Naval gazing

Adrift midway between action and strategy
By MITCH KRPATA  |  March 6, 2007
0.5 0.5 Stars

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DILUTED: Battlestations: Midway tries to mesh the excitement of an action game with the sweep of a strategy game.

Is it time yet to declare a moratorium on video games set in World War II? The genre has been picked cleaner than a gazelle carcass on the African savannah. First-person shooters, real-time strategy, flight simulators — you couldn’t play through all these games in the time the war lasted. I’d love to see a World War I game, if only for the change in fashions. Instead, Eidos has released Battlestations: Midway, which distinguishes itself from its peers mostly by focusing on the Pacific rather than the European theater. We’re spared another jittery dash across the shores of Omaha Beach. Little else can be said to recommend it.

The biggest problem is that Battlestations can’t decide what kind of game it wants to be. The better World War II games would succeed regardless of whether you were fighting the Axis powers or vicious space aliens. (One WW2 game, Resistance, even used the sci-fi scenario as its hook.) Call of Duty featured an immersive, lifelike sound design that brought unprecedented immediacy to the first-person shooter. The destructible environments in Company of Heroes meant that the landscapes — and your tactics — were constantly changing. Battlestations tries to mesh the excitement of an action game with the sweep of a strategy game and ends up diluting them both. Even the presentation is bland.

Starting with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the game aims to tell the story of the naval campaign in the Pacific. As Lieutenant Henry Walker, you’re given a command that begins with a single PT boat and ends with an armada. You can take control of any active craft in your fleet with the click of a button, first launching a bomber squadron from an aircraft carrier, then switching over to a destroyer to shell on-shore gun emplacements, then commandeering a submarine to fire torpedoes. You can even pilot your planes in the air. It’s a cool idea, but who knew that aquatic warfare was such a grind? I don’t doubt that it’s realistic to have these hulking ships move so slowly, but it isn’t much fun, either. The same goes for flying the planes — they control like the relics they are. Give me Ace Combat.

Battlestations is also, to some degree, a real-time strategy game, and here too it’s a pale imitation of the real thing. An overhead map screen allows you to view all the units on the field of battle and give limited commands to those under your control, but “move” and “attack” are about the extent of it. (You can also order airplanes to escort ships.) Most of your tactical command amounts to micro-managing, along the lines of ordering your men to put out fires and repair hulls. Because most of the units carry out their missions without your help, and because there’s nothing in the way of resource allocation or battle planning, you wonder why the strategy aspect was included at all. Then again, the same could be said for the action gameplay.

It’s easy to see how Battlestations: Midway seemed like a good idea at its conception, but no part of that conception survived the birth. Even the grinding, pedantic tutorial is a shining example of what not to do — imagine getting an hour-long lecture in naval procedures from your most boring high-school teacher. Oh, well. This won’t be the last World War II game to come along. It probably won’t even be the worst.

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