A heavily shadowed sub strategically swims in and out of the crack-your-hull-like-an-eggshell ocean depths, having battled its way past a gauntlet of PT boats, torpedo-bombers and destroyers. The captain throws a quick glance toward the instruments and frowns at his boat's quickly fading oxygen supply. Down this deep, water pressure has reinforced steel creaking like rusty gate metal. If they could only slip up to torpedo depth for a few seconds, they just might be able to launch a couple of fish toward the target and be done with it. Tense moments tick by as the boat eases its way up from the murky deep. Radar looks clear. Closer. Almost there. But then the dreaded sonar ping of a battleship leaves only one choice: Dive! Dive! Dive!
That may sound like a story narrative from a 1940s World War II movie. But it's also the kind of action you find in the video game Battlestations: Midway. You might be thinking there's already enough Medal of Honors and Call of Dutys hanging around to have that particular war covered. But the guys at Eidos believe they've got something a little different to offer gamers with this WWII strategy/action title set in the Pacific theater of operations.
Step Forward, Lieutenant
The single-player campaign sets us down in the wingtip boots of Navy lieutenant Henry Walker as he takes command of a PT boat moments before the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. As the bombs start flying, job one is to shoot down some of those planes with antiaircraft guns and take out a mini-sub with a few depth charges. From there, each new promotion and mission leads you to eventually becoming commander of a carrier group at Midway, ordering the movements of everything from aircraft carriers to fighter squadrons.
And that dual play helps Battlestations: Midway crisply salute and step forward from the ranks of a lot of other war games. Players utilize chess-like real-time strategies to defeat the Japanese fleet in open air and sea battles, but they can also dive into hands-on, first-person action with just about every plane and ship under their command. So, you can choose to deploy a battleship convoy with destroyer and air support, or personally lead a squadron of Wildcats into the fray.
First Things First, Sailor
To learn how to accomplish all of this, the first thing any good budding recruit must do is attend the Naval Academy. This is where potential commanders are sorted out from the flunkies. Game mechanics are fairly intuitive, but you don't jump right in. And learning those controls can be painfully slow with a tutorial that feels interminable. (Just like the real Academy!)
Then you have to gradually learn how to put feet to facts as you fight your way through the Pacific. Thankfully, if you're patient, developing skills and masterminding sea victories are rewarding activities and well worth the wait. Outside the main storyline, the game also gives you a special set of 12 impossibly difficult Ship, Sub and Plane action missions that fine-tune your tactics.
Xbox Live offers players additional sprawling four-on-four online battlefields that are based on actual conflicts—such as the battle of the Coral Sea. The eight-player maps include air and sea campaigns, and challenge commanders to work together, pitting their management skills against their opponents.
Mind Your Manners, Private
Midway's sexual references are limited to a commanding officer telling his troops not to be out "chasing skirt all night" or "making whoopee" in a combat zone. Images are limited to ghosted pictures of period-style pinup girls printed behind the text of the instruction manual. One scene in the game includes alcohol.
As gamers dutifully work to sink ships and send planes spiraling to the ground in dogfights, they're spared the blood and guts of some war titles. But they're not spared profanities in the main story cutscenes. Along with such words as "a--," "b--ch," "b--tard" and "h---," God's name is taken in vain. And those are depth charges that didn't need to be dropped. They didn't need language like that in those epic pictures from the 1940s. And Battlestations: Midway doesn't need it now.