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6 Reviews

Battlestations Midway

Plane, sailing

Calling it 'the Pacific theatre' always seems somewhat disrespectful. Yet for Battlestations: Midway, the name is all too appropriate. Here, the Second World War really is the greatest show on earth.

At its best, the game offers a string of unique sensations, and manages to convey the sheer scale of war. Seeing a good couple of dozen planes flying in formation towards a naval base - literally filling the sky - and then scattering as you swoop in to engage them in your fighter, is the sort of dramatic moment we play games for.

You don't even see this sort of raw spectacle much in pure action games, and Midway is as much about strategy as it is about action. It's a game in the mould of that ancient classic Carrier Command, where you're able to give orders to any unit, but you're also able to take direct control of everything in your fleet, from tiny patrol boats to monstrous destroyers. And, most importantly, carriers, which are able to launch their own aircraft sub-units, each of which can also be manually controlled. And the subs! And the water-planes! And... well, if it's hardware, it's in here. Wisely, the designers have taken inspiration from Battlefield 1942, and used a mostly standardised control system, making switching vehicles as natural as possible.

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'As possible' is a relative term. There's still a serious learning curve, and a mass of tutorials. Some of the more detailed sections - such as those covering your ability to perform damage control on your ship if it springs a leak - require active perusal. Theory is one thing, but practice another. Understandably, the game ramps up slowly, introducing hardware piecemeal in the first half of the campaign, the plot of which runs from the initial Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbour to the eponymous battle of Midway.

Missions with planes are nippy - you speed into conflict and can just launch another wave of fighters when you accidentally crash into an incoming Zero - but the ships are a different matter entirely. Ships handle precisely like you'd imagine several thousand tonnes of steel, rivets and seamen would. Since there has to be time for tactical positioning before a conflict, replaying a level involves an extended period of drumming fingers.

Things regularly go wrong, both in terms of attrition and catastrophic failure. In the former case, damage to your ship adds up to the point where the final encounters in the extended no-savegame battles can be simply impossible, requiring a restart. In the latter, no matter how well you're doing, a couple of torpedoes in the correct place can still turn you from a terrifying cruiser to a glorified aquarium toy for lucky deep-sea fish.

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But Midway isn't really about how its individual units work. It's about combined arms, and the moments when you skip from the command deck of your aircraft carrier, deciding what array of torpedo boats, dive-bombers and fighters you want to put in the air, to actually controlling those fighters - before switching to a destroyer hunting a sub, then to a sub hunting a battleship, then to a battleship unleashing its ludicrous array of guns at a distant carrier, to your own fighters chasing dive-bombers on their final run to... well, whatever. At its best, Battlestations: Midway is totally dizzying in the best way.

While the AI is more than capable of carrying out your orders, you'll generally want to go hands-on, skipping between what you consider the vital parts of the battle. If there's a task you don't find interesting, just leave it to the computer. Even more so if there's a task you're properly rubbish at. You'll still do one hell of a lot of vehicle-switching, and it's to the game's credit that it's rarely confusing. If you do get lost, a swift retreat to the map screen to consider the lie of the land soon puts you back on track.

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