Eidos is calling all hands on deck once again in Battlestations: Pacific, the follow-up to 2007's Battlestations: Midway. Pacific ups the ante on its predecessor, delivering a tactical naval experience with more missions, more vehicles, and even more explosions. Does it really have what it takes to charge full speed ahead, or is this battleship sunk?
Pacific chronicles the exploits of the US and Japanese naval fleets deployed to the Pacific Ocean during World War II, covering numerous historical battles such as the Battle of Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Like the first game, Pacific features real-time tactics with a strong emphasis on action sequences. Players have the choice of taking on the role of commander, micromanaging their entire fleet, or going hands-on with individual units for a more close-up experience.
Pacific's single-player mode is broken down into two unique campaigns. You'll be able to select from the historically accurate US campaign, or dabble in the realm of "what-if" in an alternate history scenario where the Japanese fleet crushes America's forces. You'll need to storm your way to victory in the 28 different missions, with your success hinging on completing a laundry list of objectives under specific conditions. Objectives within each mission require players to master one of over 100 different types of air, sea, and undersea units. Regardless of which campaign is selected, Pacific succeeds in delivering an authentic war experience.
You'll need a sound strategy to overcome most tasks, which range from escorting carriers anddestroying supply convoys, to surviving aerial dogfights. In a new addition to the series, you'll also get to overrun enemy island bases. It's a solid experience, but it can be bogged down by a few nagging issues. A few objectives are somewhat deceptive or confusing, compounded by poor timing of crucial tutorial elements. Additionally, checkpoints become less frequent later on, so you'll have to repeat a few of the long and arduous segments several times thanks to a lack of mid-battle saves.
The multiplayer experience has been ramped up, with five different modes available that support up to eight players at once. You'll go head-to-head in a straightforward battle in duel mode, defend your carriers from attack in escort mode, and spend upwards of an hour struggling to control the most territory in island capture. Some modes are more action oriented, while others are more heavily rooted in strategy. There's also an option to play each multiplayer mode offline locally with friends or against AI. It's incredibly engaging and fun and you'll keep coming back for more.
Each campaign is 20-plus hours, and with multiplayer, you can easily log over 50 hours in Battlestations: Pacific. Performing well in battle also earns you medals, as well as the opportunity to unlock new types of units, which is a pretty good incentive for doing so.
Since it's a real-time tactics game, you'll spend a good bulk of your time commanding your fleet. Players have the option of sitting back and issuing orders to each individual unit, essentially enabling the game to play itself. The AI in control of your units can be competent for the most part, but there are a few instances where it can be problematic. Additionally, cycling between units in a linear fashion is slow and incredibly ineffective. The game also doesn't allow the option to quick-toggle to specific units until several missions into each campaign, and waits just as long to explain that the battle map can be used to issue orders as well. Players issue commands by bringing up a menu with various orders, and then confirming the order for that particular unit or formation.
If you prefer to take the more hands-on approach, you can still manually control each individual unit. Despite there being so many different types of vehicles to operate, each one handles surprisingly well enough, though they all fall short of what you'd see in a true hard-core sim. However, there are a lot of random elements that add to the realism, such as friendly fire, or mid-air collisions. Most of the aerial action is frantic and fast-paced, and the addition of a new cockpit mode provides a deeper sense of immersion. On the other hand, naval battles are very drawn out, demanding some serious patience, and submarine battles are more stealth-oriented. It's a nice mix, and the game strikes a good balance between the different styles.
You'll also have a lot of firepower at your disposal, and getting accustomed to how all the different weapons behave is probably the biggest challenge. Aiming can be a breeze when it's a simple one-on-one battle on a level field, but when things get cluttered and targets are all over the place, aiming can be a chore, requiring too much guesswork despite the in-game aids. Even when a target appears in the clear, direct hits will occasionally fail to register any damage. The zoomed-in view offers a bit more accuracy, though, as does the unique torpedo cam that lets you track your shots as they home in on their targets.
In any battle, there are bound to be losses, but thankfully, during several missions, you'll have the chance to call up additional units to fill in for fallen allies. When controlling carriers, submarines, or land bases, players can bring up a special command menu that shows which available units can be brought into the thick of battle. Of course, the best recipe for success is to ensure that you don't suffer heavy losses, so managing the repairs of your larger units is paramount. Much like the command menu, players can bring up a repair menu to address problems such as flooding, fire, and body damage, which can save a unit from the cusp of defeat.
There's plenty of tactical play to go around in Battlestations: Pacific, and the varying difficulty settings plus the more-forgiving learning curve make it a more accessible experience for those wishing to jump aboard.
Pacific boasts fairly impressive visuals for a strategy game. There's tons of attention to detail. You'll see pieces of debris floating on the ocean's surface, wreckage sinking below the waves, and ships taking convincing structural damage while their crews walk around ondeck. There are also some nice weather effects for good measure. Amazingly, there's no slow down, even with the stunning amount of action,, though some of the foliage on the islands looks a bit ugly up close,. There isn't anything particularly mind blowing, butit's still a strong effort. A fitting soundtrack and authentic sound effects round out the slick package.
Battlestations: Pacific improves upon almost every facet of the original, offering more of just about everything. With only a few nagging issues holding it back, it's a more-than-worthy way to satisfy your tactical itch. So if you're seeking a combat ready fix for your strategy needs, know that Battlestations: Pacific has certainly earned its stripes.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.