Friday, August 17, 2007

Attack on Pearl Harbor Review

Attack on Pearl Harbor, developed by 3D People, 3Dvision, and Legendo Entertainment and published by CDV.
The Good: Simple controls, action-packed swift missions, winning not required to advance, two-perspective campaign, decent AI
The Not So Good: Extremely repetitive (but still pretty fun), very short campaigns, limited multiplayer, pointless dogfights, laughably bad cut scenes
What say you? A simplified arcade plane action title that’s entertaining for much longer than it should be: 6/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
There are really two major audiences in computer games: those who like simple, fun games and those who like realistic, hardcore simulations. I usually tend to swing towards the second option, although I am down for a well-designed arcade game every once in a while. It appears that now is that “every once in a while,” as Attack on Pearl Harbor is up for review. This is an arcade flight game that doesn’t pretend to be a simulation: it’s all about shooting stuff, quickly and thoroughly. And I can appreciate that if it’s done well; unbridled destruction is good for the soul (or at least that’s what Jack Thompson says). This title is reminiscent of Battlestations Midway: although Attack on Pearl Harbor is planes-only and doesn’t have an RTS element, they are both third-person action games that take place in the Pacific Theater of World War II. I think that’s long enough for an introduction…on with the review!

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Attack on Pearl Harbor features good, but not great, graphics. The plane models, which is what you are going to be staring at most of the time, are nicely detailed and contain some good effects like bullet holes and dark smoke when hit. The explosions in the game are repetitive but they are impressive, especially when you fly through them. The land areas are detailed but they could use a little more polish; they look more like game locations than like real-world locations. They have the “soft” feel of IL-2 Sturmovik without the same level of detail. There are some pleasing weather and time of day effects in Attack on Pearl Harbor, completing the above average graphics. The sound is average: while the game features some nice music, the voiced audio and subtitles don’t match (especially for the American missions). Though when I heard the Japanese narrator refer to “decadent Americans” I laughed (in a good way). I laughed in a bad way at the comic-inspired cut scenes that introduce each campaign: they are so horrible with overly dramatic voice acting that you just need to skip past them in order to maintain sanity. Thankfully the cut scenes rarely occur. Overall, Attack on Pearl Harbor is an above average game in terms of presentation: not cutting edge, but not terribly outdated either.

ET AL.
Attack on Pearl Harbor features two campaigns, one for each side of the war in the Pacific; it’s nice to see the Japanese get some love in computer gaming. Each of the campaign allows you to undertake one mission per month over the twenty-two months divided into two parts in each campaign. This may seem like a good amount of content (and it doesn’t stop halfway through the war like Battlestations Midway), but each individual mission takes three to five minutes to finish. This means you’ll be done with the game in well under five hours, and probably closer to three. The advantage of this is that the missions are filled with constant action: there is no waiting around flying to your waypoints. The missions require you to destroy enemy air, ground, or naval targets; while this is repetitive, the game is quite enjoyable and the short missions actually work to the game’s benefit. Attack on Pearl Harbor could use a dynamic campaign like Enemy Engaged 2 to make it feel like you a influencing the outcome more, but victory is determined by your win-loss record. You don’t need to successfully complete each mission in order to advance to the next one. Instead, you are given a number of aircraft of each type that can be regenerated by getting a lot of kills. If you don’t have any fighters left, you can’t do any fighter missions until you destroy enough enemies in the other missions. This is a good thing: while most missions are balanced well, you will occasionally get the one-on-twenty mission, but these are thankfully few and far between. Although it is very short, I like the forgiving campaign design that makes the game much less frustrating.

After you are done with the campaigns (after a good afternoon of play), it’s time for the skirmish and multiplayer modes. The single player dogfights are worthless: they are all just you against a horde of AI planes and you play until you die, a time limit is reached, or you kill a specified number of enemies. And what is your reward for all of this destruction? Nothing. Solo missions against tons of enemies are not fun at all and the dogfights should be avoided at all costs. Attack on Pearl Harbor features multiplayer options: you can play deathmatch or team deathmatch games against real human opponents online. While these modes are fairly entertaining (although there weren’t a lot of people online, since I got the game a week before release…I am sweet like that), more could have been done with the multiplayer. It would have been nice to have some objective-based missions (since most of the single player campaign missions are objective-based), like destroying an enemy aircraft carrier before the other team destroys yours. Cooperative missions against the AI could have been equally entertaining. It is still fun blowing people up and the mechanics lend themselves well to quick skirmishes, but there is more potential in the multiplayer, and it’s sad that it’s not expanded.

You will pilot three types of planes during your tour of duty (heh…I said “duty”) in Attack on Pearl Harbor: fighters, torpedo-bombers, and dive bombers. The fighters and bombers behave differently (bombers turn more slowly) and each has their specific role: engaging enemy planes, destroying naval targets, and destroying land targets. Attack on Pearl Harbor has an informative user interface that clearly displays surrounding enemy aircraft in both the radar and indicators on-screen. You’ll need to monitor your machine gun temperature (though it takes quite a while to overheat) and damage meter (again, set at high arcade levels). Controls are very straightforward, and I used the mouse controls (which use the wheel to control throttle) and found them to be intuitive. You can also use a joystick or Xbox 360 controller, if you own one of those evil things. While the game comes with an airspeed indicator, there is no altimeter so you’ll have to gauge your altitude visually. A warning buzzer sounds when you are close to the ground, but if you are moving fast enough it will appear too late. The physics of Attack on Pearl Harbor are good for an arcade game: very easy to learn by all experience layers. This puts the focus of the game squarely on the action, and there is a lot of it. The AI behaviors are somewhat scripted, but they are a challenging foe without being too god-like. They are adept at positioning themselves behind you, although they do occasionally run into each other. Combat is fast and furious: once you gauge how much you should lead a target, you’ll be taking down planes in no time. The planes are pretty easy to destroy, good for the fast-paced gameplay featured in the game. As much as I complain about arcade gameplay, I actually found Attack on Pearl Harbor to be quite enjoyable. I think a lot of this has to do with the chaotic battles and short missions, and the simplified physics will appeal to a much larger audience than a more realistic simulation would. The game may be repetitive, but it is certainly fun in medium-sized doses.

IN CLOSING
Attack on Pearl Harbor nails the arcade flight combat game mechanic. The game is easy to pick up and full of action from the start. The missions are short, delaying the onset of repetition until late in the game. You don’t get much content, as you can easily finish both single player campaigns in a couple of hours, but it is fun while it lasts. Multiplayer is some fun, although it should have more variety. The mission difficulty is well balanced and the AI pilots are good compatriots and adept enemies. Attack on Pearl Harbor may not adhere to real-world physics or flight models, but its arcade brand of combat is pretty fun. Large single player battles and multiplayer affairs can deliver the type of chaotic action perfect for this kind of game. Attack on Pearl Harbor may not have the lasting appeal of more sophisticated simulations, but it is quite enjoyable while it lasts.