Battlestations: Pacific

Superior naval gazing

US Navy Carrier Battle Group is, collectively, the scariest weapon in modern warfare. Like a Ship Of The Line before it, a CBG is the ultimate projection of power, a near-invulnerable floating iron fist capable of annihilating any similar force and punching sizeable holes in enemy countries.

Unfortunately, it's not much cop when it comes to protecting Marines from $50 homemade roadside bombs, but there you go. Although considerably more fragile than those of the present day, the CBG was the main player in the war in the Pacific. Here you get to play Admiral of the fleet, controlling both the carrier groups as a whole and their individual components - carriers, battleships, destroyers, subs, planes and fast gun boats - in a rather nifty strategy-action World War II-fest.

Veteran Xbox warmongers will recognise that this is the second of the Battlestations games. Congratulations, you get to fly the spotter plane in the new multiplayer modes. The last game focused on the battle of the Midway. Here you're dealing with the whole damn Pacific theatre, so the number of scenarios has been ramped up to almost double. Once again you can play from both the US and Japanese perspectives, although this time there's a full-fat Japanese campaign from the outset that kicks off with you attacking Pearl Harbor.

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As with the first title, this is something of a slow burner and, thankfully for newcomers, eases you gently into the action, letting you get used to the somewhat fiddly controls and trickier strategic concepts rather than throwing you straight into full-blown fleet-to-fleet engagements. Each scenario - or mission - comprises different elements and has primary, secondary and hidden objectives. For example, you might be required to protect your own carrier with fighters for the first stage, then destroy an enemy carrier with bombers in the second. Later on you'll be juggling your offensive and defensive aerial wings with submarine-hunting, ship-launched artillery bombardments to support troops on an island and so on. Hectic? Too bloody right it is.

Little has changed in terms of core gameplay. You can still hop from unit to unit, take control of them as you see fit and get right up close to the action (piloting a Hellcat on a torpedo run, for example, or directing AA fire against incoming Zeros from a destroyer). Weaving through flak and machine gun fire towards a target, while keeping watch on your enemy fighters, is where the game's generally impressive visuals are at their best. It's seat of the pants stuff, although the knowledge that you can simply flip to a new unit if you get wasted takes some of the edge off direct combat.

In early missions you can generally get by just controlling a single unit but the deeper you get into the campaigns, the more you'll rely on the strategic map. Here you're given a full overview of the situation, and you can scroll through your units using the analogue sticks, highlighting them and then issuing a variety of orders to each via the face buttons. Although you can play the armchair Admiral role, sitting back and watching the action from afar, it's advisable - and more enjoyable - to dip back into the cockpit of a plane or take the seat at a sub periscope as you're likely to be more accurate when attacking enemy shipping than the AI.

The sheer number and variety of scenarios will keep you busy and engrossed for plenty of hours, and the numerous multiplayer options will, hopefully, make for a near-lifetime on the ocean waves. Although vast swathes of deep sea drink don't make for the most exciting of backdrops, units are nicely detailed and the skies and seas are choc-full of them exploderising each other impressively. Overall, it's a very accomplished sea-quel. And we apologise.

The verdict

A beefier package than the first title with an impressive blend of tactical play and action.

  • Brain taxing strategy
  • Ace aerial combat
  • Starts slow, looks samey
Xbox 360
Eidos Interactive
Action, Sim / Strategy