Attack on Pearl Harbor Review (PC)

If this game suffers, or is relegated to the bargain bin ahead of its time, it’ll be down to presentation. When judging this book by its uninspired, lacklustre cover, you won’t be itching to feed your CD drive with these particular Pearls. Which is unfortunate, since the descriptively, yet banally titles Attack on Pearl Harbor is surprisingly good fun!

For the first time in a long time, players can actually see what’s going on without a half-screen high cockpit filling up the monitor
Although they have little effect on the actual gameplay, the environments are quite inspiring

“Fun” is not the description I expected myself to be using to summarise developer Legendo’s latest arcade game. In fact, I didn’t expect to be pegging this title as an arcade game; but that’s most certainly what it is.

So, before we get going, flight sim aficionados be warned! This is not a flight sim, but a third person arcade shooter aimed squarely at the casual twitch gamer who likes their explosions strong, bountiful and regular. Gamers like me.

In truth, this game has sat on my to-do pile for well over a week; boring me with its flat artwork and apathetic title. I just couldn’t get interested – not when I had other exciting, quick-thrill games at my disposal for those few spare minutes I actually get each day to play what I want to play. So, Legendo and Ascaron Entertainment (the game’s publisher), please accept my apologies for not taking to your skies sooner, but try harder to sell me your next game, ok?

In fact, this game is full of initial surprises. Historical material - like Pearl Harbor’s violent history - are usually handled with the delicate kid-gloves demanded by America’s incredibly fragile pride, though there’s really no reason to differentiate this particular war time event from the hundreds of others that are explored, dramatised and inaccurately re-represented for our entertainment pleasures. So all I can say is tough cheese, USA. We’re playing at your expense, and loving it.

You see, Attack on Pearl Harbor immediately catches players off guard by allowing them to take on the role of either the hardy ‘Mercan heroes whose stories we know so well (no thanks to Ben Affleck – for more information on his version of events, see Team America: World Police), or the untold trials of their Japanese counterparts. And, in case your history reflex is twitching, your aerobatic skills do indeed have the opportunity to alter in-game history. Indeed, even I felt the onset of rising feckles when I saw this initial option, but a few seconds later the thought occurred “Well, why not?” We’re not playing for a history lesson – we’re playing for fun (there’s that word again).

WWII planes aleays feel a little lethargic in flight sims, but here they’re wonderfully dynamic and high-octane fun

Many of the ships are way off scale, appearing a bit small when dive bombing, but they do offer a variety of enthralling missions for the pilots

And therein lies the next surprise. Taken from a third person perspective behind the numerous available aircraft, it suddenly transpires just how limited the view is on most every other flight based game. For some reason, we demand (or, at least, are unswervingly supplied with) inflexible accuracy. The pilots in WWII could see sod all out of their cockpits, so modern players must suffer a similarly restricted view. When Attack on Pearl Harbor takes your kite to heaven, it’s immediately noticeable how much you can see. The sky, the sea, the clouds, the horizon, the enemies; they’re all in full view.

Again, this may only serve to aggravate a misled flight sim addict (and that’s not an unlikely scenario judging by the poor, nondescript box art), but is a pleasant revelation for the arcade gamer. There’s a variety of weather conditions and some truly lovely horizons and accompanying effects (to the point at which the sunsets become distracting, though not in a bad way), though nothing that really makes any impact on gameplay. That said, it would be nice to face the occasional challenge with a torrential downpour obscuring friend and enemy, but at least the oft irritating “rain on windscreen” effect has been discarded.

Another shocker is the lack of a first person cockpit view, and has to be pegged as something of a disappointment. Many arcade gamers would only use such a first person view on occasion, but a game of high-speed, high-altitude chicken is far more effective when face-to-face with a savage propeller. The extra work for implementing such a feature would surely be quite negligible, since the perfectly adequate (if run of the mill) 3-D engine is already in place, and the game is noticeably poorer for the lack of it.

Since this isn’t aimed toward the flight sim brigade, the control system is a critical make-or-break aspect of Attack on Pearl Harbor. Assuming the game is sold to the people who’re looking for this kind of game (I’m looking your way, characterless box art), they’re unlikely to have one of those wonderfully complex joystick yoke type things. In fact, they’re/we’re more like to be proud owners of a USB joy pad and an analogue thumb-stick is about the limit of the dexterity challenge likely to be accepted. Fortunately (and I’ve tried all combination, just to be sure) Legendo has clearly spent a good amount of development and testing time on refining the many available control systems likely to be found littering an arcader’s desk. From joystick, to joypad and keyboard/mouse combinations, Attack on Pearl Harbor asks nothing from players in terms of control familiarity, allowing immediate an unquestioning involvement in the dog fighting rather than the subtleties of aviation.

The missions themselves are equally quick and hard hitting, without requiring ten minutes of navigation or getting lost at sea before the action begins. Neither do they demand a hefty time investment. From dog fighting to bombing runs, there’s lots of variety to keep aspiring aviators interested, though the enemy AI is somewhat lacking; making up for the typically steep learning curve of such games by flying casually into your crosshairs and providing some very nice strafing effects, with glowing bullet tracers slicing through the open skies and various levels of smoke indicating damages levels to yours and enemy planes.

To prohibit an overly gung-ho approach to gameplay, the number of specific planes is limited, so quickly wreaking up your torpedo dropper will mean waiting until a new kite has been earned before making another run. This is actually a nice feature that adds tension to an otherwise boots first, balls out game. With internet and LAN play, the missions can easily receive a fresh injection of life, although some expected features, such as co-operative gunner and pilot action, are sadly missing.

When it comes down to it, this kind of action packed dog fighting is what we really want in a WWII game, and the game has it in droves

Hopefully, Attack on Pearl Harbor won’t go unnoticed by its target audience, who’ll gleam far more enjoyment from this game than they would ever rightly expect. Likewise, should the title be explored by the WWII and flight sim enthusiasts, its review scores are likely to plummet due to unnecessary, yet anticipated, genre conflict.

Replay values might be marginally limited, but the first few hours of action packed dog fighting will present a superb surprise for arcade gamers everywhere. Just ignore the packaging.

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