Like the history of man, pretty but flawed.
Gamers seem to be tiring of the World War II scenario that has become so common to the first-person shooter genre. There are only so many times you can shoot Nazi soldiers before you begin to yearn for something more. Whether that happens to be tentacles or nuclear weapons, most people would argue that a change is in order. At this point, the only effective way to produce a WWII-era title is to approach it from a fresh angle or just do a phenomenal job with the production values. History Channel: Battle for the Pacific
, though it makes attempts in each area, falls short
The only really spectacular thing the game does is create an true island setting. As you skulk through the trenches and foliage of Pacific Ocean locales, you'll often feel like you're in the actual environments. Lush greenery, rotting stumps, mist-shrouded bridges, and wooden planks all seem like they were taken out of a History Channel special. They're rendered with suitable detail and, aside from occasional hitches along the way, the experience is undeniably “next-gen”. Even the first level, a panicked stroll through trenches bombarded by explosions and gunfire, is memorable. Assets aren't recycled from one stage to the next, either. As you jump from island to island, there's a definite sense of visual progression.
Within the various stages, there's also some decent variety in objectives. In just the introductory mission, you'll retrieve parts for some radio equipment (while gunning down soldiers) and head to the front (...while gunning down soldiers) and even man a gun turret... to gun down enemy planes with some heavy firepower
. Another zone has you dismantling mines that have been splashed across your path to avoid a shrapnel brunch.
The variety in mission objectives meshes naturally with the environmental diversity from one mission to another, though unfortunately, the island hopping feels quite abrupt. It's true that the battles are ripped from the larger canvas of history, but within the context of the game, they hardly seem connected. Even with brief snippets of scene setting (supplied in the form of History Channel footage), you don't feel tied to any soldier or event. There's frequent name dropping - to this location or that historical figure - but then you're deposited in another chaotic place and asked to shoot a bunch of stuff. I'm not one to advocate a Hollywood plot in video games, but after something like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
or Far Cry: Instincts
, what we get here feels decidedly underwhelming. Even an extra few minutes of documentary footage would've been a major improvement.
The artificial intelligence of your team of soldiers is also disappointing. Sometimes, they'll actually do useful things, like clear the area ahead of resistance. In other instances, they make Barney the Dinosaur
seem like a physicist. Their occasional stupidity is compounded by how opposing forces actually shop for uniforms at the same place you do. It's historically accurate, perhaps, but inconvenient if you can't tell who is or isn't your enemy until they're firing at you (at which point they are probably Axis scum, but it could just be the dim-witted AI again).
Another issue is that you have to stick close to your squad leader at all times, as if you were a insecure girlfriend, or you can actually fail the mission. He has a little red circle on him that marks him as the man in charge, but he must have been in track back in high school because he moves like an Olympic sprinter. It's far too easy to lose track of him, in which case you're potentially screwed. If he gets too far ahead of you, the screen will warn you that you're not following orders, and then trying to chase after him all comes down to guesswork. Warning messages will continue to pop up until you've found your fleet-footed boyfriend
leader, or it's back to the last checkpoint for you!
Sometimes, an event will require you to head out to the fringes of whatever invisible range the game deems acceptable, while everyone in your squad just stands around doing nothing. For example, you might have to clear out some Japanese troops from behind a bunker. If you heed the message warning you to get back within range of your leader, you won't ever advance anywhere. If you ignore the admonitions and take out those soldiers - but hang around the scene for too long instead of retreating to your commander like Linus to his security blanket
- you could also fail your mission as the rest of your crew sprints out of sight.
A lot of these events work together to make for frustrating and occasionally humorous situations. In one early stage, for example, my objective was to blow up three artillery vehicles. I did, but then moving on would have failed the mission, because I was out of range of the leader for a scripted event
. I returned to where my men were, apparently standing and firing into some trees where I couldn't see any enemies. I circled around a few times before I noticed that one of the guys standing in the group was actually a Japanese soldier (identifiable as such because his helmet had a little cloth dangling from the back). He was standing within a few feet of my other soldiers, shooting them repeatedly as they ignored him. I shot him and instantly the other men in my squad took off for the next destination. I am the rooster and they are the rabbits
Naturally, there are ways to work around these difficulties. If you get in the habit of moving your aiming cursor over every soldier you see, you'll see it turn crimson whenever the soldier wishes to inflict grievous injury on you. When your leader starts running in circles around a certain spot on the map like a hunting dog that has treed a raccoon, you'll know that it's time to ignore the messages about failing to follow orders and find a distant enemy you're supposed to kill. All of this is doable, but it's disappointingly broken. With a bit of polish, a lot of what's here could've worked out pretty well.
Ultimately, though, the biggest blow against the game is its brevity. You shouldn't have trouble clearing its single-player mode in two or three hours. Don't expect Xbox Live to add value, either. In the middle of a Sunday afternoon, I tried several times to locate matches but failed in each attempt. I couldn't jump into a quick game, and the only person who showed up for the ranked ones was me. Unless you like playing with yourself (not in that way...), you're going to be in for some serious disappointment. This clearly isn't what the developers intended, since more than half of the game's numerous achievements revolve around multi-player accomplishments, but the situation is what it is.
Everyone is probably better off battling through Activision's own Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
instead. Considering the quality experience that game provides both with and without an Internet connection, my recommendation is that you check it out and forget about Battle for the Pacific