If there is any one genre of games that there is certainly no shortage of, it's World War II games. Go look on the Xbox 360 games shelf of your local video game store and you will inevitably be greeted by at least one game based on this topic, whether it be a top end effort like the Call of Duty series, or some cheap attempt to ride the WWII cash cow, the game will be there. And so, it is with great pride I introduce you to another WWII based game; Battlestations: Pacific.
Battlestations: Pacific is the sequel to the moderately successful title Battlestations: Midway. What both these games have in common is a fresh take on WWII, which focuses on the large scale naval warfare as opposed to yet another first person shooter that involves shooting Nazis in the face. Speaking of shooting Nazis, you actually won't shoot them in this game, the war in this case is between the Yanks and the Japanese, and is focused around the events of the infamous Pearl Harbour. But enough about the story, lets delve into what makes this game so different.
The core mechanics behind the game consist of you taking control of two key types of unit; naval and air. This immediately splits the game into two drastically different playing styles. Flying the planes is a fast paced affair filled with thrilling dogfights and daring bombing runs, whilst controlling the naval units tends to be a slower, more methodical and tactical approach. On top of this, you then get the ability to be in command of multiple units, whilst also being able to take direct control of any of the units. The command portion is a wonderfully streamlined system, giving you quick and easy access to send your units off on their tasks. Once you are happy with your orders, a quick tap of the d-pad lets you take direct control of any of your units, you can then flick between them at will. What this essentially means is that you are never really left with nothing to do. If your ships are taking a while to reach their targeted destroyer, why not switch to some planes to take on a torpedo or bombing run. If your ship is being attacked by enemy aircraft then you could take control of the AA cannons to try and defend yourself. Alternatively you could always jump into the cockpit of a fighter plane and take down the threat that way. It's wonderful stuff.
This does bring me to my first real complaint with the game however. Far too often the game will force you into controlling a single unit, and while this isn't disastrous as it is still fun to play, it is still hugely disappointing. This game shines when you are hopping between units and giving orders left right and centre. Take away that ability and the game becomes just another shooter, albeit in a new setting. Now it's still a good shooter thanks to good controls and well balanced gameplay, but it falls shy of the excellence mark.
In terms of gameplay the game comes packed with two full blown campaigns, one of which focuses on the Americans fight against the Japanese, and the other reverses the roles, pitting you in a 'what if' scenario, where you control the Japanese as the start beating the good ol' US of A. For the most part both of these campaigns are nicely paced and are enjoyable to play, although once again there were a few too many missions where I didn't get full control over the fleet, although the later missions tended to rectify this. The key issue with the campaigns is the disappointing tutorial, if it can even be called that. What the tutorial boils down to is a number of pop up info boxes that appear when you get put in a new scenario or new unit. It truly is a horrible way to learn to play the game. Rounding out the single player package are training grounds for the various units, and an option to play all five of the different multiplayer modes in a skirmish against the AI.
Speaking of multiplayer modes, these were the modes I was most excited about, and talk about a slap in the face! In Battlestations: Midway there was a standard Team Deathmatch multiplayer mode, which was an absolute blast to play and basically consisted of two teams pitted against each other in a fight to the death. The units on the battlefield were evenly divided across the players on the team, so the more players there were, the less units you got to control, but you always had a few different units to flick between. Gone is this wonderful mode, replaced by five mulitplayer modes, which quite frankly miss the mark. Four of the five multiplayer modes restrict you to control of a single unit, which as mentioned above just isn't the game's strong point. These modes have some interesting ideas such as defending or assaulting a base in Siege, or trying to get your convoy to safety while the other team tries to blow it up in Escort, but ultimately they just aren't that great due to you being locked into that one unit. There is one multiplayer mode worthy of playing, and that is Island Capture. The objective in this mode is to capture islands in order to gain victory points, and the team who hits the victory point target first wins. This is the only multiplayer mode where you can take control of multiple units and it really stands miles above the other modes due to this. I can only hope there will be more modes similar to this added in the form of DLC.
The other thing that stands out in this game is the presentation. The various ships and planes look fantastic and accurately modelled, and sound just as good. It really is a fantastic experience when you can hear AA rounds and artillery rounds blasting all around you, while planes are getting mowed down in the air, and ships are slowly creaking and succumbing to the murky depths of the ocean. This is the kind of game that makes you glad you bought that surround sound system. The menus and cutscenes are also slick and well designed, rounding off a visually and audibly impressive package.
Unfortunately as much as I like this games at certain moments, there are some questionable design decisions that hurt the game overall. Why would you force players to control a single unit!? Why!? However, once you get past these niggles you will find a very enjoyable strategic shooter, with plenty of depth and some hugely enjoyable moments.