Battlestations: Midway Impressions

SCi unveils a promising and interesting new kind of World War II game, and we get a first look.

After seeing countless World War II-themed shooters and real-time strategy games, it's refreshing to see a publisher and developer take a fresh approach to the genre. Battlestations: Midway is such a game, and it looks promising indeed. Unveiled and announced amid the festivities of London Games Week, this upcoming action strategy hybrid from publisher SCi and Hungarian developer Mithis Games could very well be the start of an exciting new franchise.

So what is Battlestations: Midway? SCi representatives describe it as a real-time strategy game, but instead of looking at the world from a top-down perspective and clicking on units, you'll jump into different vehicles and control them yourself. If that sounds a bit like Battlefield 1942, then you're right, because Battlestations: Midway feels a lot like that game, only there's no infantry combat at all, which puts all the emphasis on the vehicles.

The game starts with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and covers the following six months leading up to the pivotal Battle of Midway. The game will feature a single-player storyline that puts you in the shoes of a young Annapolis graduate caught up in all the early battles of the war, but you can also play as the Japanese during the campaign and find out whether you can change history yourself.

Battlestations: Midway is concerned mostly with the naval aspect of the war, so you'll primarily control warships and carrier-born aircraft during each battle. Battlestations: Midway plays out like a real-time strategy game in that you can give orders to your units, and the AI will carry them out. But you can jump from each ship and aircraft and take direct control yourself. For example, you can order your battleships to get into a battle line, then jump into the lead battleship and have fun firing devastating broadsides at the enemy. The control scheme is fairly elegant, and the developers spent months working on the basic control system. In the PS2 and Xbox versions, you'll use the left analog stick to control speed and steering, while the right analog stick will control the camera. When controlling a platform that has different types of weapons, such as a battleship, you can toggle between the main guns, the antiaircraft guns, torpedoes, depth charges, and more. The easy-to-use, color-coded interface lets you know which of your guns are ready to fire, which are reloading, and which have available firing arcs on the enemy.

Another cool feature of the game is that if your warship is hit, you can switch to a damage control scheme and direct the efforts of your crew. If a fire rages out of control, then you should divert all effort to firefighting before the fire hits a critical ammunition magazine. And if you're taking in water, you'll need to have the crew focus on pumping out water and shoring up the hull. Of course, you'll usually have several kinds of crises going on, so you'll need to balance your damage-control efforts.

If you control a carrier, you can launch waves of different types of fighters at the enemy, including regular fighters for air superiority, torpedo planes, and dive-bombers. The AI will control the planes, or you can jump into any plane and fly it. The developers are striving for a balance between realism, historical authenticity, and fun, so flying isn't too difficult, but you'll want to use tactics in order to succeed. For example, in the dive-bomber, you need to climb to a high altitude and then dive straight at the enemy. This requires holding your nerve as antiaircraft fire reaches up at you while you wait for the best possible moment to drop your bombs.

The developer promises big levels to fight on--in fact, you'll actually need to locate and identify your enemy's position. This means you can launch observation planes that can scan large swaths of the ocean at a time, though they're extremely vulnerable to enemy fire and aircraft.

The game looks great. The graphics engine is beautiful, and the gameplay is almost cinematic at times. There are certainly moments worthy of Hollywood, like when your formation of American torpedo planes buzz past a Japanese destroyer, with tracer fire and explosions in your wake. The textures and models are highly detailed, and the water effects are gorgeous.

From what we've seen, Battlestations: Midway presents a very exciting combination of simulation, strategy, and action. The game is being developed for the PC, PS2, and Xbox, and there will be online support for up to 16 players on each platform. The PC version will also have a control scheme designed for a keyboard and mouse combination. The game is still a bit early in development, but the plan is to ship it for all three platforms sometime next summer.

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