Reviewed: December 16, 2007
Released: November 30, 2007
The History Channel is probably my second favorite educational channel on TV following Discovery HD. They always have something that catches my eye whenever my remote starts surfing the airwaves. Recently, they have gotten into some pretty cool historical reenactments using state-of-the-art computer graphics, mostly for air combat and large scale tactical battles like the Roman Legion and Napoleon. It was only a matter of time before they crossed over into video games.
Last year Cauldron gave us The History Channel version of the Civil War, which, while not a great game at least managed to tap into a war that is seldom addressed in video games. This year Cauldron takes on the already burgeoning genre of WWII games with The History Channel: Battle for the Pacific.
Published by Activision, already home to the greatest WWII franchise on the planet (Call of Duty), I had to wonder what they were thinking when they decided to release this title. I mean, if you are going to go up against a genre your company already dominates, at least bring something remotely worthwhile to the table. Battle for the Pacific fails at just about everything it attempts to do. It almost seems as if this game was designed for the dads and grandpas who watch The History Channel, and probably served in WWII, rather than anybody who has ever played a video game.
I’m not even going to bother comparing this game to anything else in the WWII or FPS genre, as there simply is no comparison. Battle for the Pacific covers a very small section of the events during WWII, obviously all taking place in the Pacific region. You start on Wake Island and end up at Iwo Jima. Obviously, the designers were banking on lingering hype around Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” to sell this game, and I have to admit I was pretty excited to storm the beaches on Iwo Jima…at least until I did it.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. You have guns that shoot and grenades that explode. For some, that may be enough. Sadly, the Japanese that you will be shooting at are complete idiots. They attack in groups of 5-8 and they all cluster together making it easy to kill them all with a single grenade. Even better, when fighting in the trenches, which you will do for more than half the game, they will all line up single file so you can point and unload a clip and watch them topple like a crippled chorus line.
There are only six locations in the entire game that are host to the miniscule 10 missions. The entire game can be won in 2-3 hours on Normal and 3-4 hours on Hard. The sad part is that three of the locations are completely fought in trenches that all look identical. The designers simply dropped in some new horizon artwork to make Wake Island look like Iwo Jima but you’ll still wander the same maze-like trenches full of signatures crates and barrels.
The game is extremely linear. When you aren’t fighting in narrow trenches you are following narrow jungle paths or narrow caves, and any desire to explore is negated by your asinine CO who is obviously the poster boy for “friendly fire”. You are tethered to this moron by a continuous waypoint icon and range counter. If you stray behind for too long you can be sure to hear, “You will follow me and that’s and order!” and that is combined with an onscreen message telling you that “You aren’t following orders”. If you don’t immediately close the distance after this warning the mission is a failure and you get to restart from the last checkpoint.
This blind loyalty to your commander totally screws with the way most of us play these games. Once all the enemies are dead your commander sprints towards the next waypoint leaving you no time to search the bodies for new weapons or extra ammo. This leaves you totally unprepared when he demands that you storm the hill and take out two machine gun nests with one grenade and 10 bullets. It doesn’t matter that he is bulletproof and can walk into a war zone with no chance of dying, but if you are more than 30 clicks away for more than 10 seconds you’ve committed treason.
It also doesn’t help that the CO has the groundspeed of a Cheetah, so even if you do make an honest effort to keep up, he will almost always out-pace you. And then sometimes he will just stop and not move, and you might have to trigger his next advance by moving slightly past him, but be careful…one step too many and you have obviously committed a war crime and it’s Mission Failure.
Battle for the Pacific is a shallow attempt to mirror the gameplay of other WWII FPS titles. The aiming mechanic is far too simple, even on the harder difficulty settings. It takes no skill whatsoever to play this game – just point and shoot and make sure to reload between encounters. Here’s a tip – make sure to get the Type 100 machine gun as soon as possible and you’ll never run out of ammo on any mission.
Controls are functional but certainly not what we expect from a next-gen title. You can crouch but you can’t go prone. You can squeeze the left trigger to aim down the barrel but you are just as accurate firing from the hip (and you move faster) so why bother. I had some major issues with interaction sensitivity, and had to move back and forth over bodies and landmines repetitive until the Y button indicator appeared, and even then it would turn off half the time before I could tap it. They need a much wider trigger box around these objects.
But the worst part of Battle of the Pacific is that it just wasn’t any fun to play. It was way too short a game, the action was extremely repetitive despite shallow attempts to have me blow up three huts and five artillery guns with C4, operate two AA turrets to shoot down a dozen Zeroes, and repair an electrical generator to light some caves on Iwo Jima. And even as a learning tool, the short movies didn't really tell me anything you won't pick up in school.
Again, Battle for the Pacific tries to looks like a next-gen title but fails in nearly every way. I will admit there were some nice elements to the game, especially in the jungle settings that reminded me of Far Cry. I'm guessing the next History Channel game will be in Vietnam. The soldiers are nicely modeled although poorly animated with stiff, robotic movements. When a group of Japanese soldiers appear they all move perfectly in synch and evenly spaced like you are being attacked by an oriental boy band. They also die and topple like a trail of dominoes.
I did enjoy the actual video footage that bookmarked each of the mission areas, but this is the same footage you can see if you actually watch The History Channel. There is no blood to speak of, explosions are weak, and the overall presentation seems fairly tame for a war game.
The game supports all the HDTV modes, but the framerate was horrible throughout and was nearly unplayable in some of the larger battles, especially when you are trying to repel advancing Japanese on the beach from a machine gun nest and the mortar fire is kicking up plumes of dust and smoke and you are trying to aim at specks on the horizon and your crosshairs are jumping in 2-3 inch increments across the screen.
The narrator who voices over the video footage is the same guy who does the TV show, but the in-game characters are pretty weak; not that they had much to work with in the way of a script. The only thing more annoying than hearing your idiotic CO yelling for you to follow him into a slaughter is the tone of his voice. He sounds like a kid on the edge, about ready to cry if you don’t obey him. And we can’t overlook quality lines like, “Who died and made you CO?” “Our CO died, now follow my orders.”
As expected, you have numerous patriotic themes that dominate the menus, and there is a bit of score during the actual missions, mostly upbeat tempo changes to indicate when the tide of the battle is turning in your favor.
The entire sound package is presented in Dolby Digital for some nice surround effects during the battles, accurate weapons fire, and some powerful bass for the explosions, but there was one major bug where my CO (who was obviously ahead of me) was yelling from my rear speakers to "stay behind me".
Battle for the Pacific is a poor man’s version of Call of Duty, but sadly, Activision hasn’t priced this game for the poor man. At $50, you are much better off picking up either COD3 or COD4 or if you had your heart set on experiencing Iwo Jima, you can get both of Clint’s movies and still have money to spare. Even at the eventual $19 price tag where all games are destined to go someday, this is a hard sell.
The good news, for those of you stubborn enough to play, is that you can tack on 460 gamer points in about 4-5 hours by playing through the campaign on Normal and Hard skill settings. You probably can’t even tell the difference between the two. Sadly, the remaining 540 points are assigned to multiplayer objectives, so good luck getting those.
I tried several times per day for four consecutive days to play an online match. In more than a dozen online attempts I NEVER found a single person playing a ranked match and I only found two people (not at the same time) waiting in unranked lobbies. And since two isn’t enough to play online we eventually dropped out; therefore the multiplayer value of this title is untested and in my opinion, as non-existent as the people playing it.
The History Channel: Battle for the Pacific is just too little and far too late. The WWII genre isn’t exactly short on titles these days nor is the FPS genre. If you plan on releasing a game in either (and especially both) you had better bring your “A” game.
Battle for the Pacific might appeal to the older crowd; you know…the people who watch The History Channel trying to spot themselves in the footage, but any serious gamer needs to leave this one in the trenches.