Battlestations: Midway Updated Impressions

We get another look at this exciting action strategy game that promises to bring the naval battles of World War II to life like never before.


Battlestations: Midway

Battlestations: Midway is a game that caught our eye when it was unveiled in London last September. Best described as a hybrid, Battlestations: Midway combines fantastic-looking World War II action with real-time strategy elements. The gameplay itself borders on being cinematic in appearance, as you can watch warships trade fire back and forth while fighters zoom down through flak bursts to drop bombs and torpedoes. The game has steadily progressed in development over the past few months, and the big news is that THQ will publish the game in North America. We had a chance to get another look at the game at THQ's press event in San Francisco this week, and we came away even more impressed by it.

Despite its strategy elements, Battlestations: Midway looks and plays very much like an action game. Think of it as sort of Battlefield 1942, only without the infantry combat. With an emphasis on naval and air action, you're able to jump between different ships, submarines, and planes, and you can control them in battle. So you can control a warship as it trades broadsides with another ship, you can take control of a fighter and then dogfight with enemy planes, and you can even take control of a submarine to try to sink an enemy vessel. All the action takes place in third person, which means that you're constantly looking at the craft you're controlling. This helps reinforce that this isn't a simulation, but rather, it's an action game. With that said, the action certainly has depth to it, because you'll have to learn basic tactics to succeed. For example, when you control a warship, you'll want to "Cross the T" with the enemy, meaning that you'll want to keep the enemy perpendicular to you, which lets you unleash the full power of your broadside while limiting your enemy to only his forward guns.

It's not all action in Battlestations: Midway, though. The strategic part of the game will let you issue orders to units you aren't actively controlling. For instance, you can order your escorts to attack one enemy ship while you take control of a cruiser and pound another ship yourself. (There will also be a button that will let you lock on to an enemy, signaling all your units to fire on it.) Or you can order your carrier planes to attack land targets while you stalk an enemy carrier in a submarine. You will issue these orders on the strategic map. Though it's in the early stages, this map will probably look like a zoomed-out, 3D, isometric view of the battlefield where you'll see units moving around in real time. Since the game is being developed for the Xbox and PlayStation 2, as well as the PC, the strategic controls are being kept simple. Just select a unit, give it an order, and it will do it, allowing you to jump back in to the thick of battle.

All the ships, planes, and subs in the game are taken from historical record, and you'll control a wide variety of forces. There are heavy strategic bombers, fighters, dive-bombers, torpedo-bombers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, torpedo boats, and more. Obviously, each ship and plane has its advantages and disadvantages. The torpedo boats are great for harassing larger ships, and their speed and mobility make them difficult to hit. But if a battleship should land even a few rounds on a torpedo boat, it'll explode. Meanwhile, battleships are huge and can dish out and absorb huge amounts of damage, but they're relatively slow, making them easy targets. Using your forces in a combined-arms approach will be essential to balancing out all weaknesses.

We got to see the PC version of the game in action, and it plays out like a cool Hollywood version of World War II naval combat. We watched as huge battleships lumbered around while nimble destroyers ran up and raked them with fire. Meanwhile, fighters dueled above, and every now and then, one of them crashed into the ocean, trailing a thick plume of black smoke. There's an excellent level of detail in the game, and all the textures used on planes and warships were originally hand-painted, giving them strong looks. Meanwhile, both ships and planes look very sharp, as each is rendered with large numbers of polygons. There's so much detail that if you squint you can see tiny men manning the antiaircraft guns on a ship. We were even able to zoom in and see their faces, a detail you won't generally see, save for that split second before the plane you're flying slams into the side of a ship.

The game takes place during the six months between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941 and the decisive Battle of Midway in June 1942. During the single-player campaign, you'll play as a young US Naval Academy graduate who manages to get caught up in all the battles and skirmishes leading up to Midway. The game will feature about 10 or 12 battles, all of which are based on actual events. This means that your mission objectives will closely correspond to history. For example, if a capital ship managed to survive a certain battle in real life, you can be sure that keeping it alive will be one of your tasks in the mission. When you finish the US campaign, you'll unlock the specialized Japanese missions, which are tougher than the US ones. In addition to the campaign, the game will be released with plane, ship, and submarine challenges that will task you with performing certain objectives.

In addition to single-player, Battlestations: Midway will feature a multiplayer mode, though that component of the game is still being kept under wraps for now. What we do know is that it will support up to 16 players on all three platforms. The multiplayer possibilities are tangibly exciting, as we can easily imagine some players taking control of fighters and bombers while other players duke it out on the seas in glorious battleship slugfests. We'll hopefully learn more about the multiplayer, as well as other details of the game, in the coming months. Battlestations: Midway is scheduled to ship for all three platforms this summer, so we'll keep a close eye on it until then.

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