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Battlestations Midway


You sank my Battleship!
Wartime games and strategy or action go together like peanut butter and chocolate. How many times have we played through a war title and moved pieces about on a map like we're entrenched in a game of Risk? For that matter, how many times have we picked up a gun to shoot Nazis? Eidos' latest, Battlestations: Midway, attempts to fuse the strategy and action elements together in a way that hasn't been done before. Were they successful?

Battlestations: Midway takes place after Pearl Harbor when the American forces were squaring off against the Japanese for control of the Pacific. This vehicular spin on the war puts you in charge with all manner of air and seafaring craft as you try to destroy or push back the enemy forces.

In between the combat and loading screens, the game tells a forgettable and downright silly tale about a young officer who goes to war for his country. The manner with which the cut scenes are presented and the way that the game unfolds are arguably sub-par and should only be watched for comedic value (which shouldn't be in a game like this anyway). Once you get past the story (I suggest skipping it) and dig into the meat of the game you'll find an interesting experience waiting for you but it's one that is filled with many ups and downs.

Gameplay:

When you first fire up Battlestations: Midway you'll be presented with a bevy of options and game modes. Under the Single Player category you'll want to select the Naval Academy as your first destination.

The Academy is essentially the training ground for Midway and where you'll learn the finer points of controller craft, issuing orders, and repairing ships. These three things are not the only components that you'll learn but they are undoubtedly vital to surviving and completing even the introductory mission of the single player campaign.

A silly, dare I say hokey, voice guides you through the many facets of controlling vessels in Battlestations: Midway. The training guide offers some direction and essentially forces you to drone through simplistic directions to learn the basics. Through several different training missions you'll listen to about 70% yammering, 25% of "press this button now", and roughly 5% of actually doing something on your own. The result is a series of exercises that act as a starting point for your experience but by no means are an authentic and useful training course.

Once you graduate Naval Academy 101 the other single player modes await you and offer differing degrees of difficulty (say that ten times fast!). The first place that I tackled was the regular campaign which offered a little bit of everything that I had just practiced in the training section. The difficulty at first felt a little on the easy side but after a few minutes I dare say that I hit a wall. I found myself required to do things that I had not been shown adequately at the Naval Academy and because of this the game became frustrating in a big way.

The game proposes that you do a lot of the action yourself but the tricky thing is that if you want to succeed in the game you're better off doing it from the map. By pressing select you will bring up the map which will use icons to indicate ally and enemy forces and their positions, headings, and whatnot. By pressing left and right on the directional pad you can swap between units. You can tell that the new unit is selected because they will appear yellow instead of a grayish blue. Once you've selected who you want all you have to do is place a cursor on an enemy target and press the A button to issue an attack order.

When you exit the map screen you'll have a cockpit view of the unit that you have selected though you can still use the directional pad to swap between forces on the fly. This is a must if you want to survive because each unit has a selection of options that need to be hit in order to succeed. If you want a destroyer to utilize their spread of torpedoes on their own then you need to select "On"; the same goes for Free Fire and such.

This may sound well and good but to be honest all of this micromanaging gets tedious after a while. Being able to swap between units is a nice touch though you constantly have to do so in order to check their status. If a plane's health is too low you need to issue an order to them to land and regroup. If a naval craft is hit by a torpedo you'll need to order men to repair the location specific damage. This would have been fine if you were just controlling one ship but when you're in the midst of a large scale conflict and you have to swap between five or six units to check on their condition it feels like you're trying to constantly put out fires (literally and figuratively).

Playing a bouncing game of wartime whack-a-mole isn't actually as bad as it sounds. When the strategy works and the actions of your fleet go as planned coming out of a battle victorious can be quite gratifying. After the single player campaign there are even a few challenges to partake in involving plane, ship, and submarine missions. Overall though the single player experience for Battlestations: Midway is more or less limited in scope and replay ability.

However you could look at the single player experience as a training ground within itself for the online multiplayer. With four on four battles across a multitude of maps and admittedly limited options Battlestations: Midway is another fun entry into the world of Xbox Live gaming. Controlling the different units and pulling out all of the skills that you have learned through your time fighting the CPU is a good way to spend an afternoon and proves to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately even this mode gets boring after a while and I fear that the longevity of Midway suffers due to the lack of options and in depth content.

In the end though this is one of the best wartime vehicle games that I have ever played. The action elements accompany the strategy quite well though some sketchy programming decisions make for a good amount of frustration. If you have ever said "You sank my battleship!" then this is a game that you'll definitely want to at least try out. The variety of ships and armaments is quite daunting and authentic so history buffs should be pleased as well. Eidos definitely has a unique title on its hands and it would be interesting if they tweaked the damage control and micromanaging elements for a sequel.

Graphics:

Battlestations: Midway is a veritable mixed bag of video quality when you get right down to it. On the plus side the sky is absolutely gorgeous and is quite frankly one of the best that I have ever seen. If someone ever told you that you had your head in the clouds these would be the digital clouds to use! The action is quite intense as well with explosions and artillery fire going on all around you (unless you're watching the affair from the combat map - then it's boring looking).

Draw distance is another fine point with perspective being kept realistic and daunting though I did experience some graphical pop-up and clipping from time to time. The rest of the game looks a bit on the bland side with droll textures and a distinct lack of detail. Ships are finely designed but there's nothing about them that will blow you away.

Audio:

Let's get one thing straight. The use of in-game Dolby Digital is fantastic with a great sense of immersion that utilizes the rear channels quite well. There could have been more presence on the soundstage but I can't really complain about the quality of the sound effects and their use; it's damn good. The epic sounding score is pleasing as well with music reminiscent of Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan.

Unfortunately the voice acting is such that I can't really say anything nice about it. Tacky accents and lame dialog plague Battlestations: Midway from beginning to end. The in-game voiceovers that let you know when your unit has engaged the enemy are alright but beyond that I wanted to mute my speakers.

Conclusion:

Eidos' Battlestations: Midway brings a lot of innovation to the table. The strategy elements work well and the action plays out fast and furious. Combining the two is a mixture that works towards the game's success but also proves to be a small recipe for disaster. Handling multiple units is no small task in huge fights and constantly having to micromanage your squadrons will leave you frustrated beyond reason. The online experience is decidedly better than the single player one and though both bare their flaws I wouldn't call either "bad". When these elements come together in the manner that they were intended there are few titles out there that can match Midway's scope and awe. I'm going to recommend this title if you're looking for a unique wartime game.