Dark Clouds are now gathering over the Pacific for the next generation of WWII-themed games, with Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault and Pacific Fighters already sailing east. Battlestations: Midway from Hungarian developer Mithis, is the latest title to document the bitter confrontation between Allied and Japanese forces; a mixture of seafaring action and strategy beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii on December 7 1941, that brought America into WWII, and ending with the pivotal Battle of Midway six months later.
You can choose either a US or Japanese campaign consisting of more than 20 authentic missions, where, in addition to commanding over 100 air, sea and land units in a Command & Conquer RTS style, you have the option of taking direct control of any of them at any time. This means you can, for example, switch in real-time from being a submarine captain stalking an enemy aircraft carrier, to piloting a dive bomber flying high above a cargo transporter. You do this with the tap of a button, and the Al immediately jumps in to take care of the craft you've just vacated.
Go Down Fighting
Battlestations: Midway is concentrated around the use of over 50 different ship types, all based on actual designs borrowed from the National Maritime Museum, with each mission played out on a huge map of at least 1,600 square kilometres of islands and open sea. Early missions only involve a small flotilla, but that evolves into complex missions with multiple objectives and fleets of up to eight different vessels including submarines, aircraft carriers and destroyers that you have to keep shipshape and Bristol fashion.
Each craft in your fleet can be controlled in real-time by pointing and clicking on the command map (which when called up, is superimposed over the action), or moved directly using a controller, with weapons fired independently - which in the case of a King George V battleship include depth charges, torpedoes, anti-aircraft fire and gun batteries. As with real sea battles, moving your ship so it's side-on to the enemy vessels will make you a bigger target, but enable your guns to have a clear shot.
A detailed damage model is being developed for Battlestations that will correctly work out the direct consequences of a strike against a unit -if a shell hits the engine room, for example, there will be a bigger explosion than if a shell hits the side of the ship. Fire can spread to other parts of the vessel, gun turrets can be destroyed, steering can jam and the ship can actually start to list badly if the hull is breached too.
However, you do have repair crews on board that can man the pumps or fight raging fires, but it's up to you how you manage your ship's resources. Left to the game's Al, crews will automatically try and save the ship without your intervention, but a skilled general - as in war - will sacrifice his vessel with a controlled flooded descent to ensure that the guns are kept operational and aimed at the enemy for as long as possible.
As well as manning the ships and gun batteries, you can also take to the air in over 25 aircraft such as Recon planes and Torpedo runners. Each carrier in your fleet is able to support 12 craft (four squadrons of three units) at any time, and dozens of replacements are available below deck in case Ginger buys it at 10,000 feet. Each of these planes, like the ships, can be ordered around, left to the computer or directly controlled by you - and they should handle perfectly (unlike the recent Secret Weapons Over Normandy, which Mithis felt was too dumbed down).
These babies have a proper flight model, so they can loop the loop, do rolls - even pull off a stall dive - so that any dogfights should hopefully feel just right when the development team has properly implemented the enemy Al. You also have free reign with the game's camera, so unlike a lot of other flight sims, when you go on an island bombing run, you can swing the view right around and witness all that lovely destruction you've just created. Once you've dropped youHethal payload on the enemy, you can return to an aircraft carrier or nearby island base to refuel, re-arm and conduct any repairs.
The amount of detail present even at this early stage of development is already impressive, with flags blowing in the wind, smoke trails from shells, plumes of smoke from violent explosions and of course, wet-looking sea. Which is always useful.
Whatever The Weather
Weather will be an important element in certain missions too, with storms raining down on your ships, causing great waves that will affect your visibility and capability of spotting and firing upon enemy vessels. Mithis will also be bringing the world of Battlestations: Midway to life, populating the ships with animated crews, and having packed troop ships that will drop legions of soldiers onto the island beaches in what will no doubt be another videogame homage to Saving Private Ryan.
With nearly a year to go until the champagne bottles will be smashing to launch Battlestations: Midway, there's a great deal of potential here. The ability to command great fleets of ships like an RTS, but be able to jump in and take direct control of AA guns, planes in the air or ships out at sea whenever you like, could prove to be a high water mark for war games.
We're Already Looking Forward (And Aft) To Battlestations' Multiplayer
Although much has yet to be revealed, Mithis is promising that the multiplayer modes in Battlestations: Midway will blow other WWII action games out of the water. The aim is to have a minimum of 16 players, each able to command fleets of up to eight craft, with all the accompanying aircraft and ground forces. A co-op mode has been hinted at, although it's more likely that you'll be teaming up with friends' fleets, rather than joining them as a wingman in their squadron. Submarines haven't been implemented yet, but these silent underwater craft will effectively be a sniper role in the game, perfect for camping and taking out any craft that stray into your path.
Download Battlestations: Midway
In The Navy, you can join your fellow man, or alternatively you can obliterate your fellow man at sea using gigantic nautical weaponry. The latter is what concerns Battlestations: Midway, reguiring you to negotiate the dangerous waters of famous World War II battles and eliminate your opponents in all kinds of planes, boats and submarines.
The problem is the slight tediousness of it all. At times you can find yourself moving about thousands of tons of seafaring metal at ridiculously slow speeds, preparing for a giant battle that, without the right degree of tactical finesse, will lead to both your demise, and a load more repositioning. Just like real naval warfare then - except with save games. This is very much a slow-moving war game, and while certain elements (plane-based combat for one) offer speedier action for the less-than patient, the rest of the game still requires a level of forbearance that won't be necessarily be granted by a lower price.
Battlestations: Midway still has a very niche market, but at least the niche can get it on the cheap.