World War II. When gamers hear this these days they tend to run a million miles because over the last decade we've had enough World War II games to fill a retail store. However there is always room for innovation in an old idea and that is exactly what the Eidos team has tried to do with this game. Battlefield 2 is one of the most popular action games around and this somewhat takes that style of play to the next level, although perhaps not far enough. Midway is a game that has tried to innovate but may not have gone far enough to make it another compelling World War II experience.
Although the main premise of the game is being able to take control of an entire US naval fleet during combat, there is a fairly cliche storyline to be found here. You play as a young Naval recruit, whose father rose to become one of the most well known Admirals in the US Navy and you hope to emulate him. Throughout the battles in the game, you are constantly updated on this particular character, and often if he dies a mission will fail but considering the huge scope of the game, it does seem a little out of place.
To describe how this game is played in detail would take about one thousand pages so the easiest way is to say that you take command of pretty much any vehicle on the battlefield during the war. It sounds like Battlefield but the inherent difference is that you don't play as one character going to different vehicles - during the war at any point you can switch between vehicles and the AI will take over the one you just came from. This game is a bit closer to a RTS game than Battlefield and the multiplayer shines because of it.
When the game is being played in its truest form you begin with either a hanger or aircraft carrier and have to launch planes or ships and go and destroy the enemy. You are constantly moving between units though because planes run out of ammunition and need to refuel and of course your aircraft carrier can come under attack. In single player it doesn't seem all that interesting and exciting but once you add another human player you will find one of the most unique and original Xbox Live experiences around.
The single player campaign is a little lackluster as most players will be able to finish it off in about five to six hours. There are a few other 'campaigns' to take part in but they generally are tutorials on how to use the different vehicles. We completely ignored the tutorial campaigns and managed to play the game so it would have been nice to see a longer US campaign rather than the huge amount of tutorials in the game. One thing we will say about the tutorials which is different is that sometimes you get to control the Japanese forces so it is possible to try both sides without playing a multiplayer game. Because of this it is hard to understand just how there is not an instant combat mode in this game.
The battles focus on the pacific war but begin in Pearl Harbour and this really is Pearl Harbour done right. We've seen the battlefront before but EA focused on action rather than realism and this game is the first one to give you some indication of the huge scope that fateful day had and how decimated the US navy was. It really adds to the atmosphere, especially when going through debris of war ships and Japanese planes while trying to take out the invading zero planes. The rest of the games levels are done quite well even though some are relatively short. There is a lot of variety as well - one mission you will be taking down Japanese zero planes, another, navigating a large naval ship through a dangerous, enemy infested straight.
Visually the game does seem to have improved since the multiplayer demo. The graphics don't push the system but it does allow the engine to render about twenty to thirty vehicles and planes which is a nice trade off and for this game to work as well as it does, this number of vehicles has to be present. There is a huge amount of vehicles to take control of and there are some animations which work well such as the planes preparing to, and actually taking off from the aircraft carriers. Sound effects are fairly well done and the voice acting in the cut scenes does give a very gruff feel to the game; perfect for the setting.
BattleStations: Midway is a very original title and has taken some WWII conventions and built on them to offer a unique game experience, but it doesn't seem to go to the lengths it could have. The single player campaign is too short and doesn't throw you into the 'whole navy vs whole navy' action quickly enough - the main appeal of this game is definitely the Live features. To sum up, Midway is innovative, but it ultimately doesn't go far enough.