E3 2008: Battlestations: Pacific Hands-On

It's time to scramble to battle stations once again, because Eidos' historic real-time strategy franchise is back for a second campaign in Battlestations Pacific.

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The original Battlestations Midway received a positive reception from fans and critics alike, successfully walking the fine line between action and simulation. Eidos' Hungary studio has been hard at work since then and is in full swing getting the series ready for round two.

This time around you can play as American or Japanese forces.
This time around you can play as American or Japanese forces.

Midway took place in the first half of World War II's Pacific theatre, between the events at Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway. Pacific picks up where the first game left off and will eventually lead you to invade Japan with American forces. However, while the first game focused solely on playing a campaign from America's point of view, Pacific will also let you play as Japanese forces in a "what if" scenario--akin to playing as the Soviets in the Command & Conquer: Red Alert universe (sans the crazy science-fiction angle)--that assumes they won the Battle of Midway.

We sat down with Eidos Hungary's Alastair Cornish, one of the game's designers, in London just before E3 to see how Pacific is shaping up and to find out if it's indeed ready to graduate from naval academy boot camp. We saw a pre-alpha version of the game, which already looks to be shaping up quite nicely. Cornish tells us the team has put a lot of effort into the second instalment, including upping the environment details and particle effects (such as explosions and flak), increasing detail in damage modelling, adding some cool-looking ship damage, and making the training "on the job" rather than academy based.

One of the major new features in the game is island capture, which a member of the development team demonstrated in the first campaign we saw, Port Moresby. The campaign--which we were able to look at but not touch--is loosely based on the Allied base that was situated there in Papua New Guinea's capital city and which served as a last defence between Japan's forces and northern Australia.

The island-capture mode requires you to use all of the resources at your disposal--including your ship-mounted cannons and machine guns, aerial support, and deployable troops--to successfully take over an island. If you're feeling particularly cruel, you can speed up the process by shelling enemy troops directly with your ship's cannons and viewing the carnage through binoculars. Once the island is captured, you can then use it for strategic purposes, and you will have extra defences against the enemy, for example taking a radar control station, which will decrease the fog of war, or capturing the enemy's airfield, which will gain you access to seaplanes.

A number of incremental improvements have also been made to Battlestations, such as a redesign of the map screen and the ability to create multiple waypoints when plotting courses for your ships, allowing you to flank the opposition.

After the demonstration of the Port Moresby mission, we jumped into the hotseat to try our hand at another mission, Leyte, which is based on a real campaign that took place on the Philippine island in October 1944. The first objective was to use carrier-launched bombers to destroy several airfields on the island. Once we got within range of the airfields, we then changed to a targeting reticle to blow them to smithereens. After completing that task, we assumed control of a rocket-equipped plane to take out several other enemy bases located on the island. The experience was intense, and because it's part of a wider battle, we had to make several attempts due to constant pressure from antiair guns.

Take to the skies with bombers and rocket-launching planes in Battlestations: Pacific.
Take to the skies with bombers and rocket-launching planes in Battlestations: Pacific.

Battlestations Pacific looks like it will build on some of the good ideas seen in the first game, while adding some improvements and new modes along the way. Eidos has been tight-lipped on the multiplayer aspects so far (after all, "loose lips sink ships") but promises to be more forthcoming later on. Stay tuned for more details on Battlestations Pacific to emerge from the front lines before its release in early 2009.

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