Battlestations: Pacific, the sequel to Battlestations: Midway, returns once again to tackle World War II from a unique perspective. While it has real time strategy (RTS) roots, the game also has a strong focus towards user controlled naval and aerial combat, in a hope to recreate the intense atmosphere surrounding various key battles. Also, unlike the majority of World War II games, which focus on Germans being the main enemy, Battlestations: Pacific looks towards the conflicts which took place between the USA and Japan.
The game offers two campaigns straight off the bat; one offers the experience from an American perspective, and the other offers something completely new in a World War II game, the chance to play as the Japanese. While the American campaign follows the actual events in history, the Japanese version allows for a more liberal interpretation as the battles aren't necessarily factual.
The story is literally comprised of events relevant to the mission, so there is no over-arching story that's an aside from the actual events. Each mission brief is narrated and explains why it's necessary and what objectives need to be fulfilled to achieve victory. Both of the voices are very stereotypical, as there is a booming American military general, and a Japanese soldier who talks in heavily accented English. Each mission has primary objectives, secondary objectives (which can be ignored) and a single hidden objective, but there are usually only 5-6 objectives when all are combined.
Variation is a very prominent part of the game; no two missions have that déjà vu feeling. Some require more use of the tactical map to issue orders, while others take a very hands on approach. For example, missions involving submarines place success very much in the players' hands. With the missions that are more order based, the AI can sometimes be a little bit awkward. Sometimes ships take longer routes or constantly try to out maneuver other ships in their own formation, causing an endless cycle. However, for the most part it works efficiently.
Controls are fairly straight forward, although initially they may seem a bit confusing. Most of them are introduced as the mission's progress, so it doesn't throw the player in at the deep end. Some of the controls may feel a bit unresponsive, especially in the larger units that are available, but this is partially down to the over-realistic style of the game whereby turning or moving a battleship literally will take an age and large aircrafts can't necessarily arc that quickly.
The actual combat is actually quite fast paced. Targeting planes in dogfights adds another target box to show where to fire in order to hit and sometimes the skies are literally filled with planes. A nice feature when using secondary weapons allows for a camera to follow the projectile while AI takes over control of the unit the player was flying. Artillery barrages are immediately apparent in their devastation as bits of the target will be quite literally strewn across the environment. There are a few frustrating sections in the game however, and these mostly involve submarines. This applies when using submarines for both attacking and defending, as for some reason the AI seems to have absolutely no problem in hunting them down. However, trying to hunt down AI submarines isn't anywhere near as easy.
In terms presentation the visuals are pretty solid, and the level detail is rather impressive when the scale of things is taken into consideration. The water effects are equally as impressive, and look particularly good when using underwater units. There are some very minor frame rate drops when battles become really heated up, but it doesn't detract too much from the overall experience. Good attention to detail can also be heard with the sound, as explosions, artillery fire and AA guns on ships sound as expected. Witnessing a full on battleship assault is impressive; damage to ships and planes is also very realistic as parts explode, catch fire, and fly off.
The game has a fair amount of replay value, as there are medals to be obtained from every mission. The medal acquired depends on the objectives completed, and gaining the top medal can unlock more units that can be used on other missions. There is also a sub-achievement section to the game allowing acquisition of badges for performing certain feats in battle.
There is also the skirmish side of the game which encompasses five different modes, most of which are based on attack and defend type scenarios. These can all be played offline against AI, or online with up to 7 other players. The one deserving the most mention would be Island Capture which turns the game into more of an RTS, giving players command points to produce units, then sending them to capture bases while the enemy is doing the exact same thing. However, it does seem a bit shallow as it ultimately boils down to who can make the biggest ships.
As an overall piece, the combat is very intense and there are moments that are fairly breathtaking. The sound and visuals create a very realistic atmosphere, and the variation helps to keep the gameplay fresh enough throughout. It's impossible to fault the fact it does exactly what they intended, but alas this is also its drawback as it feels too much like a simulator at times, and the depth of realism can become quite cumbersome. The strategy element, while well thought out does sometimes feel lacking somewhat in its necessity. It has the potential to be a great purchase for anyone who likes their tactical elements and enjoys the World War II genre, but for those looking for more of a casual approach to gaming it can be a little bit more than they bargained for.