Battlestations: Midway Review

I can’t be the only one who has always wanted for fast paced action gameplay to meet into a solid strategy game. I played Command and Conquer Renegade and Savage, even. Both were good ideas, but sadly this formula has never really seen the light, and it’s something I’ve always craved. Commanding huge naval fleets, airplane squadrons, or sneaky submarines in this same general idea definitely got me interested. Take control of one unit and guide it to perfection, or take a step back and control the entire fleet.

The idea seemed sound, but what about the execution? Thankfully, both elements seem strong and work together well. But does the game achieve perfection with this blend of formulas, or does it miss a beat and fall overboard?

Sadly, when it comes to graphics, Battlestations: Midway is fairly spotty. Sometimes you’ll be amazed, and sometimes you’ll be disappointed. The graphics don’t deliver nearly as much as they should. They look fairly nice, but lack the amount of detail that could have really helped. Once you see a cutscene, you see that the details in those are much improved, and really shouldn’t be out of reach of the Xbox 360. That isn’t the case, and more often than not the units seems bland and boring. As for the ocean, it looks nice at first but lacks any personality and seems pretty static static. For a naval game, they really could have done better. The sky on the other hand has some great clouds and is more immersing, especially once the flak starts flying. 

While I was disappointed at first, you quickly get used to the graphics and it turns out they aren’t that bad. They’re actually quite good, and were even so kind to give you a few options. You can enable a “old film” modulation, add “bloom”, or stick to the default “none”. While none of these effects really make the game amazing, they do offer a little customization. Also, it’s got a pretty good view distance, and handles a lot of units on screen. Without any significant performance drops, the graphics are reasonable for what the game is accomplishing. The game is focused on large, epic battles over insane amounts of details, and does a fine job at that. So it’s understandable, even though a more detail and improved graphics aren’t out of reach for the Xbox 360.

The game has a great variety of sounds. You’ve got a ton of different units, which all sound realistic as you’re firing, driving, being hit, and then sinking. All of it sounds spot on, and it helps with the immersion. Even flying around, especially with the whooshing of the wind as you plummet downwards, has a great feeling to it. However, the entire battlefield isn’t really captured from a sound perspective. Chaotic radio chatter, echoing distant battles, and other such ambient noises aren’t really there. It misses out on making it feel like a larger, more chaotic WWII battlefield as it really was. Instead, it feels a little watered down.

Voice acting also compliments the sound work. It’s not fantastic, but it is solid enough not to provide distraction. I wish there were a bit more emotion in some of the voice acting, for example when one of your ships has been sunk. Going on to music, it is quite impressive. It fits the game well, and feels fairly dramatic. It’s not overly epic or remember-able, but you’ll appreciate it none the less.

You should start off on the tutorial, which is very comprehensive. In fact, it is too comprehensive. This hour-plus tutorial grows extremely tedious, but on the plus side you’ll learn the ins and outs of the control scheme. So you’d think, but after you go into battle you’re still unprepared to properly aim and hit moving targets in a ship, which takes plenty of trial and error before you figure it out. Too bad the gigantic tutorial proportion was too busy holding your hand, and not gradually getting you into combat situations.

As for the actual controls, they’re pretty solid. Still, a bit too many of the buttons are needed, and controlling all the different types of units has slight control adjustments. Most of this gets better as time goes on, especially if you did the tutorial before hand. It’s not a true simulation game, and thus the controls are really watered down. In the end, though, the controls start to come together and aren’t cumbersome at all.

You start off with the tutorial, which I touched on above. While it is comprehensive, but way too long and boring. Next, you’ll dig into the single-player campaign by commanding a single ship, a tiny torpedo boat. This isn’t the most exciting of units to control, however the starting scene is pretty good. The attack on Pearl Harbor is done well, the skies filled with enemy aircraft as they pummel your allied ships. Soon you’ve been flying aircraft, commanding a destroyer, and eventually get better and better units. Then, entire fleets of separate units. You destroy bases, conveys, battleships, submarines, you name it. You progress in a linear fashion from tiny boat to massive, full-featured fleets.

Scope is a big part of the game. The underlying focus is strategy, so everything has its weakness and strengths. Bombers can tear your fleet apart if you don’t have fighters, for example. Submarines will quickly sink a fleet if you don’t have a destroyer to drop depth charges on him. A battleship will wreck havoc on your units from a distance, and is incredibly tough. While you play it is not about focusing on the one-on-one battles all the time, but being able to command your fleet at top efficiency. Due to the progression of the campaign, you’ll get the hang of commanding ships and planes of all sorts before it tosses you in to commanding the actual fleets.

Though it the game excels when it gives you a huge fleet to command, there is nothing wrong with taking control of one ship. Giving precise orders, aligning formations, or firing your torpedoes is best done in the battle screen. While you are there, you can set certain commands for the ships to follow. Do you want to give them step by step commands, or allow them more freedom in their decisions? This freedom of choice is nice, however at times it could also be a bit more smooth. For example, it would be nice to set the “attitude” of a unit, such as aggressive, defensive, hold position, etc. A few features that could be there are not.

Each element of the game has its certain traits you have to become familiar with. You’ve got to learn how to bomb precisely if you’re running a bomber, how to align your shots correctly in dogfighting as a fighter, good torpedo spread for select units, and how to fire artillery precisely for naval ships. All the different units have special abilities, traits, strengths, and weaknesses. As you learn the ins and outs of them, the game becomes more and more fun. Whether you’re crawling around the deeps of the ocean, cruising across the ocean’s surface, or high above the sea in an aircraft, the game manages to be fun and different at each turn. 

Overall, the game has two elements that are really working in its favor. First is the variety of the game. You’ve got a lot of different focuses in the missions and from units. A certain mission could be defense oriented, with your air units playing a bit role. Another mission could focus on your naval skirmishes, requiring precise torpedo aim. The next mission might be a blend of naval, air, and submarine warfare concurrently. The variety of tasks, units, and overall gameplay is definitely a step in the right direction. Secondly, its the blend of action and strategy gameplay. You have to make strong strategic decisions to win maps. You also can make a big impact by taking direct control of a unit, possibly changing the course of a battle. It works well, and feels very integrated throughout the game. On the negative side, if you aren’t both an action gamer and a strategy gamer, it might be harder to appreciate the game.

The single-player campaign is very short. You can very likely complete it in under 6-8 hours. To bolster the replay, there is a variety of “challenge” missions requiring the use of certain units. This adds a couple more hours, and some of them are really fun. You also go a few different difficulties to try out for the single player, which are needed for some of the achievements. That could add a bit more replay, but overall it is a bit short.

On the plus side is Xbox Live. It is very good, and it focuses on everything that this game does right. The blend of strategic and action gameplay, the variety in units and locales, and how the game is implemented makes it truly shine on Xbox Live. There is some intense naval battles with huge battleships and cruisers simply pounding away at each other in large groups. Some incorporate aircraft carriers, or submarines. Some focus on destroying key units, or defending your own key units. There is a lot of more variety online, which is saying a lot since this game already did a good job at that. If you have Xbox Live, this game is very enjoyable.

Though I love the idea, it seems to miss greatness. You’ve got many of the key elements to make a good action / strategy blend; yet a lot of the time those key elements are merely “okay” or “decent” when they should be “good” or “great”. The somewhat disappointing textures, lack of any graphical or audio “wow” factor, poor battlefield ambiance, a boring tutorial, and a short overall game all take away from its glory. Despite the listing of all these faults, it doesn’t make Battlestations: Midway a bad game. In fact, it does a lot of stuff right. Mainly, the combination of these two genres is solid, Xbox Live is great, the scale is huge and yet detailed at the same time, and the gameplay feels rewarding and fun. So does the other stuff really matter that much?

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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