Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oh Boy, Got Me Another One!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post wondering why WWII games had such trouble in the Pacific. Was it the charnel-house nature of the island-hopping campaign? Was it the lack of Nazis? For whatever reason, the second half of WWII doesn’t have a Call of Duty 2.

The Pacific Theater, which began with the Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor and ended with a mushroom cloud over Nagasaki, saw some of history’s most remarkable naval battles – unspeakably large battleships gutted cruisers, and were in turn felled by small squadrons of torpedo bombers, which were blown from the sky by nimble fighters, and so on. You get the idea. The Pacific Theater’s ideal videogame would capture the chaos, exhilaration and combustion of those battles.

Is Battlestations: Pacific the game to do it? Hit the jump and man your stations.

In 2007, Eidos released Battlestations: Midway for the PC and 360. It promised to put in you command of a naval battlegroup, controlling everything from the fighters to the destroyers to the massive battleship artillery. Results were mixed, especially on the 360. Some users found the learning curve too steep, and didn’t even make it past the tutorials. Even those who grasped the mechanics and relished the concept damned the game for its perfunctory campaign and dysfunctional multiplayer. No lie, I once saw a battleship spinning like a pinwheel in the water, cannons firing in all direction – an amusing glitch, at least.

For its 2009 follow-up, Eidos built Battlestations: Pacific on fan feedback – and little else. The interface is streamlined, the learning curve shallower. The campaigns are substantially longer, the maps substantially bigger and the platter of available units pleasingly improved. Fan quibbles, like a cockpit view, made it into the game. But that’s all you’ll find separating Pacific from Midway. From the soundtrack to the voiceovers to the core concept, it’s the same game.

Which raises the question: do we care? If you’re me, probably not. I loved Midway despite its myriad flaws – I like my war porn and I like myPacific theater. But a less forgiving gamer will be immediately turned off by an obvious lack of polish. Even I’m annoyed by the endlessly looping soundtrack, stolen from Midway without shame. Pacific also boasts the worst voice acting this side of Resident Evil 5– every Japanese sailor sounds like a bit player, and every Joe sounds like a farmhand from Nebraska. They say things like “Oh boy, got me another one!” and “Duhn shut at us – weah on yuh side!” It’s borderline offensive.

The graphics are nothing to write home about, either. The water has moments of brilliance Рand its moments of looking strangely like mercury. Some of the cockpit views are downright homely, with fuzzy shadows and blas̩ textures. The waves lapping at the beach are unforgivably - comically Рbad. How bad? Okay: take six index cards. On the blank side, sketch what you think crashing waves look like. Flip through them at quarter-second intervals. There you go.

At fever pitch, though, the battles are epic. Flak laces the sky, smoke belches from guns and fires rip across the superstructures of huge battleships. During such moments, you forget about the horrible voice acting and the middling graphics. If you want to wage war across the Pacific, Pacific is your best bet – and not just for lack of competition.