The gaming community has seen dozens upon dozens of games set in the WWII era, and traditionally they are set with the European background, as the Allies wage a land battle against the Axis. Very few games focus on the conflict in the Pacific Ocean between Japan and the United States. Pacific Storm is one of the few to focus on this struggle between two nations, showing another part of the war that few gamers have played through.
The game is divided into three distinct types of gameplay. The first is reminiscent of a strategic board game: you're presented with a map of the Pacific region, and it is here where you control such elements as moving your armies and managing your resources. When battles commence, you can either auto-resolve them or get closer to the action in a tactical perspective, controlling your ships and planes in an RTS-style of gameplay. And finally, you're given the option of taking control of a single plane or AA gun on a ship at any time, allowing you to control it like a flight simulator.
The game gives you two campaigns to play through: the first is the most historically accurate, starting with bases, economies, and armies as similar to the time period as possible. For example, the USA's economy is strong, with numerous bases, but the Japanese have a more experienced army to work with. The second mode is a more balanced style, setting both sides up with equal resources and armies at their command. There's also two other modes that let you set up some units to play out a battle or let the game recreate some historic naval battles to see if you can turn the tide of those battles.
The strategic portion of the game is quite in depth. From your bases on either side of the ocean, you can direct your resources where they should go, set up formations, research technologies that will allow you to build better units, and even construct buildings that will allow a variety of effects, whether it's as simple as a barracks to hold men, or a church to raise morale. Each of the buildings can also be upgraded to improve their effects.
My worries began when I saw the interface for this portion of the game. I believe the right word to describe it is 'overwhelming'. Directing units is simple enough, but when you start to manage your resources and build formations, you're confronted with a spreadsheet-like interface (in a drab brown, no less) that is a complete pain to navigate through. There is a tutorial that gives a brief description on what some of the functions are, but it's nowhere near enough to actually figure out what's going on, and chances are you'll be fighting with the menus more than the enemy as you learn to play.
The tactical portion of the game is pretty good, though there won't be any awards for graphics. Do you like water? Well then you'll like this, because there's a lot of it. Controlling your ships and planes is just a matter of clicking where you want them to go, or who you want them to attack. It's pretty intuitive, and there are a few other options in terms of tactics and maneuvering that you can play with. The camera really irked me though. Controlling it felt awkward and could've been greatly improved. The size of your units, especially given the large size of the maps they were on, meant you rarely ever saw them, only the green or red icons that replace them when the camera gets too far away.
It was the simulation perspective of the game that I was initially most interested in. I looked forward to flying in a pitched dogfight against a myriad of foes while my ships fought on beneath me. The controls tend to be more of that of a simulation then an arcade game, so for those that enjoy the pitch and the yoke, you'll like these. Still, they don't tend to be overly difficult, and even someone inexperienced with that kind of aerial control won't be stalling too much of the time. With that said, the controls are scattered all over the keyboard and take some time to get used to. The whole experience, however, tends to the 'gimmick' side of things. While it's interesting, there's not a whole lot of point to taking control of an airplane, especially when it means that you can't see what the rest of your fleet is doing. You can also take control of anti-air guns on the ship decks, but these are even less useful, as planes tend to be small dots flying above overhead. You might as well leave the shooting up to the AI.
This AI, however, tends to be questionable in all modes of gameplay. Whether it's plummeting your planes into the sea after you release control of them, or forgetting to unload supplies after delivery, or running into islands while trying to get from point A to point B, it's easy to get frustrated. There's also a few other issues in the game, notably the occasional crash bugs. It also tends to slow down when you've been playing too long, though restarting it fixes this. They all really combine to make playing the game a hassle sometimes, and leaving you wondering why the AI is making odd choices like retreating from a battle that's a sure win for you.
There's a lot going on in Pacific Storm, so much so that it might only appeal to the grognards of strategic gaming. There's some solid strategy tucked behind the overpowering interface and lackluster graphics, but a few serious errors, clunky controls, and some really poor audio in the form of bad music and repetitive speech make Pacific Storm a frustrating experience overall.