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Battlestations: Midway
by Neal Stevens
March 13, 2007

Planes, subs, and surface ships

A few years back, there was this naval game called Battlestations: Midway being developed by someone called Mithis Games. Occasionally some artwork would surface on the web, showing tantalizingly detailed ships and provoking a flurry of speculation. I contacted Mithis Games in March 2003 to get some details and the  rep told me they had just signed a publishing deal and to "be patient, more info would be coming soon". Well, we all know what "soon" means in the game business. It doesn't mean anything.

Jump ahead four years, factor in publisher Eidos (Tomb Raider), and Battlestations: Midway is here. The first question that came to my mind was would Battlestations: Midway be a dated game? A 2004 game released in 2007? If that occurred to you, relax. Battlestations: Midway does not look or play like a game trapped in development purgatory at all. It is a WWII Pacific theater naval action game that gives the player planes, subs, and warships to command, similar to some of the other naval games Subsim has reviewed over the last year (Navy Field, Warship Gunner 2, Pacific Storm). It comes in PC and X-box 360 varieties. This review covers the PC version.

The action begins with a basic set of tutorial missions that quickly get the player up to speed with the controls and features.  Anyone intimidated by the complexity of a simulation like Silent Hunter 3 or Sub Command will love Battlestations: Midway. This is an arcade action game, not a simulation, and the controls are fairly easy to master. The ships, planes, and subs are not difficult to manage; of course, their sailing behavior and physics are not realistic, either. Speed, direction, and aiming the guns are about all the player controls.

The game boasts having 60 planes and warships, from Yamato battleships, B-17 bombers, Elco torpedo boats, Zero fighters, Northampton Class cruisers, Brewster Buffalo fighter, and Yorktown carriers, to name a few. Visually, this is true but in an arcade game, a Type-B Japanese sub feels pretty much the same as a US Gato sub. Although planes and ships exhibit arcade physics, they do not all fly or sail exactly the same; bombers and carriers maneuver more slowly than PT boats and fighters. Torpedo bombers cannot simply fly at the enemy ships and let rip, they must slow and descend close the the water for the torpedoes to survive  the impact and track true. Same with dive bombers--come in to steep and the bombs will not explode properly. Ship's guns have a nominal reload time of a few seconds, and the player will need to plan his maneuvers to bring the guns to bear on the target. These are essential elements that force the player to develop realistic skills and fight accordingly.

The same can't be said for the submarines, unfortunately. Subs can sail faster than their WWII predecessors, around 30 knots surfaced, 25 knots submerged, a nod to action-oriented game design, no doubt. They only carry a few more torpedoes than historically accurate, but they have greatly shortened reload times. Setting up a firing solution for submarine torpedo attack is a simple matter of point and shoot, being sure to get in close and lead the target. Everything is sped up and simplified as a part of the game balance.

Each vessel has a health bar (but no floating power-ups, thank Neptune) and ships also include a simple damage control station where the player can assign manpower to stop flooding, fires, and repair equipment. Subs can descend to three preset depths: periscope depth, cruising depth, and test depth. They are safe from detection or attack at the deepest setting; but they slowly accumulate hull damage so the player has to use the deep setting very sparingly. The subs also have a tightly limited supply of air, and this aspect together with the undetectable depth setting comprise the most prominent tactical elements of the game. Subs can readily take out oncoming destroyers with head-on attacks, and they can blast speedy PT boats with the deck gun; but when a combination of DD, PT boat, and a cruiser attack, the player will have to employ skill and quick tactical thinking to survive, let alone prevail.

 

 

Once you complete the naval academy, you can select between the campaign, multiplayer, or challenge missions. There are three challenge missions for each category; ship, plane, or submarine challenges, a series of instant encounter missions with objectives and they are challenging. But they play out exactly the same way each time so it's just a matter of adjusting your strategy until you find what works. For example, on the third and most difficult submarine challenge, I had two Japanese subs to take out the USS Enterprise carrier. Enemy forces included a pair of destroyers, air patrols, a cruiser, and a swarm of PT boats. After I discovered that Enterprise leaves harbor and proceeded north after a certain point in the game, I developed a strategy of drawing out the escorts and sinking the DDs with torpedoes, then surfacing and attacking the speedy little torpedo boats with my deck gun, all the while keeping an eye out for the air patrol and away from the cruiser. I stationed one of my subs in Enterprise's path to complete the level.

The single player campaign offer only the US side. It is tightly scripted and centers around a young naval officer. His career begins commanding a PT boat during the attack on Pearl Harbor and progresses through the main engagements of the war to Midway. Along the way he and his buddy fly torpedo planes, sail destroyers, and cruisers, and eventually command a fleet. (John F. Kennedy makes a cameo over the radio during one of the high-paced PT boat missions). At the beginning of each mission the player is given a chance to set the difficulty level, so if you fail a mission a few times, you can always make it easier on the next attempt. Some of the missions have several encounters, so after you accomplish one objective you may be given another. However, there are only eleven missions in the campaign, so when you complete it, you are finished. This game does not include any kind of instant action generator, mission editor, or dynamic campaign, greatly limiting the replay value.

A key feature of Battlestations: Midway is the ability to play as a first person shooter, where you are onboard a battleship or plane, directly controlling the unit; and the ability to direct the entire fleet from a map. At any time during the game the player may hit the TAB key from the map and assume first person control of the unit he has selected. The most notable thing is the other units will carry on their orders with competent AI. I would direct a squadron of fighter planes to intercept an incoming air attack, then set a destroyer on a zigzag pattern to search for enemy subs, while ordering a battleship to engage the enemy carrier. Then I could jump in a plane, dogfight until I lost the enemy planes in the clouds, then jump to the destroyer and fire at the same planes with the AA guns. When you leave a unit, the AI takes over. In another mission you may have control of two submarines and you can jump from one to the other, working over the enemy ships and evading the escorts. It is a standout feature that works very smoothly and adds a great deal to the appeal of the game.

As I pointed out, there is only one campaign and just a few single missions. The good news is Battlestations: Midway includes multiplayer that supports 8 players over the web and it works. The gameplay is very reminiscent of Iron Wolves; fast-paced, intense, and entertaining. An assortment of nine multiplayer maps often allows the player control of several units, but once the engagement commences you will be hard-pressed to switch around until your present unit is killed. The battles last between 20-40 minutes and usually you only have to wait a couple of minutes from the time you enter a server lobby until the game gets underway. Unless you know the other guys on the server, it may take a couple of games for everyone to settle down and cooperate but once the communication and tactics are ironed out, Battlestations: Midway multiplayer is a very enjoyable and rather addictive experience.

 

 

The overall game design of Battlestations: Midway is well constructed but I did have some gripes. As pointed out previously, this is an action game, not a simulation. Health bars and simplified sailing models are expected, but there are parts of the game that step too far across the arcade line to keep me fully immersed in the gameplay. The control scheme for the subs is one example. You can view all around when beneath the water and visually track the surface ships as they approach. You can even see clouds and planes above the surface. I would have preferred this to be a realism option where the sub player could opt for more realistic combat and be forced to employ only the normal map view with sonar bearing lines when submerged with the scope down.

Once the mission objective is reached, the mission is over. So, if you are in a hotly contested battle with all sorts of units, and the main target is sunk, you do not get the opportunity to continue the fighting or land your planes. Planes seem to have unlimited ammo and AI ships will reverse course and skit around dodging torpedoes much more adroitly than a 10,000-ton vessel has a right to. Another significant shortcoming is the lack of joystick support. There is a preset for a Logitech Extreme 3D Pro joystick but it did not work for my Sidewinder Pro. This makes piloting aircraft a mouse and keyboard affair; allowing the player the ability to fly planes using  a stick would really enhance the PC version.

Visually Battlestations: Midway is no Silent Hunter III but the graphics are solid. You can play using three different overall graphic themes, with the game looking like old grainy movie reels, normal, or bombastic. The ships, planes, and installations are nicely presented. Sailors and officers populate the decks of ships and airfields. Explosions send pieces of ship hurtling into the skies with billowing fireballs, but depth charge blasts did not produce the typical geyser effect associated with their use. I especially liked the water beading effect on the screen when my ship took a near-miss or my torpedo bomber ducked too close to the waves. In addition, the sound effects are adequate and the score stands out.

While battles in BSM are strictly clear weather, daytime affairs, the gameplay keeps you interested. A carrier op may have you stationing escorts ahead to search for subs and launching a fighter umbrella over your ships while your Avenger torpedo bombers take off. Then when your PBY scout plane locates the enemy task force, you strike out for the enemy. Flying the Avenger was my favorite role; coming in low and slow, lining up for a torpedo shot on a carrier while destroyers throw up sprays of AA and Zeros swing in on your six to take you down. Battlestations: Midway can generate some intense moments.

Some players are strictly simulation-only guys, others could care less, they just like stuff with subs and ships and things that go "boom!". I'm in the camp that treasures a highly accurate and challenging simulation, but also enjoys a fast-paced romp with a naval game. My only insistence is that an action naval game has to be fun and entertaining, and Battlestations: Midway is both. By combining the tactical map and capable AI with seamless first person control, Eidos have created a nice little game that will appeal to causal gamers and first-time subsim players. But the amount of gametime it offers is really, really short. If it had a dynamic campaign or random mission generator, it would rank among the best naval action games I've played. Unless Eidos fixes this or releases additional campaigns*, the multiplayer is all that keeps it from ending up as shelf ballast after a week. Which is a shame because Battlestations: Midway has a lot going for it. I hope the fact that there were three more years of naval battles in WWII after the Battle of Midway is not lost on Eidos.

Rating:  72

Realism Historical Accuracy Graphics Sound/
Music
Game play Repeat Play Stability
/Bugs
Multi- play Mission Editor
9/20 8/10 8/10 7/10 17/20 4/10 9/10 5/5 0/5
BONUS: +5 Well-designed unit switching scheme

 

Publisher: Eidos
Developer: Eidos Hungary Studio

 *Xbox 360 Battlestations: Midway players will get the chance to engage in fresh new Pacific battles as two new historical battle maps and brand new vehicles become available on Xbox Live Marketplace for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft. Read here for more.

  SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Minimum configuration (640X480, detail reduced)
o OS: Windows XP Home, Pro, 64bit edition, Windows Vista
o Processor: Intel Pentium 4 2Ghz or AMD Athlon XP 1800+
o RAM: 512 MB
o Video card: nVidia GeForce4 series (not including MX cards) or Radeon 9000 (1.1 pixelshader compatible)
o Sound card: DirectX 9 compatible

Recommended configuration
(Up to 1280X960, all features on)
o OS: Windows XP Home, Pro, 64bit edition, Windows Vista
o Processor: Intel Pentium 4 2.5Ghz or AMD Athlon XP 2400+
o RAM: 1 GB
o Video card: nVidia 6800 Series or Radeon X800 (2.0 pixelshader compatible)


 

 


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