- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

Teens learn some sobering history as they take part in a world at war in Battlestations: Pacific (from Eidos for Xbox 360, rated T for teen, $59.99). Through 28 campaigns split between American and Japanese forces, a player commands air and sea units during the later part of World War II.

Much like its predecessor, Battlestations: Midway, this game excels at presenting a chaotic level of action in which commanders send planes and vessels into battle and then must manage resources and react to hostile situations.

Each campaign, from taking back the Eastern Solomon Islands to the fight for Henderson Field to assaulting Iwo Jima, features specific mission and secondary objectives that get much more complex as a player progresses. He’ll go from simple air battles to coordinated attacks to capturing islands with a full complement of forces.

I would warn the player looking for a pure adrenaline rush that this game takes a methodical, realistic approach to battles. Planes go from intense dogfights to flying for a decent distance before engaging enemy ships. The art of effectively dropping bombs and torpedoes will take considerable practice.

Managing vessels under attack also takes some getting used to. A circular menu allows the player to direct sailors to restore engine power, put out fires and repair the hull while a quick push of the controller’s trigger toggles through the available weapons. Submarine navigation also is tricky, especially through hostile waters.

Thankfully, targeting reticules are in abundance as well as distance, altitude and damage meters, with precision down to aiming for a floating target’s fuel and engines areas.

Nuances that complement the fantastic visual presentations include following the path of the bomb or shell, hearing water splashes and pilots and dispatchers comment on the action, and evolving damage to ships and planes.

Even though a successful Japanese campaign is mostly a fantasy — with exceptions such as the initial Pearl Harbor attack and the sinking of the British Force Z ships Prince of Wales and Repulse — it does give players another perspective to the war.

Extending the fantastic experience is a massive multiplayer option where up to eight commanders go online and partake in duels, compete for high point totals, capture opposition islands, and enter into escort and destroy matches within a choice of eight maps.

Learning time: Players can quickly tap into the game’s Tactical Library to get 360-degree views and facts about 50 warships, 40 warplanes and eight types of submarines used in World War II. Players learn, for example, the Grumman F4F Wildcat was the Navy’s main carrier-based fighter and initially was designed as a biplane and that the Northampton Class Heavy Cruisers carried nine eight-foot guns in triple turrets.

An abundance of actual black-and-white film footage from the Pacific campaign also is shown during mission briefings and each includes just a bit of narration about the battles.

Despite all the information offered, I could have used more about the specific battles. Luckily, a wide range of resources is available on the Internet to complement what the player learns while experiencing the game. The Battlestations: Pacific Web site (www.battlestations.net), for example, completely breaks down the battles with maps, text and video.

Age range: Some peppery language from the commanders, explosions killing sailors, control of kamikazes on the Japanese campaigns and level of difficulty should skew the game for the 15-year-old fascinated with World War II history.

Politically correct parents will be put off by the English-speaking Japanese pilots and commanders with very lame accents. Considering the game’s attempt to use a historic flair, using the actual Japanese language with subtitles would have been preferred.

Final advice: Battlestations: Pacific brings a high-definition war simulation to the home entertainment room and won’t disappoint the gamer that lives by the History Channel.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to [email protected]


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