Old double-yoo, double-yoo aye-aye. Officially the most entertaining of all the world wars and the one that every Xbox 360 owner secretly loves and/or wants to have been in. Sadly, the mini-war vacuum-packed into Battlestations Midway doesn't star Ze Crazy Germans or random squeals of "Schnell! Schnell!" like ALL OTHER WWII GAMES. Nope. In a welcome turn of events, this one is less about getting up close and personal with Nazis and shooting their faces clean off, and more about driving boats and planes right at the heart of the evil Japanese.
Battlestations Midway follows the US Navy after Pearl Harbor - as things kick off over the 'Pacific Theatre' - and sees you chasing the Japanese from island to island, sinking boats, chucking artillery fire at naval bases and shooting down fighters and bombers. What makes this different from your average WWII game is its unique (or, rather, it would be if it wasn't a bit like last month's Star Trek Legacy) way of going about things.
See, Battlestations Midway is one of the new-fangled, plays-like-an-RTS-but-you-get-to-control-all-the-units-yourself-if-you-want action strategy games so in vogue at the moment. Once it gets warmed up (and believe us, it takes a long while), you'll be controlling a load of different units simultaneously.
Bombers, fighters, battleships - the whole lot are yours to command and, more importantly, yours to control directly. Thankfully, unlike Star Trek, you're not chucked in at the deep end; instead, Battlestations has a nice, sensible learning curve, putting you in charge of one unit at a time.
The game starts out slap bang in the middle of Pearl Harbor - all swooping planes, burning battleships and palm trees - and while it's ambitious, as an opening level it's not as grand, gorgeous or disorientating as you might expect. (For stunning war game openers, Call of Duty 3 is still the daddy.) You're given one unit - a basic patrol boat - with which to get to grips with the basics of moving and attacking by sea; it's all slow-to- react engines and three and half-year turning circles. Next up, a revenge attack in a fighter - a quick test of the plane's more sensitive, twitchy handling - gets you used to the process of firing ahead of your target and the overall manoeuvrability of the planes.
Such a slow start is absolutely necessary - this isn't Blazing Angels you're playing here. While the controls might not quite be up there with the super-realism of Microsoft Flight Simulator, they're still bordering on the sim side of things: floaty and precise, yanking this way and that for either naval or air units will see you going nowhere fast. There is the option to do the more rigorous and long-winded Naval Academy if you really want, but this unintrusive training session does a good job of introducing some kind of story by linking the sequences of events into something a bit more absorbing than the usual, 'new recruit' nonsense. By the time you hit the third mission you'll be fairly proficient in both boat and plane (or at least, you'd better be, because you need to be) and it's at this point that Battlestations turns things up a notch. Or three. Or four.
NICE SET OF MAPS
Every mission is comprised of a number of primary, secondary and hidden objectives; it's the usual sort of stuff: destroy this, make sure such and such a unit doesn't get blown to bits, take out those gun emplacements, intercept these ships. You can bring up an overall map of the battlefield that you can then zoom in and out of, and by selecting craft using the D-Pad, you can set them waypoints or targets to attack. Technically speaking, you can direct the action almost entirely from the map and, in some cases, it's often best not to take control of units directly. However, the CPU control will never be quite as accurate, or as efficient as if you do it yourself. Take a look at how those fighters you sent off after an enemy squadron ages ago are doing? See what we mean? Your 'pilots' have got all the aiming prowess of a Nazi smashed off his face on Jägermeister.