This game has the cheesiest graphics of any game that I have seen outside of the 16-bit Super Nintendo. It is also the most addicting game since Super Mario Brothers. Pacific Theater of Operations, or P.T.O. II, allows the player to start at nearly any point during the Pacific War of World War II, play either side, and accomplish victory or suffer defeat. The gamer is given control of all naval and marine forces, with the option to participate in high-level meetings to determine other facets of the war effort as well.
The scenario that I started began on May 28, 1942, a few days before the Battle of Midway. Playing as the Japanese in 1942, I was given a massive armada, sixteen fleets in all, scattered from Japan to the Marshalls to the new acquisitions in the Philippines, Indochina, and the East Indies. At this point, I had the option to cancel all movements towards Midway (everyone knows what happened there), and so I did. Instead, I wanted to see exactly how far out of the historical timeline I could go. Fleets were sent south in an attempt to bludgeon the Allied troops guarding Port Moresby and the main supply line to Australia. Meanwhile, I sent the mother of all battle fleets to attack the West Coast of the United States, bypassing the Aleutians and Hawaii.
Feeling rather pleased with myself, I watched my forces approach their targets, while still keeping tabs on the battles raging in China and on the Indian border. Ho Chi Minh and his Vietnamese rebels were causing trouble in Saigon, as were Resistance forces on Formosa and in Korea, but no matter - The Holy Grail of all victories was coming. My navy approached America with all the subtlety of a runaway train. For a week I pounded Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles (they even have the Hollywood sign), and then landed marines at the Golden Gate, which made quick work of the American defenders. Then, my problems started.
This game is enormous, with so many variables and so many things that can go wrong or affect the chances of victory. As the Chief of Naval Operations for either nation, you are responsible for allocating funds towards different branches of the military, pursuing foreign policy, and constructing a fairly efficient system of logistics for the entire naval war machine, all while still attempting to devise a workable strategy for the war. The main problem with this is the fact that there are barely any instructions on how to do it all.
Inside the box is a 'reference guide' (barely) to the functions of the game. On the disc is a so-called "Help Manual" which does not contain any explanation, only a series of charts which illustrates exactly what the flimsy instruction "manual" has already stated.
This fact led me to realize that certain questions of mine would not be answered. First, why did my marines not occupy San Francisco after landing there and then defeating the defending force? Second, how does one go about loading an invasion force onto a transport? Third, is there any way for me to control land forces, and if not, why does the game allow me to control land battles but not the movement of the troops themselves? All of these are important questions, yet I couldn't find the answers. Despite the addictive nature of this game, what good is it to play a wargame for 2-3 hours, only to watch a careful strategy and campaign blow apart for lack of proper information on how to manage the situation? It is the video game equivalent to having your hands tied behind your back.
Gameplay itself, on the other hand, is smooth. Pop-up menus and information screens help you determine which fleets will be moved and where. All of this is done through a simple point-and-click interface. The war is divided into days, with each day consisting of three stages: planning, movement, and execution. What this means is that this game will last a very long, long time. I realized that after playing for three hours, I had only fought from June to August 1942. Also, at the end of each month, there is a conference.
Conferences are long, tedious affairs that cannot be halted or sped up. They determine foreign policy, strategic goals, the budget, the draft, and the allocation of military spending. To get what you want, you use a series of cards that are given out at the beginning of the conference. By careful play of these cards, you can get the other members of the government to agree with your proposals, from simple economic choices to dramatic peace treaties or war declarations. The only problem with the conferences is the time it takes to haggle out the plans. Also, everyone has a say in every issue, which is slightly unrealistic. For instance, the finance minister can have his say on military objectives, while the foreign minister proposes ideas for the budget and the draft.
Battles in the game are done from a bird's eye, three-dimensional perspective, with the two sides carefully defined and shown on the battlefield. You can control exactly what naval targets will be hit, both by aircraft and by other ships. Naval bombardments are also under your control - all attacking firepower can be centered on specific land targets. Land battles and air battles are to be watched only, but each side's strength and size of attacking force is shown and decreases as the fight wears on. The battle animations can be skipped, however, which is preferable if you like speed over micromanagement.
In summary, this game is not bad. It is fairly entertaining and quite addicting to someone who is interested in the period of history that it covers. The soundtrack is phenomenal, though the graphics are quite poor. Its transference from the 16-bit video game machines did not add anything new in this arena. The game's major flaw remains its lack of documentation. One gets the feeling that there is so much involved here, that there is so much going on, that some functions or strategies will never be realized due to their lack of mention in the manual. This is unfortunate, as it is truly frustrating to spend hour after hour of trial-and-error attempting to figure out the most basic of actions. Koei needs to work on this if they ever decide to release a sequel. This game has such potential. It is a shame that such a grandiose epic will perhaps not receive the accolades it deserves because of such design flaws.