If anything’s certain, it’s that Eidos isn’t lacking ambition. With Battlestations: Midway, they’ve not only chosen source material that’s often regarded as being overused, but also attempted to combine action and real-time strategy genres. Ambition is often the difference between good and great games, but while Battlestations only barely reaches the former description, it’s still an interesting mix that fans of World War II games will enjoy.
First impressions count for a lot and Battlestations doesn’t exactly get off to a great start. The tutorial, while thorough, is horrendously boring and its eleven parts last a total of an hour. Sure, you can skip it and dive straight into the action, but playing a game as complex as this requires a bit of forethought. It’s not that the instruction is unnecessary, but that you can’t skip the small pauses in the dialogue. You’ll be told to press A, but you’ll have to wait until the guy has finished speaking before trying for yourself. All the time that you spend waiting when you’re ready to follow a command builds up and this serves as a frustrating start to the game.
The real action begins in the first of eleven singleplayer missions, all of which are based on historical battles. We start at Pearl Harbour, playing as naval recruit Henry Walker, who is quickly promoted as the fight continues across the Pacific. For its first half, Battlestations is a mundane action game, only entrusting you with a bare minimum of units that don’t prove to be much fun to use. You’ll go to point A, shoot boat B and so on until victory is declared.
Battlestations’ main attraction is that you can control multiple unit types in huge battles where both strategic planning and execution are equally important. When you’re eventually given command of a small task force, it becomes obvious that this blend of action and real-time strategy doesn’t really work. You can switch between ships, planes and submarines at will, but you’ll often find yourself glued to the map screen, making sure that everything’s going to plan. Fighting by switching between units and heading off enemies one at a time works in the earlier missions, but as the battles become more complex, you retreat more to a strategic position and only get involved in the action occasionally.
Picture the scene; you’re defending an airfield which is being attacked by a carrier group on one side and an invasion force on the other. You’ve got about four enemy air units inbound at any one time, plus assault ships to contend with. There are spotter planes to be protected, bombing missions to be directed and air battles to contend with. You could switch to a plane in a dogfight and fend off enemy fighters, but you’ll probably forget about your ships and other aircraft will sit idle at the airfield. Then again, can you trust your airmen to win the dogfight on their own anyway?
This conflict of interest is an inherent problem with Battlestations and one that becomes increasingly prominent as the game progresses. Sitting back and watching icons zip around a map isn’t too bad and the controls are set up adequately, but the slow pace that comes naturally with World War II vehicles doesn’t make it much fun.
At least there’s a multiplayer mode and a set of other challenges. Up to eight people can fight online in nine maps, with playing as either the US or Japanese. It’s essentially like a busier version of the singleplayer, with each side aiming to wipe out the other. You each have command of a few destroyers, a single heavy cruiser, a shipyard, or an airfield with the ability to launch various units at your enemy. The match continues until one team has lost its key unit, which can take quite a while. The singleplayer challenge mode also adds a bit of variety, with twelve extra missions where you usually play as a single unit on a near-impossible mission.
For all its failings, Battlestations does know how to present itself, even if the graphics are a bit dated. Cut scenes are polished and lay out the story well, linking up each battle with the next. The brief musical score is suitably rousing and the voice acting, like most of the sound effects, is perfectly adequate. The in-game graphics are distinctly average though; units aren’t very detailed and explosions have little visual impact.
Battlestations: Midway isn’t bad, but its ambitious mixture of action and real-time strategy doesn’t translate into an exciting and engaging game. It isn’t until you’re half way through the singleplayer that you’re allowed to command any decent number of units and the story only has eleven missions anyway. World War II enthusiasts will enjoy its strategic nature and appreciate its historical accuracy, but for everyone else this is worth little more than a rental.