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Posted on Jul 31, 2009 in Electronic Games

Battlestations Pacific – PC Game Review

By Larry Levandowski

Battlestations Pacific
Eidos Inc. and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

Passed Inspection: Beautiful 3D Environments. Fun mix of strategy and arcade play.

Failed Basic: Some tedious campaign missions. Slow frame rates in big battles.

Battlestations Pacific is a refreshing and compelling shoot-’em-up that is easy to recommend.

After a hard day working to pay the rent, even hardened PC grognards like to sit down for some mind-freeing carnage. No number crunching or need for much historical accuracy, just pull the trigger and watch the bad guys go "boom." Battlestations Pacific, published by Eidos, is just that sort of game: an easy-to-play, hearty, arcade game, with gorgeous graphics, served in a compelling strategy wrapper.

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Battlestations Pacific is all about the pure joy of shooting down enemy aircraft, dropping bombs on their ships, and pounding them with your ship’s heavy guns. In each scenario, the player takes control of a WWII Pacific task force of ships, aircraft and land bases. He can direct his forces from a strategy screen or take direct control of one of his units.

The strategic element takes the game from a run-of-the-mill shoot-’em-up to something with more compelling depth. The strategy map is a quick key press away. From this screen, the player can see all of his ships and flying squadrons, along with spotted enemy units. From here the player can direct his units to attack the enemy, protect his own ships, or go out to search for enemy units. When the player’s trigger finger starts to itch, he can easily select any of his units, and then jump into the cockpit to join the action.

The sound and graphics are good enough to have come from Hollywood. Aircraft and ships are beautifully and accurately detailed. You can almost taste the salt in the air as you skim the waves in your Japanese B5N Kate torpedo bomber. When you shoot at an enemy aircraft, you see your shots make the engine smoke. Then the wing gives, and the target is engulfed in a satisfying fireball. Voice acting can sometimes be a little hammy, but the explosion and engine sound effects nicely complement the environment.

The game comes with a US and a Japanese campaign, a series of tutorial missions, and plenty of multi-player and solo skirmish battles. There are so many missions out of the box that players will definitely feel they are getting their money’s worth.

Campaign missions are based on historical events, and there are plenty of history lessons in these canned fights. For example, early in the Japanese campaign, the player is given the historic mission to sink two British battleships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, off of Malaysia in 1941. Each of the campaign missions follows the actual historic flow of the war.

Missions have a set of goals that must be accomplished to win and advance. These goals could be to sink a particular enemy ship or take an enemy held island. In many missions, the player has a pool of aircraft squadrons or ships he can launch. The player makes the choice of what type of plane and armament to use from a set of bombers or fighters. Trying to stop an enemy land invasion? Fighters armed with rockets may be better than dive-bombers when it comes to taking out the small landing craft. Trying to sink an enemy battleship? Torpedo bombers do the job best.

In the game, the player can fight from ship or aircraft. In many scenarios, the player moves back and forth from surface to air combat constantly. From the captain’s chair, the player can fire the ship’s big guns, launch torpedoes or defend the ship from air attack with AA guns. One nice feature is that the player’s units are competent on their own. When the player wants a break, he can direct the action from the strategy screen and stay out of the fray.

Because players can vary where and how to fight each battle, most of the combat in the game is exciting and draws the player in. This reviewer found solo skirmishes to be the most fun. In these, the player chooses his own task force to complete a mission like island capture or protecting the fleet; so making some good strategy choices are important to winning. The variety of piloting different types of units, combined with some strategic thinking, really takes the game a few notches above its competition.

However, there are dark clouds in BP‘s sky. A few of the campaign missions, like the aforementioned sinking of the Repulse and Prince of Wales can be a little tedious. In this mission, the player is limited to flying bombers that keep going after the target until the enemy is sunk. There are plenty of explosions and wonderful graphics, but the player just points his aircraft in the direction of the target and hopes that AA won’t take his plane down before he gets there. In BP, tedium occurs when the player is locked into one unit type and cannot jump around to different types of vehicles or aircraft.

While BP is an unabashed shooting game, it does not require the reflexes of a fifteen-year-old to play. Aircraft and ships behave somewhat realistically. Ships turn and move slowly, so fighting from deck never really feels frantic. A furball—that’s a confused dogfight, for the ground-pounders among us—above the ocean has aircraft locked in a deadly duel, but the pace is more like a realistic flight simulator than twitch-and-click shooter. Even if the player is tagged, and his aircraft turns into a ball of flame, he just hits a button and moves to the next plane.

BP rarely lets its historical veneer interfere with the player’s fun. The game does not even pretend to have accurate flight, ballistics or damage models. Flight maneuvers rarely bleed so much speed that the player’s aircraft stalls and when you do see the stall warning, recovery is quick and easy. A well-placed, one-second burst from a Zero can take down a P-40 every time. Dropping steel fish from a torpedo bomber only requires that you line up the drop, you don’t have to worry much about drop speed or angle. For players looking for fun, with just a smidgen of realism, BP‘s mix is just right.

The game offers a wide variety of aircraft and ships to control and fight from: American P-40s, and Hellcats to Japanese Kates and Zeros, to cruisers, troopships and submarines. However, while a fighter plays differently than a bomber and much differently from a troopship, there really isn’t much difference between aircraft in the same class; a Wildcat flies pretty much like a Zero, and an Avenger feels just like a Kate.

Like flight models, the control scheme is pretty simple. Just so the player doesn’t forget what to do, a list of control key hints regularly appears in big letters on the screen. There is a definite console feel to it all, and for pure PC gamers this may be a little awkward at first. Still after a few battles the controls become second nature and even grow on you. For die-hard PC pilots, the game also supports setting up a joystick.

The enemy AI has one tactic: charge in, guns blazing, and ignore casualties. But with this game, discussing the AI is missing the point. The player’s job is to destroy as many of the enemy as quickly as he can. Killing the enemy is not hard, so the bad guys come at you in waves. Once you take out one wave, you have thirty seconds to take a breath before the next wave arrives. Sometimes the game feels a little like one of those arcade games where you blast waves of zombies with a shotgun; but BP is much more satisfying and not as frantic.

Those players looking for human vs. human fights will find that BP is a great way to frag their gaming buddies. The game connects to Windows Live, where the player’s ranking is maintained from session to session. While multi-player match-up is not always intuitive, the feature works well once the player understands how to do it.

Overall, the game has a highly polished, big-budget shine. BP also has a strong console port feel to it, and that translates to "easy to learn and play." Everything is laid out well on the screen and after playing the tutorials, most players won’t even need to read the manual. Even those new to computer games will quickly catch on.

On the review machine, the game ran smoothly with only very rare crashes or lock-ups. However, in very large battles, like the attack on Pearl Harbor, frame-rates slowed to an annoying crawl on the review machine; a dual core, with 2GB of RAM, a GeForce 8600, running Vista 32. Strangely, reducing the graphic settings only made frame rates a little better. Fortunately, these crawl-fests did not happen often and did not affect overall enjoyment of the game.

In the final tally, as the fighters return to the flattop and the tin cans swish along, hunting enemy subs, Battlestations Pacific is a refreshing and compelling shoot-’em-up that is easy to recommend. Players will enjoy themselves to the very core as they blow up enemy aircraft and ships. The strategy element is icing on the cake that keeps the game fresh. However, BP steers hard towards playability and action; hardcore gamers who insist on realism may want to pass.

Wrap your Rising Sun hachimaki around your head. Signal "remove chocks" and taxi your Zero to the runway. Take to Battlestation Pacific‘s skies, for today you change history.

Armchair General Score: 82%

ACG Intel:

Battlestations Pacific

Larry Levandowski has been a wargamer for more than 30 years, and started computer gaming back in the days of the C-64. Until he recently discovered the virtues of DOS box and virtual machines, much of his computer game collection was unplayable. A former US Army officer, Larry has done his share of sitting in foxholes. Since leaving the Army, he has worked in the Information Technology field, as a programmer, project manager and lead bottle washer. He now spends his spare time playing boardgames, Napoleonic and WWII miniatures, as well as any PC game he can get his hands on.

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