Battlestations: Pacific

Review

posted 8/10/2009 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
When I first turned on Battlestations: Pacific I wasn't sure how into it I was going to be.  While I appreciated the short amount of time I had with the first game (Battlestations: Midway), I wouldn't say that I was its biggest fan.  What's more, after dozens and dozens of old timey first-person shooters, I'm a little burned out of the whole World War II setting.  But I soldiered on, hoping that this brand new Eidos Interactive sequel would prove my skepticism wrong.  I'm happy to report that this is exactly what happened.  After playing through the single- and multiplayer modes, I can honestly say that I am a true believer in the Battlestation franchise.

I won't lie to you, BattleStation: Pacific starts a little slow.  Ultimately this is a real-time strategy/action game hybrid, combining the best elements of both genres to create an arcade-style strategy game that has you locked in aerial dogfights and fighting boats and subs with your naval units.  Unfortunately the game starts out only giving you a small taste of what's to come.  The first few missions have you shooting down enemy airplanes, sinking supply boats and waiting for something exciting to happen.  While these missions are a good way to introduce you to the deep world of Battlestation: Pacific, I found that many of these missions went on for far too long.  It wasn't until several missions into the game that I really started to understand the appeal of this franchise, and that's when I went from a hater to a changed man.

There's no story to speak of, just a series of ever-increasing set pieces.  You get cinemas before each mission and a brief statement telling you what's happening (and what you're supposed to do), but you're never invested in any of the characters or learn anything about the crew your working with.  It is, for better or worse, a historical game that shows you what you need to do and you do it.  For the most part I'm fine with this, given the game's set-up, I'm not sure I need some heavy-handed story tugging at my heartstrings.  I want to just get in, blow some crap up and then get the heck out as soon as possible.  And that's exactly what you do in Battlestations: Pacific.

One of the reasons I wasn't immediately turned off by the game's World War II setting was because of the type of game it is.  If this was another first-person shooter set in the 1940s, I'm not sure I would have spent this much time with the game.  After playing through what feels like thousands of generic WWII shooters, I can honestly say that it feels like I've put in more time fighting that war than our brave soldiers did.  But this game is different.  While it's set during the Second World War, I was so sucked into the action that it didn't matter what year it was.  This combination of strategy and action would work in just about any conflict, so I rarely thought about the game's wholly cliche setting.

Battlestations: Pacific is NOT a first-person shooter.  Whatever you do, don't buy this game hoping that it's the next Call of Duty.  This is a vehicle-focused experience, one that will have you switching from airplanes to battleships to submarines.  Sometimes you will only play as one type of war machine, while in other missions you will switch from one to the next at the press of a button.  This is a game about you dive bombing your targets and then immediately switching to the submarine to send out a barrage of powerful torpedoes.  This is not a game where you get out and run around, instead you are always piloting one of the game's 60+ vehicles.  This works out perfectly, since you rarely get to fly around in those first-person shooters.  It also works out because of how well everything controls.  Even though you are going from one disparate vehicle to the next, the controls are always tight and consistent.  The boats may be slow and the planes may be able to perform crazy tricks in the sky, but it's always easy to pull off the move you want when you need to.  And since the combat is arcade-style, you'll find that the game is incredibly forgiving to those just starting out.

The reason that Battlestations: Pacific works so well is because of the atmosphere.  As you speed into battle, you can't help but notice how much action is going on all around you.  The computer-controlled characters are always doing something, so it's easy to feel like the part of something big when you set up your shot and take your enemies.  Even though I wasn't playing with real people, I found myself excited every time I saved a fellow soldier's butt from being chased.  Even when you're playing something as boring as a submarine, I took great pride in patiently lining up my shots and getting direct hits each and every time.  It felt like I was always contributing in a positive way, which is not something I'm used to from a war game of this size.  Usually I feel like I'm just riding on a rollercoaster, not actually making a difference.  Perhaps it's because you can always monitor the whole warzone, but I always felt important while playing Battlestations: Pacific.

But enough about how this game makes me "feel," let's get into the nitty-gritty of what makes this 3D strategy game tick.  Each mission gives you multiple objectives, most of which involve destroying a large enemy ship or taking out a whole gaggle of airplanes.  Some objectives will have you defending your valuable ships for a certain amount of time, or, in other missions, you'll have to protect other vehicles on your own side.  Either way, you'll always have at least a couple of objectives to complete before you can head back to the ship and call it a day.  On top of the game's main objectives, you will also have secondary and hidden missions, which are not required, but will certainly get you extra points (and maybe an achievement or two).

As I've mentioned already, you will be taking to the sky, floating on the ocean and even going deep to surprise your enemies.  These crafts, while simple to control, have their own quirks that you will have to master if you're going to beat all of the game's missions.  For example, the airplanes are quick and easy to maneuver, but they can be shot down easily.  On the other hand, a battleship is slow and tough, but maneuvering the craft can be tricky (especially when you're having to look all around in order to fire missiles and take out airplanes above).

On top of just learning how to drop bombs from above, launch torpedoes and call in back-up, you can also purchase new crafts, equip different weapons and launch more airplanes in the sky.  What's more, you can also micromanage where everything is going to go, that way you can quickly switch from one character to the next getting the most out of the battle.  This ends up working perfectly, since the game's AI is actually rather smart and fun to fight next to.  All this will no doubt seem overwhelming at first, but I assure you that within a few missions you will be taking out the enemy ships with the best of them.




Battlestations: Pacific gives you two completely different campaigns to play through, perhaps in an attempt to appease the people angry with the first game's sort single-player mode.  You can play as either the American forces or as the Japanese.  Both campaigns are based on the real battles that took place during World War II, even if they don't play out exactly like they did in real life.  For the most part these battles are just excuses to blow up the enemies, but there are a few specific events that everybody will immediately recognize.  For example, early in the Japanese campaign you are told to bomb Pearl Harbor.  From a gameplay standpoint this mission is a lot of fun, but it lacks the emotional punch that you associate with this tragic event in this nation's history.

When the game is at its best it has you right in the middle of a full-scale battle.  These are the missions that require you to set courses, plan ahead and, most importantly, switch between all of the vehicles on the map.  And that's not all you'll have to do, you will also be charged with buying new airplanes, repairing your boats, lining up shots with your submarines and pushing the Japanese back as far as you can.  These are the battles that seem to go on forever, and when they're done you wish they would keep going.  These are the missions that test your mettle, forcing you to remember everything you learned up until this point.  These are the missions that make Battlestations: Pacific so exciting, and you'll be talking about them for weeks to come.  I'm not saying the rest of the game isn't interesting, but they pail in comparison to these large-scale battles.

The problem is, not every mission can be an edge-of-your-seat action-filled contest.  Some missions are rather boring, having you sit around and wait for something or shell other vehicles from miles away.  Though the truly boring missions are few and far between, they are still there nonetheless.  Other missions start out fun, but ultimately go on for too long.  The joy of this game is the variety, so being forced to dogfight for twenty minutes can wear down your patience.  But that's fine, for every boring mission there are at least three that will remind you why you love war games in the first place.

There are a few other problems you have to deal with, too.  One of the biggest seems to be the atrocious voice acting.  Over the last thirty years I've heard my fair share of crummy voice acting, but it never ceases to take me right out of the experience.  The acting is at its worst when you fire up the Japanese campaign.  The potentially offensive Japanese accents and dialog was enough to make me cringe, and it doesn't seem to get any better as you go through.  The Americans may not be as bad, but that's certainly not saying anything.  Much of the speech is delivered with little to no emotion and a general disinterest in the situation.  You're in the middle of a gigantic warzone with your fellow soldiers getting shot down, how can you be this disaffected?

Thankfully these are only minor gripes.  I immediately forgot about them once I went online and took part in this game's remarkable multiplayer modes.  From what I hear of the original, Battlestations: Midway failed to deliver the strong online gameplay that many World War II junkies were hoping for.  That's not the case with Battlestations: Pacific.  This game's multiplayer modes are on par, if not better than the single player campaign.  Not only are there a bunch of unique modes exclusive to this game, but all of them will suck you in for hours at a time.  These are not your standard set of World War II online activities; they are fully realized missions that take everything that was great about the offline game and gives you real people to take down.

The online games are varied and always fun, not something you can say about every World War II action game.  Some modes will have you trying to protect other crafts from enemy fire, while in another mode you in another mode it's an all-out dogfight.  Perhaps the most intriguing mode is Island Capture, which involves you attempt to capture an island with bases on them.  The object for both sides is to capture neutral and enemy bases, receiving victory points as you control the bases.  What impressed me was how different these modes were each time I played them.  Even with the same people, I found that each match felt fresh and new every time I played it.  Throw in some cooperative gameplay and you have one of the best multiplayer games of the year.

It didn't take long for Battlestations: Pacific to win me over. While there are a few things I would have changed along the way, there's certainly enough here to warrant the game's price tag.  With solid graphics and a fair amount of variety in each mission, you'll be at Battlestations: Pacific for some time to come.  Considering how good this game turned out, I can't wait to see what the team can come up with next.





B+
I didn't expect to like Battlestations: Pacific, but it only took a few missions for me to fall head over heels for this little strategy game. With great online play and two satisfying missions, Battlestations: Pacific proves to be one of the best games of its type on the Xbox 360.