I have to give points to Electronic Arts for having the chutzpah to bring the classic turns and turrets sea battle to arcade life in Battlestations, a PlayStation naval combat title whose approach might be called beer and pretzels. This is to say that if you played this title under the assumption that it's like other naval computer games (while consuming beer and pretzels), you might actually get said foodstuffs lodged up your nose in laughter or panic. Unlike two-player action in Campaign' and War Game,' this is an arcade game a real-time Battleship for the 90s, if you will.
Hallowed naval tactics? Guess again. Opposing vessels - we're talking modern-era aircraft carriers and battlecruisers - begin their engagements at ranges better suited to Estes rockets than Exocet missiles, and the circling-camera intro pan might as well have the caption FIGHT! in blood-drenched capital letters. Challenging aquadynamics? Forget it. The ships maneuver with the all the hydrophysical realism of CostCo shopping carts (albeit heavily armed CostCo shopping carts) pushed by a hyperactive child who has loaded up on one too many cases of family-sized No-Doz. And somehow, despite the wonky sense of proportion and the Pee-Wee Herman physics, Battlestations manages to be fun once you get fitted for the third hand with which you'll probably want to operate the controls. Each vessel type in the game has primary and defensive arms, as well as special attacks and defenses (cruise missiles for battlecruisers, flights of F-14s for aircraft carriers, etc.). And on top of that, holding down a target button toggles D-pad control between ship navigation and turret swivel (which is independent of said navigation). In terms of gameplay, this means each ship-to-ship engagement involves the simultaneous juggling of D-pad vessel control (completely independent secondary weapon targeting), and timing of special attacks and defensive measures. The good news: Each battle in the game is a one-on-one affair, which keeps the actual sea-traffic control to a manageable minimum. The bad news: If it's your patrol frigate to the other guy's aircraft carrier, that's tough luck. Actually, it can get even worse that that. In my favorite campaign game, Whale Liberator, your naval task force, must go on the hunt for whaler ships backed, bizarrely, by full-on military escorts. Deploy your forces badly enough and a whaler may slip through, engage one of your whales, and yep, you guessed it: It's you, the defenseless whale, against the inexplicably long-ranged and jaw-droppingly armed whaler ship. You get just one guess who gets whaled on.
It's kind of a shame that a little more time was not taken here to deepen the campaign games, or at least to offer a difficulty option for advanced players. This, like Black Dawn, is a goofy game with fast action, fun graphics, tough sound effects, a happy-go-lucky concern for play balance, and almost everything in the way of physical reality cheerfully chucked over the starboard bow. Reversing your full-sized aircraft carrier to the battle area's maximum boundary, and ramming the wimpiest patrol boat at flank speed, produces a comical bonk (and, presumably, a hearty chuckle from the PT boat's crew); lumbering battleships whirl around each other at rock-throwing range like swimming-pool ballerinas in a Buzby Berkeley film, all the while gouging each other with cruise missiles, mines, and awkward but deadly batteries of guns. If you can't get an adrenaline rush and a few good laughs from a two-player tussle under such ludicrous yet high-energy conditions, there might be something wrong with you. If you prefer to smile rather than frown when you play a game (believe me, these Preferred Frowners exist), grab a friend, a second PSX controller, and give Battlestations a try.
Just finish the beer and pretzels before you play.