Battlestations: Midway Review (Xbox360)

The intellectual and the bloodthirsty combine in this mix of strategy and action, as you take control of everything the 1940s navy has to offer.

Battlestations: Midway gives you ships, planes, shipyards and airfields as you fight to conquer the enemy. The single player campaign places you on the American side, but you can experience the Japanese point of view in one-off challenges and multi-player mode.

Youíll often have to choose between a number of targets Aircraft carriers are vitally important and can swing the course of a battle

The opening tutorials are fairly lengthy, but youíll need to pay attention, and possibly even revisit some of them, due to the complexity of the controls. Opening missions see you focusing on individual ships, with small variety of weapons and tactics, but you soon gain control of entire fleets, with the complications that brings.

Much of the action takes place on the strategic map screen, which allows you to set paths of your ships and planes, and set targets which they all automatically attack. It also allows you to keep an eye on the enemy, including land-based fortresses and submarines. If youíre assigned to an airfield or aircraft carrier, itís the easiest way to keep track of multiple groups of aircraft. Everything is controlled by a simple press of the A button, allowing you to focus on ideas, rather than individual buttons, and itís a deceptively calm way to control the war.

Itís when you take individual control of your ships that all hell breaks lose. In addition to steering, and controlling your weaponry (AA guns, artillery, torpedoes and depth charges, depending on the ship), youíll also need to respond when you take damage, by assigning you crew to stop water leaks and put out fires. When things go badly, you can find yourself constantly switching screens with the LB button, trying to patch up your ship, return fire, and find the time to view the map to plan an escape route. Add in control of additional ships and managing your formation, and you can understand why you need to be familiar with the controls.

You can pilot aircraft manually if you want to experience dogfights and bombing runs Timing your artillery and the distance of your enemy is a constant juggling act

Itís fortunate that the A.I. is reliably good, including the captains of your own ships. After setting basic orders for whether they can return fire and avoid torpedoes autonomously, you can just set their path and let them get on with the fighting. Or set their ships to follow yours, and theyíll engage the enemy whenever they can. Meanwhile that enemy will also employ a range of tactics to try and send you to the bottom of the ocean.

Although the single-player modes are enjoyable, itís the multi player game which stands out. Playing four-on-four battles can take a serious time commitment, but the joy in sinking a battleship and knowing thereís a real person swearing in frustration is the best reward. As with any strategic game, it pays to play with people who are willing to work together, as thatís the key to success. Should you run off alone and find yourself destroyed early on, you can watch the rest of the battle in spectator mode, or hope a kind ally will donate one of their ships for you to continue the fight.

In fact the strangest omission of the game is the lack of a co-operative mission mode, as discovering successful tactics is as great a joy as actually achieving victory. And itís this strategic element that makes the game stand out from other military efforts. It may be strategy-light compared to some PC offerings, but itís a welcome change from the plethora of first-person shooters. If youíve ever sighed at being sent down a scripted route, and thought you could have come up with a better plan, then Battlestations: Midway offers you that chance.

Graphically, the game does a good job of representing the war in the Pacific. Boats and scenery are nice enough, and seeing sailors walking around your ships gives a real impression of the people on board. Importantly, you can see details from great distances, allowing you to use binoculars to zoom in on enemies a number of miles away, and you never get the feeling an enemy has just appeared without them having to use some sneaky tactics. The audio also serves its purpose, with your crew warning you of impending danger, and alerting you to damage, alongside a number of icons to identify whether your boat is taking on water or has caught fire.

Considering the number of players and characters in an online game, there was an admirable lack of lag when we played. With English and American gamers playing together, we were able to jump from airfield to in-plane control without any problems, although you do occasionally get the perennial problem of bad losers quitting as soon as things donít go their way.

You start with a tiny PT boat at Pearl Harbour The joy of seeing an enemy ship go down in flames

Overall this is a victorious attempt to marry action and strategy, although it can be an acquired taste. Persevere long enough to become acquainted and efficient with all the controls, and find the right group of players to fight alongside, and youíll be rewarded with a great balance of action and tactical depth.

Top Game Moment:
Watching your shells explode and send your opponents ship to the bottom of the ocean in multiplayer.

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