Making games that cross genres is never easy. From the action RPG to the platform shooter, it takes an excellent designer to make a cross genre game shine. Eidos Hungary has attempted to cross the RTS with a military action game. Does it become a well oiled ship sinking machine, or does it end up a convoluted mess?
There are some excellent aspects to the gameplay in Battlestations. At its best, the game pulls the best aspects from both genres masterfully. The amount of different units in the game is really nice. You’ll be able to control everything from a PT boat to the battleship Yamato. You can set up complex tactics, organize elaborate fleet maneuvers, and then switch over to some fighters for a dogfight while the lumbering hulks get into position. You can truly control just about every aspect of the forces under your control. Each unit can be given orders from a tactical map, and there are also restraints that can be placed on the unit AI that allow you to tweak the units actions to an extent. Ships can be placed in formation with each other, and you can organize your formation however you wish. Ships also have a damage control function where you have to allocate your repair resources to keep your ships alive longer, and repair damaged equipment like guns and engines. This adds another aspect of strategy to the game as aiming to take out a ships engine or weapons can be a valuable tactic. Most of the time, these features give you just enough to do to keep the game interesting while the slow surface ships get into the action and unleash the big guns.
Controlling individual ships is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. The simulation aspect of the game can really be felt here, and you really feel like you’re controlling a 15,000 ton hunk of steel. Additionally, weapons on ships have to be properly positioned to be fired. For example, just because the front turrets on your cruiser are in range of your target, it doesn’t mean that your rear turrets are. The game manages this by having each gun turret represented separately through one main gun control. When I aim at a target with my artillery, small lights over my sight let me know which guns are in range, which are ready to fire, which are reloading, and which are damaged or in the process of repositioning. While this might not sound very fun, slowly moving into position to successfully unleash a broadside on an enemy battleship is quite fun. Positioning your ships to be able to take full advantage of the majority of their armaments is crucial to success in the game. For the most part, traditional naval tactics hold up pretty well in the game, and in the single player in particular.
The gameplay usually gives you a manageable amount of units to watch, but at times it becomes overwhelming. The unit AI is not as competent as you in most situations, so controlling the units you send into combat is essential. This is most evident in the surface ships you control. The AI is simply too cautious, and sticks too closely to traditional tactics. It’s amazing what your units can do when you don’t care if they live or die. The AI also does not manage the ships repair assets. Torpedo damage which is usually easily repaired, becomes deadly if you aren’t allocating your damage control resources. Much of the difficulty of the game comes from the amount of enemies that you are forced to respond to at one time. The game simply suffers from the amount of control you need to exert over single units. Dogfights in particular need player control to really be effective, as Player vs. AI dogfights aren’t much of a contest. You’ll lose missions simply because you were focusing on a single unit while a critical part of your forces are being attacked. While this is very fun most of the time, when you start to lose repeatedly because of it, it becomes very frustrating.
The single player campaign puts you in the shoes of a naval captain as he travels from battle to battle beginning at Pearl Harbor and ending at Midway. There is also a story attached to the campaign, but it’s so bad that the game suffers for it. The poor writing and the absolutely atrocious voice acting make the story elements nearly unwatchable. The campaign isn’t very long, and you can easily finish it in an extended sitting. The tutorial for the game is another serious detractor. While it does teach you just about everything you need to know about the game, it took over an hour to complete, and makes you feel like a 3 year old with its explanations. If you’ve played the demo on the Marketplace, it’s especially tedious. The learning curve for the game is significant, but manageable. The story campaign helps with this significantly by keeping the amount of forces you control small in the first few missions. You begin by controlling one ship at time and slowly ramp up to group of ships, then an entire fleet. Disappointingly, there is no campaign for the Japanese. You do get a chance to play as the Japanese in the other single player mode, the challenges. There are 3 types of challenges, ship, submarine, and plane, that are comprised of 3 missions each. These challenges live up to their name and are much more difficult than the campaign and will test the limits of your command capability.
Multiplayer will see you controlling much smaller sized forces than the majority of the single player campaign, usually either an airfield/carrier or a small group of ships or a shipyard. What is usually a manageable force can easily become overwhelming with the amount of action that takes place in your typical multiplayer game. There is a considerable amount of diversity among the maps and their force distributions, which lead to a high number of possible game experiences. Each map consists of 2 teams with 4 players slots per team. Usually each player slot is different, and adds a lot to the diversity of online play. Team work is critically important when playing multiplayer. One player does not have the resources to take on multiple opponents alone, and even more so than in other games if you find yourself on a bad team, or even one that fails to communicate well, you will not have a good time.
The visuals in the game are nothing special, but they don’t have to be. While the graphics are anything but impressive you shouldn’t find yourself in a situation where the visual quality detracts from your overall game experience. There are some nice touches, like actually being able to see the sailors on the decks of your ships manning the AA guns. Your ship also shows representations of the damage you accrue. So when you’ve had multiple torpedo hits and your hull is partially full of water, your ship will rest lower in the water, when a bomb hits your magazine, it will burst into flames. The audio for the game is pretty good, excluding the voice acting from the story segments. The in game voice acting is actually pretty good and helps with the overall immersion. Overall, the AV component of the game is nothing to brag about, but it’s good enough to get by without hurting the game.
When you get right down to it, Battlestations: Midway is a pretty good game overall. For the most part it’s fun to play and usually you’ll have a lot of fun with it. Whenever you hit one of the brick walls that come from the complexity of command in the game the game gets really frustrating. Similarly in online play, you’ll usually have a lot of fun but when you run into team issues, the game really suffers for it significantly more than other online titles. The variety of online play is a great boost to replay value, as you can play for hours without having the same game experience twice. The single player doesn’t really have much replay value, I never felt the urge to play any of the levels again after beating them the first time. The Marketplace demo is a good judge for whether or not you’ll be able to cope with the extent of necessary management skills. If you felt like you were overwhelmed by the amount of things that require your attention in the demo, then you should think twice about purchasing the game. If you’re a WWII buff and really enjoy the history, there are fewer things as satisfying as successfully crossing the T. If you like RTS games, but want something with a little more action then this game should appeal to you.
Final Score: 7 out of 10 - Above Average (How do we rate games?)