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Posted on Sep 5, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Pacific Storm – Recon (PC)

By Jim Cobb

Introduction

Although not targeted as much as the European Theater of Operations, World War II in the Pacific has had its share of games. Matrix’s War in the Pacific covers the strategic aspect in detail while SSG’s Carriers at War covered naval operations and tactics. Several flight sims such as Pacific Fighters have been developed while ground tactical combat is the province of Talonsoft’s Rising Sun and entries of HPS’ Squad Battles series. CDV, Buka Entertainment, and Lesta Studios have combined to produce Pacific Storm, a game that combines high level and operational strategy with tactical and arcade play. Such an ambitious project deserves a serious-look-see.

Pick A Level…Any Level

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Pacific Storm‘s main menu affords players three kinds of missions: campaign, tactical, or build-your-own tactical mission. The tutorial eases players into the game by starting with explaining the tactical game first – although reading the 179-page printed manual will help players understand this game’s depth. The tactical level will serve as the “come-on” for the game because its graphics are pleasing and interface simple. Players command task forces of ships and aircraft. Graphics for these 3D units are clear, sharp, and fairly detailed. Each unit type has its own icon, e.g. a diamond for fighter aircraft, when viewed from a distance. Views of the units are facilitated by the usual mouse and keyboard commands for pan and zoom. Order and information menus can be hidden so more action can be seen. Animation includes turrets swiveling, planes taking off from cruiser and battleship catapults as well as from carriers. Damage is gauged not only by graphics but also as percentage of a unit’s capacity to withstand attacks. Tracers cover the sky like fireflies when ships defend against air attacks. Environmental effects such as wakes, islands, and shell splashes can be seen and the sound of combat increases and decreases depending on the distance between the view point and the action. The standard mini-map is available for fast overview of the situation and easy selection of view points.

The red streak indicates that this US destroyer has beed targeted. A small American taskforce sails towards the enemy.
The USS Lexington fights off an air attack. A plane takes off from A Japanese carrier.

Controlling units on a tactical level is accomplished by two methods. Movement and targeting requires merely the usual “left-click, select; right-click, move or attack” system. Units can target an enemy while moving in another direction with a “Shift-right-click.” Movement plots are shown with green lines and attack axis with read ones. Units can be selected individually, lassoed as a group, or brought up by clicking an icon from a menu for their type and sub-types, e.g. planes – bombers, or variations of these with hotkeys. When a group is selected, all elements of the group are shown at the bottom left of the screen. Clicking on one unit brings up more detail such as health, ammunition and fuel levels, and a thumbnail picture of it. Double-clicking on the thumbnail takes players to that unit on the map. A command menu in the lower right allows players to give more detailed orders such as attack, cease fire, take off, and land with options to handle some aircraft operations automatically. Submarines can be controlled the most by being ordered to dive deep, come to periscope depth, or surface. Launch ranges for torpedoes can also be set. This menu also allows units to be given passive, defensive and aggressive stances, and sets different distances between units in a group. Orders can be given while play is paused and game speed can be increased.

When any ship or plane is selected, player can “inhabit” it with a keystroke. Taking over a plane allows a choice of four views: the cockpit and three external views. Keyboard and joystick controls allow features such as points of view, landing, pitch, yaw, and speed controls along with machine gun, bomb, torpedo, and rocket attacks. The cockpit gauges are limited but speed, altitude, and ammunition levels are shown on-screen. The flight models are not sophisticated but are better than many arcade games. Gun positions in bombers can also be manned by players. Positions on ships are limited to anti-aircraft guns.

In arcade mode, the player can be in the cockpit of a Zero. Manning a ship’s anti-aircraft mount.

The fourteen tactical missions are split between seven naval and air historical missions, ranging from the Pearl Harbor attack to the nuclear bombing of Japan, and seven generic missions such as escort or wide-ranging fleet engagements. Victory in tactical missions is achieved by destroying a certain number of enemy units or insuring the survival of particular friendly units, depending on the side chosen.

The battle planner allows players the choice of over twenty maps. Players can choose from a list of all units as well as setting the weather, time, unit experience, scenario length, and goals of the scenario. The builder’s interface is a simple drop-down menu and click system.

The Big Picture

After wreaking mayhem in tactical missions, players will discover that the meat of Pacific Storm is in the strategic campaign component. The strategic map shows the scale of operations with both sides of the Pacific Rim encompassing multitudes of islands that could become bases. For ease of reference, the area is divided into many sectors, some of which contain one or more of the critical resources of iron, aluminum, and oil. The game is actually fought and won over control of these resources. Combat victories are just a means to gaining them while occupying a number of the enemy’s home cities is a mere function of having the most resources. Essential in a game of this magnitude, the message log in the lower right not only describes events but right-clicking on the message takes players to the scene of action.

The overall US position in December 1940. The US can use Allied bases in the historical game.

Two campaigns are offered: historical and “free.” Although both begin in December 1940, the historical games starts with forces, resources, and political alliances as they were at that time so that the Japanese Navy is strong at the outset but the US industrial might dwarfs Japan’s. The two sides are on equal footing in the “free” campaign.

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