You've seen world war two flight sims before, you've played world war two strategy games to death, but have you ever played a game where you can command an army and take control of any individual plane, battleship or submarine all in lush AAA graphical detail? That niche in the market is currently owned by Battlestations: Pacific, the sequel to Battlestations: Midway.
The setting for these maritime conflicts are, as the name suggests the Pacific region during WWII when Japanese forces fought America and it's allies. An historically accurate American campaign and an alternative reality – what it? - Japanese campaign lets you command both sides of the war with all the real-life planes and vessels.
By virtue, Battlestations' key selling point of unit swapping takes some play time to get your head around. Not only the multiple control schemes, but also figuring out exactly what unit would best be controlled can be overwhelming at first. Luckily single-player missions warm you up nicely with plane Vs plane, moving onto plane Vs boat, boat Vs sub, boat and sub Vs plane and guns on islands, soon escalating into full-scale war between fleets that present a huge number of options.
Units can be directed to move and attack using the map view, whilst units that are not under your direct control are guided by computer AI that strikes good balance between ineffect and winning the fight for you. Battle-winning, decisive moves require you to jump into the cockpit. On easy difficulty you have the luxury to experiment and toy around with different ways of attacking but harder missions will require effective tactics and nimble piloting skills for victory. Not many games expect such steady aim in combat and positional awareness of many different units.
Its credit to the game that no single element feels shoe-horned in without due thought. When in control of a unit the level of depth leans towards simulation style realism but is enjoyable and does well to avoid over-complicating things. Having said that, certain missions have lulls in the action as you wait for slow ship to travel long distances. Levels that focus on a single unit may test the patience of some, submarines have huge turning circles and a narrow field of vision available for torpedo fire but being forced to use them is a necessary exercise to appreciate the role subs play in the more chaotic encounters. It can be frustrating waiting for a target to gradually make its way into range of your weapons, but that is the beauty of being able to swap into a another unit for a quick bit of dogfighting or bombing; plus, no one said war was pretty.
As you might expect the tone of the campaign is serious and sombre. Use of grainy WWII footage between missions is effective and the classic 'grainy old footage filter' is applied to the cutscenes too - clearly WWII buffs are going to appreciate this. I'm not familiar with the accent a 1940's Japanese pilot might have when speaking in English, but the voice overs, radio chat and campaign developments are functional, varied and don't try an inject unnecessary amounts of character into proceedings.
At times the visuals are truly impressive, in particular the weather and lighting effects are very naturalistic. Witnessing your force progressing to victory from a plane at great height can leave you filled with pride for your boys way below on, and under the surface. Sometimes explosions and torpedo splashes can look a bit dodgy up-close, but there are some nice touches like the details on ships and the fact you can see your landing force battle it out when taking an enemy island. Only when you are in a position to see the full-scale of Battlestations' massive levels does it really show its beauty.
Two substantial campaigns will keep you going for a long time and a variety of multiplayer modes supporting up to eight players including team battles and the objective-based 'island capture' will keep you going for longer still. Hopefully an online community will develop to give plenty of opposition on the multiplayer servers, it deserves it.
Sheer options available make Battlestations: Pacific initially daunting but once you are in this is a gem, especially recommended to those who have an interest in the history surrounding WWII and/or like blowing things up. Fans of Battlestationss: Midway will be an easy sell, but if there is space on your hard-drive for a quality flight sim, battleship sim and tactical war game all rolled into one here's a reason to fill it.