by James "UnderseaLcpl" Maryott
Oct. 3, 2009
It began with a dastardly
surprise attack launched upon the American people by an empire seeking
domination. Japanese aircraft filled the sky over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii,
faced only by brave, but woefully unprepared Americans. In only a matter of
hours, the greatest free nation in the world at the time was seemingly
brought to its knees, reeling from wounds that would take many years to
fully heal. It truly was a day which would live in infamy.
Nearly 70 years have
passed since then, but most of us will never forget the atrocity of Pearl
Harbor. Fortunately, it seems that butchering history for the sake of
entertainment may not be such a bad thing after all. The folks at Eidos
succeeded where Michael Bay and the Hollywood empire failed. BSP is also a marked improvement upon its
For those of you
unfamiliar with the Battlestations franchise, the gameplay is a hybrid of
real-time strategy and something approaching simulation. Players can use the
game's tactical map to command squadrons and flotillas, or even individual
planes and ships, or they can jump directly into pretty much any unit in the
game and come to terms with the enemy personally. Sounds cool, right? It is,
but there is something very important to remember before purchasing a game from the Battlestations line; It is not a simulation and it is not
historically accurate, though it is mad fun. Want to attack Pearl Harbor
with Kawasaki Shindens? You can do that. Want to drive a diesel-electric sub
with a submerged speed of 35 knots? You can do that. Shoot down a Mitsubishi
A6M Zero with a Brewster Buffalo? Very possible. Shoot down another one with
an Avenger? Sure, why not? Care to sink a 5,000-plus ton troopship with
machine gun fire? It can be done. Perhaps think those old prop-job warbirds
should have had afterburners......and they do. Battlestations: Pacific is
about gameplay, not sim fideluity and I promise you, the gameplay
experience is worth dealing with that silliness.
Battlestations is a
game focused solely on semi-arcade combat action, so the controls are very
simple; left, right, faster, slower, switch weapons, put the cursor where
you want to shoot/fly, whatever, click to move a unit here, use this button
to cancel orders, jump to this or that unit, etc. That pretty much sums up
the complexities of control. As if that weren't enough, the game even
provides an aiming circle to show you where to shoot in order to properly
lead your target. I found that kind of annoying at first (how much skill
does it take to put the reticule over the circle?) but then I had the same
epiphany that the Eidos guys must have had; Missing sucks. Doing damage is
fun. Besides, you'll have plenty of things to worry about besides aiming in
BSP's hectic environment. And believe me, it is hectic. Frenetic
even. It approaches insanity at times. Shooting a plane down or broadsiding
a ship is easy. Doing it while also trying to find the time to order your
recon plane out of danger, reinforce your carrier squadrons, move some PT
boats to intercept enemy landing craft, put your destroyer squadron into a
new formation, and get it all done before the enemy fleet reaches the point
where your subs are waiting in ambush, that's hard. Even better, the sheer
amount of lead flying around in this game is freaking crazy. Every single
unit has infinite ammo for its primary weapons, with the notable exception
of submarines, which only have like 60 torpedoes.
Single Player Campaign
BSP is all about getting down to business, and what
better way to do that than to start with the single-player campaign? I
suppose it might be more appropriate to begin by describing the tutorial
first. Okay, fine: Move like this, shoot like this, pop the balloons, kill
the targets, kill the targets again while they are shooting back, set
Ok, on to the
single-player campaign, or rather, campaigns. It seems that the devs
must have decided that if one campaign is good, shouldn't two be
better? Hell, yes! There is now a Japanese "alternate history" campaign to
go along with the American side of the fight that was used in Battlestations:
Midway. Both campaigns are also much better than the original. For starters,
there is no crappy character storyline anymore. Gone are the left-handed
salutes and stilted performances of the first game's protagonists. Instead,
we get a decent-length intro movie to each campaign that shows your
character going off to war, and then some other stuff......it doesn't really
matter, it's basically just a sequence of battle scenes, some of which are
pretty cool. The closest thing to a storyline is that your character has a
wife who doesn't even speak (see? Inaccuracy can be good.) on the Japanese
side, and the American character likes some nightclub singer or something.
There is no dialogue. That's the limit of the love story and the plot. Are
we learning anything yet, Michael?
The campaigns are
something of an expanded tutorial that prepare you for multiplayer. There
are a lot of little tooltips and mission hints that will aid you along the
way. Each mission has primary, secondary, and hidden bonus objectives.
Completing the bonus objectives unlocks an advanced unit, that you can
choose to use in future missions provided that a unity of that type is
included in the mission. For example, you may unlock an advanced aircraft
like the B-29 Super Fortress, but you can only use it in missions where you
get heavy bombers; you must "upgrade" B-17s into B-29s. The game only allows
you to take one advanced unit in any mission, so choose wisely.
The variety of units
available for you to use is impressive. I was particularly happy with the
Sen-Toku sub, which actually launches scout seaplanes, but I also
appreciated the wide selection of other units , even if I didn't prefer many
of them most of the time. The campaigns force you to use all of the basic
units at some point or another, but also give you ample opportunities to use
all the advanced units if you have unlocked them, which is nice.
The variety of mission
types is also impressive. You will get a lot of basic "destroy the enemy
fleet" types of missions, but that's to be expected. There are only so many
ways to have one group of ships and aircraft fight another, after all.
Still, the game throws some creative missions in to break the monotony. I
don't want to spoil the surprise for anyone, but I will say that you can
expect to undergo everything from harbor infiltrations to covert rendezvous
to combat resupply missions. These missions are not intended to prepare you
for multiplayer, but they add some spice to the campaigns. Actually, the
variety of mission types in multiplayer is pretty nice as well, but we'll
visit that aspect of the game in a moment.
The AI is pretty decent
when it comes to small-scale engagements. It controls ships and planes in a
fairly intelligent manner, it doesn't totally suck at shooting, and you'll
oftentimes find yourself outmaneuvered because it can simultaneously control
all of its units. In larger-scale operations it isn't quite so good. It
will allow you to destroy outlying defenses piecemeal, and it prefers
wave-style attacks, whether or not the units at its disposal are
appropriate to the situation. It isn't uncommon to see a wave of torpedo
bombers charging into a nest of CAP fighters with no fighter cover, or to
see a small squadron of destroyers making a doomed attack run on a
battlewagon gun line. These weaknesses are somewhat offset by the
time-sensitive nature of many of the missions, or by the presence of
infinite enemy reinforcements to your limited supply, but you'll need a
human opponent for a real challenge.
See you on the field of battle
multiplayer is excellent. I had a few technical issues with getting it to
work (probably due to a persistent glitch that randomly decides to steal a lot of
bandwidth), but most players I talked to said it worked fine.
The most notable thing
about the multiplayer is the variety and enjoyability of the gameplay modes.
They range from simple deathmatch-style play to "Island Conquest" mode,
which is good for many hours of fun in my opinion. Island Conquest is a bit
like capture the flag. One side controls an island with defenses and
production facilities, and the other side must mount an amphibious assault
to capture and destroy those assets. Wise tactical decisions are important
in this mode of gameplay, as a head-on assault by the attacker or a "turtle"
playstyle by the defender are sure to result in defeat. The defender does
not have the resources to protect everything at once, and the attacker does
not have the numbers needed to overcome significant concentrations of
defense forces. What results is a cat-and-mouse battle where one side tries
to outplay the other using stealth, diversionary tactics, and when all else
fails, personal combat prowess.
Other modes are decent,
if not quite as interesting. There's the standard "my fleet versus your
fleet" meeting engagement, which is straightforward but fun, as well as
siege, escort, and competitive co-op modes. Those last few are all good
experiences in their own right, just not as good as Island Conquest, in my
view. Nonetheless, all of the mission modes make for a hell of a good time,
especially when utilizing a full complement of eight players. This is mostly
due to the combination of unique gameplay and generally superb audiovisual
trappings that BSP has to offer.
Pick up and play
We've already talked
about the basic mechanics of gameplay, but the finer points bear mentioning. The learning curve is
pretty shallow, and the interface is generally user-friendly. If it has a
failing, it is the lack of on-screen key cues and lack of an alternate
control system. You can set the hotkeys to whatever you want, and the game
will let you use the menu to check keymappings, but don't forget what they
were in the heat of battle or you'll find yourself at the bottom of the
Pacific in fairly short order.
some balance issues that become apparent in multiplayer. Submarines are
quite possibly the most overpowered units in the game, reaching speeds that
rival those of the escort vessels, even underwater. They can also spit out
torpedoes like watermelon seeds, and they have plenty of them. The odds of a
single-user controlled sub penetrating or sinking an escort screen and
proceeding to sink your prized carriers and battlewagons are pretty good.
Some of the aircraft
are a bit overpowered as well, most notably the kamikazes. Kamikazes were
tough to bring down in real life, but a game that stresses playability over
historical accuracy shouldn't mimic that tendency. Play against the Japanese
in multiplayer and you'll discover what I mean when I say they are
overpowered within about sixty seconds.
The advanced units are
another problem. New players won't have access to them, and some of them can
make games nigh unwinnable; Iowa-class battleships and Ohka rocket-bombs
come to mind. Series like Call of Duty make use of this same mechanic and
are immensely popular, but going up against a player with a slightly better
weapon is a lot easier than going toe-to-toe with a nearly 60,000 ton
warship in an open sea with nowhere to hide, especially when it is faster
than you are. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It
encourages the use of better tactics, and it is very rewarding to defeat a
player whose ships or aircraft totally outclass yours, but it might be
frustrating for newcomers.
The way naval artillery
is handled is a little annoying as well. All ships fire every big gun they
have in a howitzer trajectory, even if the enemy is almost on top of them.
It's a minor annoyance, but I found that watching the Yamato's shells arc
high into the air before coming down on a cruiser that is only a few hundred
yards away detracted from the immersion value. Flak, on the other hand is
handled quite nicely, complete with bursts from timed-fuse shells and
gratuitous amounts of tracers. I will say one thing for the naval artillery,
though; waiting for all the "weapons-ready" lights to turn green before
unleashing a punishing fusillade from one of your big battleships or
cruisers is sure to produce satisfying results. Every gun fires in rapid
succession, creating an awe-inspiring spectacle when the sound is turned up.
It's like watching Jack Nicholson's tirade in A Few Good Men if he
were a battleship. Those shells are truth, and you can't handle it!
Speaking of naval
artillery, the game allows you to target specific sections of a ship to
impair its abilities. Shooting at the magazine creates a higher chance for
fires and critical hits. Hitting the engines will slow the enemy to a crawl.
Taking out the bridge will reduce enemy combat efficiency and repair times,
and so on and so forth. I thought that was a nice touch.
Aircraft are handled
pretty well, but are more balanced in dogfights than they have any right to
be. I guess that isn't really a problem, considering the nature of the game,
but it can be annoying when your flight of top-shelf fighters gets owned by
a knackered little wing of dive-bombers (rare) or your AA and CAP fire can't
seem to bring down a torpedo bomber on Speed whose pilot and airframe is
immune to G-forces.
Yes, there are some
niggling gameplay issues, but the sights and sounds will make you forget all
Sights and sounds of battle
audio and visual aspects of a game. I don't. I find the whole to be greater
than the sum of its parts. BSP gets this field
mostly right. I certainly don't have any complaints about the graphics,
other than the choppiness the game undergoes when the action gets really
heavy. By all measures, they are very detailed and impressive, and this is
doubly true when one considers that Eidos managed to get them to function
smoothly most of the time in a game where so much is going on at once.
The audio has room for
improvement. The voiceovers are just absolutely freaking terrible,
especially the Japanese ones. Remember those old propaganda cartoons from
the forties where the Japanese guys all had big teeth and glasses and were
virtually blind? The Japanese voiceovers in this game are the audio version
of that. Half of the time you can't understand them at all, which sucks when
they're trying to tell you that your carrier is under attack. American
voiceovers aren't much better, but they could be if they'd let the voice
actor sit on a chair instead of a seatless bicycle.
Gunfire is managed
fairly well, but it could be done better. The big guns need a some more
smoke and fire and report. If I'm going to fire a 15-inch gun, I want it to
sound like a 15-inch gun, not some guy in a sound studio striking a metal
barrel with a hammer. I won't knock the game much for that, though. Not
everyone wants their speakers to shake whenever they loose a glorious salvo
of cannonade. To be fair, the gunfire audiovisuals approach the maximum
level of awesomeness possible without interfering with targeting or
eardrums. I'd say that Eidos created a decent experience in this field,
bordering on exceptional.
Well, if shooting is a
decent experience, being shot at is about as pleasurable as being shot at
can be. Making an airborne ordinance run on a group of enemy ships is pretty
intense, and being on the receiving end of a battleship's salvo
is......fairly impressive. The whining of incoming shells is overdone a bit,
but it helps you to know when you are under attack from an unexpected
direction. I think Eidos achieved a good balance there.
Engine sounds are
engine sounds. They'll grate on the nerves after a while if you focus on
them, but BSP makes sure you have plenty of other things to pay attention
marvelous. Pretty much every unit in this game was loaded with C4 before
going into action. They're almost overdone in some cases, but they reach a
good balance between fiery goodness and practicability. Coupled with the
excellent damage effects, they make for quite a show.
Damage to units is
impressive to behold. The target's model (not just textures) reflects any
significant hits, exposing internal structure and creating protuberances of
twisted metal after ejecting pieces of scrap everywhere. Ships and aircraft
shed debris and break apart when hit badly, belching smoke and fire on their
way down. The only flies in the ointment are the naval crewmen who amble
about on the decks of the ships, apparently more imperturbable and solid
than their charges. They're a nice touch when the fleet is just cruising
around, but they are kind of surreal to watch in a firefight. Despite that,
the whole thing makes for an excellent gaming experience.
Overall, I'm pretty
impressed with Battlestations: Pacific. It is a Gottdammerung of fighting
ships, subs, and aircraft, replete with all the explosions and action that
one would expect from a blockbuster war flick. It is hard to describe just
how satisfying it is to make a torpedo run on a lazily listing enemy
battleship, surrounded by flak bursts and traces, with your wings spraying
water onto the camera. You drop your torpedo and veer away, using the
ordinance camera to watch it intercept and hole its target in a cataclysmic
blast of fire and water, before banking around to watch the stricken vessel
slowly surrender to the sea, amidst the cries of protesting bulkheads and
armor plate. It is an experience that is well worth the $60 retail price tag
if you have a desire to cause a little chaos whilst being surrounded by epic
war machines of days long since gone by.
Additional screenshots courtesy of Gamershell