The battles of World War II were fought on terra firma, in the deep ocean, and in the skies, testing the mettle of our nation’s vast army, navy, and air force, respectively. So why do so many WWII-themed games focus on only one limited facet of this expansive and epic historical conflict? Instead of a mere snack-like morsel of American and Japanese military might, Battlestations: Pacific offers an appetizing three course smorgasbord that will fill your belly with a tasty mixture of third-person combat and real-time strategy played out on land, sea, and air.
In 2007, Eidos’ Battlestations: Midway laid the groundwork for its latest effort with explosive WWII naval and airborne encounters that mingled a healthy dose of strategy and action for a mostly satisfying and authentic experience. Rather than thoroughly revamping things for Pacific, the team focuses on expanding, polishing, and honing the gameplay to kick the intensity up a few notches. Beefing up the visual effects and touches, ramping up the number and types of units to control, doubling the game’s length with two robust campaigns, and implementing some compelling online multiplayer modes goes a long way towards improving on the original design. At its core, Pacific may look and play very much like its predecessor, but most of the kinks have been worked out of this well-oiled war machine.
Battlestations: Pacific forgoes the more traditional story narrative of the first game, instead following the war efforts of Japanese and American forces as a whole through two lengthy campaigns. Much of the setup is provided by cutscenes, dialogue, and scenario briefings that crop up before, during, and after each mission. While the American campaign progresses closely along historical timelines, playing as the Japanese lets you explore an alternate history where Japan’s military carves a path of victory through the pacific islands following the devastation at Pearl Harbor. Though a few missions here and there tend to lag slightly, both campaigns feature plenty of moments where chaotic battles unfold intensely and offer a very satisfying variety of approaches to defeating foes.
Across the game’s numerous missions, you’ll conduct a sizeable force that includes a staggering array of airborne fighters and bombers alongside submarines, aircraft carriers, destroyers, battleships, and other seafaring vessels. For a more strategic approach, you can command and direct your forces in real-time across a large overhead map screen, but what makes Pacific so much fun is the ability to instantly hop into any of your deployed air or sea units to take over for some hands-on action. Whether you want to switch from pummeling an enemy carrier with your powerful destroyer’s cannons to a below-surface torpedo attack in a nearby sub or zip from hiding underwater to the approaching friendly bomber overhead for an airborne bombardment, these quick and simple, single-button transitions keep the action pumping. Though there’s definitely an advantage to personally taking controls of individual units, the highly competent friendly A.I. lets you seamlessly jump back and forth between units from moment to moment without having to worry much about your recently abandoned vessel.
Each unit type controls differently and provides a unique set of tools and tactics to draw from. Small planes are great for strafing runs and dogfights but are useless against more heavily armored opponents. To make them more versatile, most can be equipped with depth charges or smaller bombs to drop on ships and subs. In comparison, larger bombers are slow and hulking – and easily shot down by quicker fighters – yet deliver a heftier payload. You can also jump back into the tail turret gunner seat to blast bogies while the A.I. handles the bulk of the flying. Plane controls initially take some getting used to; after some hands-on time they iron out and feel more natural. Down at sea level, vessels of varying size and armament require careful maneuvering to properly utilize all of the guns available. Maintaining course with the engines and steering can be done at any time, while switching between artillery cannons, anti-aircraft guns, depth charges, and torpedoes. Slow-moving subs can travel at different depths and sneak attack ships with torpedo runs. Watching the trails snake through the water towards unsuspecting enemy vessels through the binocular-like view of the periscope is highly enjoyable, yet all units have a feature that allows you to follow the path of ordinance until it meets its intended target.
While repairing planes in mid-flight is out of the question, your ships will require spur of the moment repairs when a torpedo has you suddenly taking on water or a direct hit to your magazine has you erupting in a large fireball accompanied by acrid black smoke. Popping up a simple directional repair interface lets you select what problem to tackle without taking too much of your attention away from blowing holes into your adversaries. Taking down enemy ships is a lot more enjoyable with the ability to cripple their movement by targeting the engines, or starting major fires by nailing their fuel supply.
The vast majority of the action remains focused on naval and airborne combat, yet the ability to send troop carriers onto the shoreline and capture island bases to use to your advantage is a great addition. It’s a slow process that requires you to whittle away at base defenses and keep your sluggish carriers afloat amidst incoming fire. However, taking over land-based anti-aircraft gun encampments and turning them around to use against your foes is as satisfying a reward as co-opting a landing strip to launch backup fighters close to enemy fortifications.
Retro cutscenes complete with grain-film presentations appear at regular intervals at the start and conclusion of missions and in mid-battle when you complete specific objectives. The extra level of polish applied to the units and environments are a marked improvement over Midway. Looking closer at ships, you can even see deck hands milling about amidst explosions and billowing smoke. The beautifully rippling waves are hyper-realistic and weather effects – particularly, a stormy night at seas with ominous clouds and flashes of lightning – have an overwhelmingly positive impact on the presentation. In sharp contrast, the generally poor voice work found throughout the game is a puzzling disappointment.
Beyond the much-improved length and scope of the two main campaigns, Pacific’s expanded online multiplayer component features five modes that offer a little something for all tastes. Island Control lets you stage massive, enjoyably time-consuming coups to nab and defend territory across large maps. For different styles of combat, there are escort missions, smaller duels, and siege defenses, and a competitive mode driven by scoring points for completing objectives. The co-op and competitive multiplayer content nicely rounds out the package. A few small blemishes aside, Battlestations: Pacific is the well-rounded, substantially improved sequel that fans of the first game were hoping for. It chisels out some of the rough edges of Midway and adds a lot of new material into the mix without substantially changing the formula.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
A nice level of added polish makes the environments and units pop. 4.0 Control
Some controls are tricky to grasp at first, but they’re very flexible. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great music and sound effects. Horrible dialogue. 4.2 Play Value
Greatly expanded dual campaigns mix well with robust multiplayer modes. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.