Battlestations: Pacific Preview - The Battle of Santa Cruz

We take a look at the follow-up to Battlestations: Midway and how it will re-create a historically crucial World War II battle.

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2007's Battlestations: Midway was an unusual game that combined action and strategy on the Pacific front of the world's greatest war. The air-sea battles between Japanese and American forces provided an opportunity to offer hybrid gameplay that included flying a fighter plane to run raids on Japanese battleships as well as strategically deploying your own vessels out of port. Battlestations: Pacific will expand on its predecessor by picking up after the Battle of Midway. It will offer even more explosive action-strategy gameplay, along with the option to play as both US and Japanese forces, and it will offer new historical battles to fight, such as the Battle of Santa Cruz, which took place in October of 1942, four months after Midway. In this preview, we'll take a brief historic look at the battle and what it means for the game that will attempt to reproduce it.

Battlestations: Pacific will offer even more air-and-sea battles of World War II.
Battlestations: Pacific will offer even more air-and-sea battles of World War II.

The Battle of the Santa Cruz islands was a pivotal conflict that resulted in severe losses for both combatants. While Midway ended with the decisive defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway Atoll, Santa Cruz resulted in a severe blow dealt to Japanese air power--at the cost of the US Navy's prized carrier, the USS Hornet. The battle seemed like a clear-cut tactical victory for the Japanese, since the loss of the carrier was a devastating blow to American military holdings in the Pacific...but the Japanese forces lost many fighter planes, and, more importantly, many veteran pilots, while US forces lost far fewer by comparison. These losses would add up to be a severe disadvantage for the Japanese later in the war.

The stage, such as it was, was set for a potentially glorious victory for Japanese forces, whose previous raid on Pearl Harbor expanded their influence, even as the nation's relatively large forces were positioned to decimate, if not eliminate, the relatively small US forces emplaced in the area. US forces came into the battle with a goal of surviving--to hold out as long as possible and destroy as much of the enemy fleet as possible.

The battle began with the odds stacked in Japan's favor, as the nation's forces moved to Guadalcanal to support its already-installed army, while the US fleet, including the USS Enterprise and the USS Hornet, was sent in to intercept Japanese forces, ending up in the vicinity of Santa Cruz Island. The battle was an air-and-sea skirmish that lasted some four hours, resulting in severe damage to two Japanese carriers and the loss of more than 100 pilots and fighter planes, while the Hornet was sunk and the Enterprise was damaged.

In the game, this massive battle will take place on a virtual battlefield roughly 20,000 square feet in size. Santa Cruz is part of the US campaign, and you'll start out playing as the US forces with the USS Enterprise and all its flight wings, from which you can launch F4F Wildcat fighters, TBF Avenger torpedo bombers, and SBD Dauntless dive-bombers. Later in the mission, you'll receive reinforcements in the form of the USS South Dakota. However, you'll begin this challenging mission overmatched, just as the US forces were historically, against Japanese forces with multiple carriers, Zero fighters, Kate torpedo bombers, and Val dive-bombers, as well as a supplemental force of four battleships that are probably best left alone.

Your objective will be to get airborne as soon as you can to repel Japanese air assaults and later mount an air offensive of your own against the two Japanese carriers. With the help of the South Dakota's heavy guns, you'll actually have a fighting chance of pulling this off. Unfortunately, the Enterprise will take a hit as it did in the historical battle, so your job will be to defend it as it makes a retreat and later scuttle the torpedoed Hornet to prevent the Japanese from commandeering the vessel.

You'll take charge of the mighty USS Enterprise and the aircraft that launch from its flight wings.
You'll take charge of the mighty USS Enterprise and the aircraft that launch from its flight wings.

Because of the open-ended nature of the Battlestations games, despite the sequence of historical events that will be scripted to take place, you'll still have plenty of different ways to play the mission. For instance, you can attempt to aggressively focus your attention on flying fighter plane assaults on the Japanese troops, first repelling their aircraft, then later zeroing in on their carrier vessels--though this approach will leave your bombers without air cover. Or, when the South Dakota arrives, you can instead use air patrols to protect the vessel and use the ship's heavy artillery to start blasting enemy ships out of the water. In any case, you'll be required to protect the Enterprise and sink at least one enemy carrier, though achievements are offered for defeating more enemies and completing a side mission of a naval assault using two US destroyers.

Battlestations: Pacific will offer two full single-player campaigns for both sides of the war, which will, in total, include 28 single-player historical battles. The game's multiplayer will offer five different modes of play on a number of different maps. The game is scheduled to ship early next year.

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