Have you ever looked at one of those magic eye images for minutes waiting for something to show? Your friends all say "Ohh look, a sailboat", but all you see is a slight shape start to pop up before your eyeballs start to hurt from the strain. Dejected, you silently wonder if there's something wrong with you for not being able to see it. That's the feeling I get while playing Eidos and Warner's Battlestations Pacific. The game is so complex that it's hard to break through, but I can tell that underneath everything there's a fantastic game.
Battlestations Pacific is the follow up to 2007's Battlestations Midway for the Xbox 360 and PC. Set during World War II, Battlestations Pacific is a hybrid RTS/Action game where the player is tasked with not only controlling individual units on the battlefield, but also the entirety of your forces. The game has two campaigns, one covering missions from the Allied side and the other an alternate history where Japan actually wins (due to your excellent gaming skills, no doubt.)
Battlestations: Pacific eases you into learning the different units pretty well. The first level of either of the campaigns introduces the various aspects of the aerial combat: movement, machine guns, bombing runs, torpedoes, etc. After you think you understand that, they put you into another level where you're controlling naval vessels and learning about AA guns, depth charges, and torpedoes (again). There's a lot that they teach you in those first couple of missions, but once you finally feel like you're getting the hang of things, the game destroys you. Hard.
You're thrust into a level that requires you to switch among the various squads of airborne and naval vessels to use each one's strengths to take over a bay. You also have to command the entire battlefield from the map screen in real time. It's like this: everything happens in real time in this game, and if you're not controlling a unit, the computer is. But you must also tell the units you're not controlling what to do, or else they will just sit there (at least, in the case of naval vessels). Unfortunately for the player, many of these rules are simply glossed over in the first few levels, and they're left floundering as they try to figure out everything. It's in this level, though, that you first catch a glimpse that Battlestations: Pacific is more than just an average action game. Of course, shortly after I saw the possibility of the mechanics could do playing out in front of me, I lost most of my troops.
After restarting the battle, though everything clicked. I finally understood the proper way to play. You see, the computer's not as dumb as it is in normal RTS games. You don't have to baby it. If you send two battleships to capture a point, unless it's impossible to, those battleships will win the fight, allowing you to spend your time taking out another objective. It's quite the change from the normal RTS establishment of "let's stand around and maybe fire if an enemy gets closer" and "well, bossman didn't tell us to go attack that building, so let's just stand next to it."
Sometimes when a game features so many pieces, it starts to fall apart. Many open world games, for example, have dozens and dozens of things to do but none of them serve any purpose except to add another bullet point on the back of the box. Battlestations Pacific isn't like that. Every single thing that your troops can do has meaning and you need to use every unit available to you in order to achieve victory. This is not an easy game, as the first two levels would have you think, but it is an extremely rewarding game. You'll need plenty of time to grasp all the concepts that are thrown at you, but eventually you'll see that magic eye picture.
Players:1 Player, 2-8 online
Platform(s):Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
ESRB:T for Teen