History Channel: Battle for the Pacific
Call me masochistic, but every now and then, I like to play poorly received videogames. I don’t do it because I like reviewing bad games. Honestly, I wish every game was awesome. And yet, there’s something attractive and interesting to me about games that get low scores from other publications or games that I just know are going to be terrible from their previews. Maybe as a journalist I’m just drawn to occasionally suffer through a bad game for the experience, so that I can use the lessons learned from that game to critique the next I play. Or maybe subconsciously I really do just like picking on bad games every now and then.
Whatever the reason, my most recent endeavor into the bottom of the video gaming barrel was History Channel: Battle for the Pacific. Billing itself as an accurate recreation of the American-Japanese conflict in the Pacific theater, this first-person shooter casts you as an American GI stationed on Wake Island shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. An informative (but hardly entertaining) cutscene introduces the level and subsequent ones, but sadly, these boring cutscenes are about the closest thing you’ll find to a compelling narrative in this game.
As the game opens, you’re told by a radio operator to collect parts for his radio, which has apparently become damaged in the attack, though no visible damage to either the radio or the surrounding area can be seen thanks to the less-than-spectacular graphics engine. Once the radio operator explains your mission, an obtrusive waypoint marker then fills the middle of the screen and holds your hand all the way to the three crates you need to visit to collect the parts (and every other destination you’ll travel to for the rest of the game). Despite the supposed danger, the radio operator sits unprotected under a canvas tent with a placid expression on his face. Along the way, you’ll also encounter some more of your own troops who seem unconcerned that their lives are at risk as they stand around leisurely in the trenches.
After you return with the parts, the radio operator then fixes the radio and your Sergeant appears shortly thereafter. For the rest of the game, you’ll follow the Sarge back and forth as you travel to a location, retreat from the location, gather reinforcements, and retake the location. While this type of game design could have worked, it fails for a variety of reasons. For starters, you’ll rarely see any reason to actually retreat. The enemies are so absent-minded and their AI so poor that they’ll often drop to a knee in front of you without any cover to protect them. When enemies run towards their scripted destination, they make no attempt to protect themselves by spraying fire at you or strafing, nor do they change their path when a grenade is thrown in their way.
Unfortunately, the poor AI can be seen on both sides of the battlefield. Your own teammates will often stand around idly as they are fired upon because you, the player, haven’t moved past the invisible trigger that tells your comrades to retaliate. These AI issues, combined with the boring cutscenes, completely destroy any chance of becoming immersed into the experience. Videogames are all about the escape – in the best games, you become the character and almost forget that you’re playing the game. In Battle for the Pacific, you are almost constantly reminded that you’re playing a terrible video game thanks to the pathetic AI and lackluster presentation.
The poor presentation also extends into the in-game graphics as well. In addition to the lack of any damage modeling, the environments that you battle through are uninspired at best. There’s just something utterly unconvincing about a “jungle” that has only a few scattered trees and rocks. Character models, as I said before, are often lifeless and poorly animated. But the biggest problem that I had was with the voice acting. I’ve never encountered a game with voice acting this abysmal. The problem is two-fold. First, the voice actors just don’t bring any enthusiasm to their roles. Lines are delivered flatly and the actors seem incredibly bored. Secondly, the lines never really match up with what’s going on on-screen. When your Sarge barks at you to “just hang in there” and you’re having no trouble taking care of the enemies you’re fighting, it, once again, breaks the illusion.
Maybe a part of me just wants to like a bad game. I might just hope that because I have such low expectations for the game that I might actually enjoy it. And that does happen sometimes. It didn’t happen here, though. History Channel: Battle for the Pacific is a bad game. You might assume that a company as reputable as the History Channel might take more care to protect their license, but it’s clear that they just wanted to make a quick buck. It’s a real shame too, because there aren’t too many other WWII shooters set in the Pacific Theater. For now, we’ll just have to stick with Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault.