We’re back in World War II, except this time the South Pacific taking part in key naval/aerial battles around 1943 onwards. The victory of Midway was a key turning point in the region for the Allied forces, but there were many other key moments, of which Battlestations Pacific thrusts you into these like the commanding aficionado you are. Taking its cue from Battlestations Midway, this new game adds some more features and allows you to tackle the Japanese and US campaigns, ultimately allowing gamers the chance to re-write the history books.
Battlestations Pacific (BSP) is unique in the sense that rather than opt to provide gamers with a thrilling aerial combat game, it offers the chance to get your hands and feet wet by controlling water based war machines as well. This is probably the most striking feature of the game (aside from playing as the enemy – depending on where you’re from). Choosing either side will thrust you into a commanding role against the opposition, with missions requiring a good grasp of all types of vehicles. It can get a little hectic, because you’re not restricted to just one unit at a time. In fact, you’re able to switch on the fly to various air and water based units. This is pretty handy and a stand-out feature, because certain craft are better suited to particular objectives – so for example, using bombers versus ground based bunkers is preferable over simply shelling the ground targets with artillery fire from your ships. There’s no right or wrong way here, and as you can switch up your strategy at any time, in most cases, means there’s lots of room for experimentation. The AI also does a reasonable job at keeping things together when you’re not in direct control.
At its heart your primary/secondary objectives are pretty simple, destroy the opposing forces, or at least cripple them, and capture any key points on the fairly large maps. Your opponents will tackle you with an equally powerful force as your own, although when the story dictates there are opportunities to ‘pwn’ the opposition into submission with superior forces. So that’s lots of fighters, bombers, anti aircraft fire, and bombardments from ships to mess around with, and if you’re feeling a little more tactical you can switch to a detailed map view and dictate orders from there whilst the AI does your bidding. You’ve got a reasonable amount of tactical control here and depending on your skill it’s quite possible to conduct entire missions from this perspective.
The gameplay on offer is a melting pot of ideas melded into the one neat package and for the most part, once the not so steep learning curve is bested is pretty easy to get to grips with – leaving victory only a whisker away once you’ve sussed out what you can and can’t do. The general pacing is pretty slow though, and depending on the mission you might be left looking at a seemingly slow moving ship for what feels like an eternity. This is somewhat broken up a little by changing craft and simply performing different tasks whilst your slow moving ships get into position. Perhaps the slow pacing might not appeal to everyone, but does offer a welcome build up to when your enemies do come into range and are ready for the proverbial pounding from your heavy weapons. When the action comes then it’s pretty full on, because there is a full scale war going on with ships battling it out on the waters and planes overhead filling each other with rather large holes. The ability to hot swap into various craft lends itself to the urgency of the situations and means there’s never a dull moment as aerial combat is distinctively different to water based play.
The Japanese were a formidable adversary, and the game makes no beef of this whether you’re playing with or against them. We’ve all heard of the kamikaze fighters, who showed a dedication unmatched by allied forces, and to be in control of one of these is possibly a gaming first – where it’s a deliberate action as opposed to user error. The overall story is perhaps a familiar one, and although you’ll get a mission overview between missions, is really secondary to just jumping in at the deep end and fending for yourself. There’s very little difference between the two campaigns but missions are well diverse and worthy of playing, just to see what the outcomes are for your efforts. There are some neat touches in the story thrown in from time to time, such as sneaking into Sydney harbor in a sub to spot various craft. It’s this diverse gameplay that makes the game welcoming and enjoyable to play, despite some simplicity in regards to the water based combat.
The graphics are reasonable although not as pleasing on the eye as some other similar games. There’s some decent models presented, but with some non-eventful animations means that you won’t get to see too many details like you would an RTS game, which is shame, because the damage effects are actually quite good. So if your ship gunner gets bombed, he’s just going to stand there without even flinching – it somewhat takes you out of the game.
With day, dusk and night missions to tackle, there’s enough visual splendor on offer to break up the fact that you’ll be seeing a lot of the blue stuff. Volumetric clouds and real-time weather effects also aid in adding some variation to what could have been pretty dull fighting arenas, so this is to be commended. The game runs pretty smoothly with lots of craft on-screen at the same time, and with real time control of ships and aircraft means you’ll be shooting down and sinking opponents unhindered.
The audio is filled with the constant chatter of your forces amidst the rampant booms of gunfire and explosions. Your crews will give you mission Intel, as well as updates on your status constantly which in turn translates to an aural picture that at times can get a little cluttered in this regard. Although in general the performances are adequate, when you throw in an orchestral soundtrack as well then you’ve got an assault on your ears that is as action packed as the graphics. The regular sound effects do their job as expected, and overall there’s never a dull moment so you’ll be hearing these a lot – although if you do want to quieten things down, or turn them up then you have a selection of audio options to tweak to suit your tastes. In most games this can be ignored, but with the sheer number of sounds available is possibly worth tweaking for this game.
Two campaigns, an offline skirmish mode, multiplayer and online matches means there’s quite a lot to sink your teeth into. Some missions can also stretch out and eat away time like a guzzling monster from 10, 000 leagues beneath the sea. So if you’re after quick fix gaming, then you might be a little out of your depth here (and the deliberate water based puns keep seeping through here – Ed.) when missions can take up to an hour. There’s something for most gaming tastes though, and if the elongated missions prove too much, then the faster paced skirmish game modes should cater to your desire for killing things quickly.
BSP is a worthy WWII game, and although the period is perhaps more worn than most, still feels like there’s a lot of fresh ideas to be had here. BSP doesn’t disappoint in this regard, because it offers a compelling and diverse gaming experience that is probably unrivaled – well other than Battlestations Midway. With the choice to hot-swap and control sea and air based vehicles of various types really does propel the game way above games which simply focus on the one type of craft.
If you can submerge yourself into the relatively slow pacing, conquer the watery depths by using the map view, and become a seafaring god at the helm of a battleship, alongside clipping the wings off opposing fighters in the skies, then there’s certainly a positive glow around the game and much enjoyment to be had. With a little more graphical finesse, there’s no reason for this series to not be one of the better visits to WWII this generation. As it stands, offering diversity, simplicity and enough depth for those willing to sink their play beneath the surface, Battlestations Pacific is well worth checking out on number of levels. Quite frankly, the gameplay is very much welcome and well worth playing for action and strategic gamers alike.