Attack on Pearl Harbor (PC) review
"Choosing to play as either a Japanese or American pilot, you'll follow the tale of a single air force member from start to finish. The single-player game involves following a clever mission-based campaign mode, fighting the real battles of the war in the South Pacific."
December, 1941. Around the world, fierce battles have been raging between nations for over two years. The focus until now has been primarily based on Europe, where Allied forces are attempting to free their neighbours from Nazi occupation and the brutal oppression this has brought unto them.
December, 1941. Something seem familiar about that date? Well it should, as that's when Japanese forces launched a daring assault on American troops in a remote South Pacific naval base. Until this moment, the USA had remained neutral amidst the chaotic horror that had been unfolding all around them for years. The warning signs had gone unheeded. The USA's eyes had been firmly closed.
December, 1941. Japan declared war on the USA by attacking Pearl Harbor.
It is this moment and its aftermath that form the setting for Attack on Pearl Harbor. Choosing to play as either a Japanese or American pilot, you'll follow the tale of a single air force member from start to finish. The single-player game involves following a clever mission-based campaign mode, fighting the real battles of the war in the South Pacific. At the beginning of each mission you take on, the scene will be set with some background information, relaying the story of your pilot to you in an attempt to give you a greater understanding of how it might feel to be swept up in the real action of war. This is done using a simple comic strip, which captures the mood of the era somewhat - the naivety of the time. None of the strips take more than a few minutes each, and it certainly never feels dull.
Unfortunately, you'll be far too busy laughing at the abysmal voice-acting to be able to gauge exactly what you're actually supposed to do. It's not that it's wooden; not at all! On the contrary, the acting is hilariously over the top. This is the Acorn Antiques school of acting: the over-emphasis of words, the pointless close-ups, the quivering eyebrows. One would hope you've kept your eyes focussed on the writing, because you're not likely to hear what's being said over your own hearty guffaws. You'll need to have some semblance of an idea of what to do, as even at the easy difficulty level, the game's pretty darn tricky. Turning the sound off isn't an option either - you'll need to be able to hear everything when actually flying your aircraft in order to react to being hit as quickly as possible.
Rather than spoil the game though, it actually makes it better. Try to imagine the reality of war, and although you'll probably think you can conjure up a decent picture of it, you're extremely unlikely to have achieved it. Unless you're one of the few people who have actually fought in a war, you can't begin to imagine what it might have felt like. The truth is that you wouldn't want to. There's a reason why a shocking number of troops suffer from mental health problems after returning from battles. It's better that the reality of conflict is kept from us here. It's better that the acting provides comic relief rather than the brutal reality which was perhaps intended.
The conflict itself is fast-paced and really rather difficult. Even though you can choose from several different levels of difficulty, selecting "easy" really only results in a marginally less tricky game for you. Much of this is unfortunately down to the controls. This game is definitely best played on a joystick or a gamepad. The keyboard really isn't very responsive, and the mouse is nigh-on impossible to use here. Controls certainly aren't intuitive, and it's really only this that causes the game to be so hard. Should you have an Xbox 360 controller, you could actually use that, and it would certainly make your life much easier to do so as this seems to be the only control method that actually works the way it's supposed to.
Horrific controls aside, the mission-based method works surprisingly well. Should you fail at a mission, you won't get the chance to start over - just as in a real war, you'll have to face your superiors and move on to the next mission. Success results in experience points being awarded to you, and an exceptional performance in battle will result in you being honoured with a medal. At regular intervals you'll be promoted as you rack up more and more experience points. The innovation of moving on regardless if you fail is a lovely touch, and a welcome shift from the norm.
Using a selection of aircraft from the P40 Warhawk to the D3A1 Aichi, you'll be faced with the same standard models that would have been available to the pilots at the time. The specific craft for each mission will be determined by the type of raid you'll be participating in, whether it be a bombing mission under cover of darkness, or whether it be sinking approaching ships using torpedoes. On some occasions you'll have to see off an attacking party through dogfights, which are the most annoying type of missions due largely to the aforementioned control issue - you can't make the most of the manoeuvrability of your aircraft unless you're using a gamepad.
Fortunately, the attention to detail in all other aspects of play is absolutely sublime. The look of the game is stunning, from the brush strokes on your camouflage, and the bullet-holes in your aircraft's wings, right down to the nuts and bolts holding your plane together. The plane's engines make realistic noises, and every bullet that hits you is plainly audible, making it absolutely vital to keep the sound well and truly on. You'll want to anyway - the detail is painstakingly exquisite, right down to ascending in your craft sounding different from descending. There's nothing that one could fault about this at all.
Attack on Pearl Harbor is a beautiful game that will truly take your breath away. Despite the difficulty issues, and despite the controls being quite frankly shit, this is definitely worth persevering with. What we have here is a truly special game that could have been even better with just a little more love and care. You'll be playing this for months should you get hold of it, and I certainly recommend giving it a go. You may well end up hooked.
Freelance review by Lisa Harrison (July 11, 2007)
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