Battlestations: Pacific Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted May 12, 2009

If you're a fan of World War II games, check out this X-Play Review of the multiplatform 'Battlestations: Pacific'. Featuring over 20 hours of gameplay with plenty of side missions, this strategy-action hybrid allows you to control troupes and pilot planes, to try and rewrite the history of World War II in the Pacific Theater.

The Pros
  • Clever mix of both action and strategy
  • Revisionist history
  • Great online component
The Cons
  • Lots of babysitting AI units
  • Slow ships and subs
  • Long load times

Eidos’ action-RTS hybrid Battlestations: Pacific, their follow-up to 2007’s Battlestations: Midway, lets you experience some of World War II’s most significant Pacific battles from the perspectives of land (kind of), sea and air forces and from both the American and Japanese point of view. Seeing as the majority of WWII titles (at least on consoles) are first-person shooters, it’s refreshing when a game like this comes along and tries to offer a broader perspective and depict war on a more worldwide scale, rather than on a soldier-on-the-ground scale. It’s also nice when the game manages to pull it off, which this one absolutely does.

Writing (and Rewriting) History

Battlestations: PacificBattlestations: Pacific plays out like a video game version of Tora! Tora! Tora!, but with a little revisionist history thrown in for good measure. On the American side, you face off against all manner of Japanese forces, as you sail from one famous battle to the next (Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, etc.) on your way to V-J Day. On the Japanese side, things are a bit more interesting. In order to avoid imposing an incredibly moronic forced-failure system during the Japanese campaign, the developers decided to go the alternate-history route and give players the chance to see what would have happened if the Japanese had systematically defeated U.S. forces in the Pacific, ultimately captured Hawaii and made a push onto the continental United States.

Now, dive bombing and kamikazing U.S. forces, given the game’s context, is easily one of the more disturbing things I’ve ever done in a video game (and I’ve murdered prostitutes, halved people with chainsaws and nuked entire civilizations). What made it even more disturbing, though, was that I couldn’t help thinking about my relatives (and their fellow soldiers) who fought in WWII, especially my uncle who was a torpedo pilot in the Pacific. Even without the personal connection though, it’s still a surprisingly affecting experience, regardless of what nation you’re representing, especially when you catch a glimpse out of your cockpit window of a soldier on the deck of ship a second before smashing your plane into the ship’s hull. You just can’t help feeling a little uneasy, and that’s the true mark of a successful war game.

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No Shoveling *$#% in Louisiana That’s For Sure

The single player campaigns can take anywhere from 15 to 20 hours on the regular difficulty setting. Because the game relies on equal parts strategy and skill, your success depends on how quickly you adjust to its action-RTS design. For instance, commanding battleships, submarines and destroyers, all of which travel (at least perceptually) ridiculously slow, requires quite a bit of patience, especially during battles that require you to travel long distances, and ones where you don’t have planes to break up the pace. You’ll quickly realize that this war is equal parts careful planning and bombing the hell out of anything within targeting range. The action is certainly intense, but you will spend just as much time getting your forces into position as you will actually fighting, so be prepared.

Battlestations: PacificThe new Skirmish mode includes five battle scenarios that can be played across several scalable maps. It’s basically an offline version of the online multiplayer mode, and fans of the series so far will not be disappointed. The five scenarios are all unique and play out in very different ways.

The most massive and downright nutty mode is Island Capture. In it, both sides try to secure and defend various control points scattered across various islands. These battles get out of control so fast that within a minute, it’s not at all uncommon to see hundreds of planes dogfighting, going on torpedo runs, and dive-bombing ships, while dozens upon dozens of PT cruisers, destroyers and battleships exchange artillery and torpedo fire and level land installations at the same time as paratroopers are dropping into bases and ground forces are landing on shores in troop transport ships to secure the next checkpoint. It’s total madness, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. There are some pretty epic battles in the campaign modes, but none of them ever quite reach the level of insanity found in this skirmish mode. So fans of large-scale war scenarios will probably spend quite a bit of time here, which will actually serve you well when you finally decide to take the war online against up to eight other human players.

The action-RTS approach works well due in large part to the tactical map screen, which lets you select individual units, direct them to attack specific targets and then watch the icons fight in real-time. Not surprisingly, jumping between this map view and the third-person view really helps bring home the game’s sense of scope, especially when you jump into the cockpit of a plane (that a moment before was nothing but a simple icon on a map) on a bombing run being staffed by AA guns, while all hell breaks loose around you. Being a general might be the safer position to be in, but it sure isn’t the most entertaining or exhilarating. 

Running Low on Oxygen and Momentum

The biggest issue when it comes to troop directing is that units only sometimes think for themselves. If enemy units get within range, your squadrons will attack. But, if you order your units to attack an enemy, they will attack until that unit is destroyed and then just hover in that general area instead of automatically moving on to another target. Occasionally, if another group of enemies passes by, your guys might engage, but then they’ll just go back to circling empty parts of the map. With so much to worry about during battles, the last thing you want to have to do is go fetch disengaged units who aren’t contributing because their one order has been completed.

Battlestations: PacificAlso, the submarine missions on the Japanese side are excruciating. Most of them involve you sneaking undetected behind enemy lines to gather recon and perform surprise attacks on ships. While I certainly appreciate seeing this aspect of war, and I can see where the developers were going with them (i.e. tense stealth missions to counter the all-out action sequences), the missions just take too long and offer very little payoff. Plus, the straight up action in the game is handled so well that it’s a drag to have to go all single-unit-stealthy when all you want to do is fight insanely massive and intense battles.

There is also a rather strange issue when it comes to torpedoes. Naturally, getting a direct hit on enemy units takes perfect timing and skilled placement, and it’s incredibly satisfying when you pull one off. But sometimes, and for no good reason, torpedoes will mysteriously “miss” the ship you were aiming for, even if the torpedo is timed and aimed perfectly and even if another torpedo traveling just ahead or just behind it made contact. There is one mission in particular in which your torpedoes inexplicably vary in terms of when they explode and when they pass right through an enemy unit. The worst part is that they all travel at the same depth, so it makes absolutely no sense for one to hit and another to miss if they are both targeted and timed perfectly.

War is Hell…and Good Looking Too

Graphically, the game is solid, especially the water effects and the varying sea floor depths. There could be better machine gun damage on the planes, but generally, the destruction looks and sounds great. There are also plenty of nice little touches like being able to follow any rocket, bomb or torpedo you fire as it travels towards its target, or watching naval crews scurrying along ship decks just before the ship is split in two by a torpedo strike. Everything looks and feels authentic, meaning it all looks heavy and capable of massive amounts of destruction. The pre- and post-battle load times (in addition to the post-cinematic “Please Wait” screen that pops up before every mission) are a bit long, but given that most of the battles can last anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, they’re spaced out enough that they’re only slightly frustrating.

There are also tons of special units that can be unlocked by fulfilling optional objectives and performing skills challenges during missions (issuing 20 successful bomb runs, destroying more than one ship with two different submarines, etc.). These special units are then available to you before you load out on subsequent missions. The game offers a ton of replayability just in terms of straight gameplay, but these achievement upgrades and multiple objective options ensure you’ll be playing this game for quite some time.

Gladly Man Your Battle Stations

Battlestations: PacificIt might not be the WWII game to end all WWII games, but Battlestations: Pacific manages to strike a great balance between intense action and real-time strategy, and gives players a much broader and expansive view of a war that we are so used to seeing through the eyes of individual soldiers on the ground. The two lengthy, challenging and historically divergent campaigns, the massive skirmish and online battles, and the amount of unlockable unit upgrades mean time and money well spent. The gameplay style might take some getting used to, and there are few gameplay hitches worth noting, but overall it does everything a good war game should: simultaneously provide an intense and epic experience and scare the crap out of you.
Article Written By Jake Gaskill