Naval Warfare With Killer Graphics.

The new WWII naval warfare game Battlestations Midway ($40, requires Microsoft 8Ghz processor, 512MB RAM, 6GB hard drive space, 64MB video card, DVD-ROM drive, Internet connection required for multiplayer components, Eidos Interactive, www.battlestations. net) is a historical game in the same way that Forrest Gump is a historical movie or Flight of the Intruder is a history book. That is to say, the game’s storyline is fictional, but it intersects with real-life events.

Battlestations Midway tells the story of two friends, a surface officer in the U.S. Navy and a pilot in the U.S. Marines, as they survive the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and see action in the Pacific theater. And like Gump, the game’s characters sometimes cross paths with some characters of renown, such as the time the Navy officer’s PT-boat shares action with a sister craft commanded by a guy with the initials JFK. The story may stray too close to fantasy at times, but it’s only one part of what Battlestations Midway offers. This interesting blend of strategy and simulation isn’t an original concept, but it’s the first package to bring modern graphics and a WWII naval theme to the table. Battlestations Midway manages a nice path between the genre of real-time strategies, in which a player manages resources at a high level and commands every unit on the field, and simulations, in which a player takes complete control of a single unit.

The resources available to the player include surface ships, submarines and aircraft. Scenarios in the game usually task the player with defending or striking a location or target. Players can give orders to his forces on a tactical map, and the game’s artificial intelligence will attempt to carry out the mission, but the player can also take control of almost any unit and command it. This simulation portion of the game caters to action rather than realism, especially in the aviation elements, where the flight models are very relaxed. Players also don’t man a cockpit view, but an external view, and the game abstracts the concept of instrumentation to a single gauge indicating throttle settings, speed and altitude. Early-war models like the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat and Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless are here to tangle with Mitsubishi A6M2 Zeros and Nakajima B5N2 Kates. A few realistic details have been left intact to keep the player honest. Dive and torpedo bombers must be within acceptable angles of attack or they cannot release ordnance, and when they do release it they’re empty, unlike the comparable planes in Battlefield 1942, which have a magic load of 20 bombs.

Battlestations Midway includes plenty of variety, and players can also command destroyers, battleships and aircraft carriers. Where the simulation component is clearly more of an arcade game, control of an aircraft carrier or a land-based airfield adds a unique squadron management dimension to the game. Players managing these resources have an allotment of aircraft and four squadron spaces. The limit of 12 planes to spread among the four slots is unrealistic, but some may find the experience of serving as a military air traffic controller illuminating. Determining the right mix of dive bombers, torpedo bombers and fighter escorts is just part of the job. The player must also determine target assignments and when it’s time to recall a squadron. Some realism is again sacrificed here because historically a carrier operations officer would never have such fine control over aircraft far from visual or radar range.

Dogfights are simple but visceral, and strike enthusiasts will appreciate the chance to perform dive and torpedo bombing. The graphics are excellent on a powerful computer and still quite pleasing on a midrange machine. Battlestations Midway’s surface battles are a more convincing sight than the air-to-sea battles in some other games. Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator 2, for example might have a ship or two as a target for a player squadron of two to four planes. In Battlestations Midway, the player will likely have a 12-plane mixture of fighters and bombers bearing down on a formation of four or more ships, each throwing up anti-aircraft fire and leaving curved wakes behind as they take evasive maneuvers. This is even more pronounced and exciting in multiplayer battles.

Battlestations Midway offers the player a fine blend of action and strategy. The game only covers scenarios up to the Battle of Midway, but its tremendous variety of vehicles to command and scenarios to play, and its multiplayer support, give it decent play value. Mission completion unlocks medal awards and content such as vehicle identification videos and data sheets. Like a good historical novel, the game teaches a little while entertaining the player.


Originally published in the July 2007 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here