and fun experiences instead end up being stale and generic. The game’s universal control scheme can be blamed for the lack of differentiation, but Eidos Hungary’s insistence on trying to make Battlestations into an everything simulator has ensured that no one area is developed enough. If Battlestations: Pacific’s developers had put more effort into letting you enjoy one single game experience for a long period of time, it would be a better game. Instead, Battlestation is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
[Sam Felsing is an editorial intern for Macworld.]