GDC 09: BattleStations: Pacific Hands On


Finally, a World War II game that gives us a history that’s written by the losers.

Winston Churchill said that history is written by the victors, but BattleStations: Pacific would have it both ways. In addition to a historically accurate single-player campaign that follows the US Navy on its campaign to Okinawa and victory, Pacific also offers an alternate history, one based on historically possible events in which the Japanese came out on top, from their historic invasion of Pearl Harbor and beyond.

It sounds a bit far-fetched, a scenario worthy of some sci-fi take on World War II not unlike the one found in Sony’s Resistance series. But Eidos is acutely aware of the dearth of World War II games that have come out in the last decade or so, and they’re trying something different. Besides, they’ve guaranteed us that everything that happens in the Japanese campaign could have very well happened, and I guess I’ll take their word for it.

The bizarre alternate history campaign isn’t the only thing separated Pacific from the rest of the WWII game pack. Focusing on naval, vehicle based strategic battles, Pacific lies somewhere between something like Call of Duty: World at War and Company of Heroes. That is to say, it’s what Eidos call a “50/50 split” between seriously full-throttle action and more strategic gameplay.

The first thing I got a look at was an intense naval battle near an island in the Pacific. Alistair Cornish, a designer on the game, was controlling a huge battleship being attacked by gangs of kamikaze fighters. Using the machine guns on the ship, Cornish would clip the wings off of the enemy planes or fire on their engines, making sure to do enough damage to make them explode before they suicidally careened into an Allied cruiser.

That’s the action part. Here’s the strategy half of the equation. In a rain-soaked dogfight taking place in the middle of a storm, fighter planes fired off machine guns at each other as lightning flashed in the sky behind. No mind to the graphical eye candy, Cornish tapped a button, pulling up a strategic map with board game-esque icons for every unit on the battlefield. He selected a single unit and gave it general directions to swoop behind a rival group, creating a diversion so that he could move into position to get a few shots in.

According to Cornish, the entire game can be played from either end of the spectrum: as the fighter pilot/gunman in the action mode, or as a field commander making decisions from high above in the strategy mode.

Fans of prequel BattleStations: Midway will be familiar with this, though. What’s new for them are, of course, a bevy of new units to control (there are 100 “war machines” in all, a mix of planes, boats and subs) and Skirmish Mode, which Eidos says was a number one fan request. Skirmish is essentially the multiplayer competitive mode, except played with bots instead of real people. What’s the point of playing with the computer? Well, for practice, if you don’t like getting roasted by some guy online. And because Skirmish can be customized for specific situations, like turning the map off or on or tweaking the AI, that can help you prepare for tricky situations online.

Regardless, if you’re not planning on going online, Eidos says there are at least 18 hours of single-player action to take in. I’ll probably stick to the campaign – my time with the game was a little bit less then fruitful. I took to the skies with a bomber plane, and though Eidos has geared the game toward accessibility with simple controls and essentially infinite ammo (also tweakable to finite for the hardcore), I managed to fail nearly every bombing run by being shot out of the sky or just plain crashing into the blue Pacific.

Which was a shame. There’s a neat feature in the game – purely aesthetic but still neat – where you can hold a trigger after letting loose a torpedo or bomb, and the camera will zoom in and hug the projectile, giving you a sort of bomb cam to watch as your payload drops and the explosions unfurl. I never got to see it happen by my own hands.

So, another World War II game, right? Well, if you dig strategy but aren’t heady enough to manage an actual strategy game, this might be right up your alley. As for what’s coming next, Eidos was loudly silent when we asked about DLC.

And what about the next game? There are only so many massive world wars with huge melodramatic naval battles that they can replicate in videogame form. Oh well – they’ve already created an entire alternate history. Who’s to stop them from coming up with more. I mean, Stalin vs. Martians is already in the works is all I’m saying.

BattleStations: Pacific will be out on May 13.

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