Storm Over the Pacific – PC Game Review
Storm over the Pacific. PC Game. Developer/Publisher: Wasteland Interactive. Distributed by Matrix Games/Slitherine Strategies. Available via digital download: $49.95.
Passed Inspection: A large-scale grand strategy game that is accessible to casual gamers. Extremely customizable map and units.
Failed Basic: Naval battles too simplistic for a war game set in the Pacific. Can lose units in terrain. Surrender conditions too restrictive.
Storm over the Pacific (SoP) is a new grand-strategy game covering the Pacific Theater from the east coast of India to America’s western states. It is from Wasteland Interactive, makers of WW2: Time of Wrath, and shares many of that previous game’s traits. Players maneuver their land/naval/air forces in 13 different scenarios and a tutorial. Nine of the scenarios are small, tactical-level games such as Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, ranging from 10 to 123 turns. The other scenarios are full-scale, multiyear, campaigns that include a 314-turn hypothetical Japanese invasion of Australia and a massive 552-turn campaign covering the entire war from the invasion of China in 1937 to war’s end in 1945.
Graphics and Sound
Incorporates a great many good ideas from WW2: Time of Wrath—and some of the same faults.
The game is played on a standard hexagonal map that can be customized with different backgrounds: a “classic” version similar to old-style boardgames, a “normal” view with nice looking terrain features (mountains, jungle, clearings, etc.) and a “stylized” view that resembles a military-type atlas. Unit views can also be set to various designs: NATO-style counters, figures (miniature-style boardgame figures), sprites (3D figures), and stylized (military pennants). I think the standard NATO-style counters work best with all map backgrounds. Although the “normal” background looks the best, all unit markers except the NATO-style counters blend into the predominately jungle terrain and are hard to see. However, all unit types will work well with at least one of the available backgrounds, so players should find a combination that works for them.
Sounds are very sparse but functional. Marching feet accompany infantry movement, squeaking treads with mechanized forces, droning airplane engines with air units, etc. Combat sounds are just short “booms” and occasional machine guns. Naval combat sounds are unidentifiable double-boom/bangs. The music is an irritatingly non-military tune (bongos!?) and is easily dispensed with. Just tune your TV to The Military Channel and you’ll have the needed background ambiance to play.
The 12 scenarios are a varied lot. Some are short tactical games of a couple of months while others are huge campaigns encompassing the entire war from 1937 onward. Once into the campaigns you can choose to control up to 26 different countries. Playing the 1941 campaign? Choose to play just America, or if you want more to do, choose the big dogs of the U.S., Britain and Australia. Point is, you can choose any of the 26 countries you wish. Game turns range from one day to around two weeks each depending on the scenario.
Each unit has action points that are consumed by combat, weather, and traversing terrain. Unit strength starts with a base number that is effected by supply, doctrine (research) level, commander (if assigned), and sea/air bombardment. In combat, final strength effectiveness has various combat modifiers applied—terrain, armor, weather, multiple attacks—to arrive at a final odds ratio.
The best attack modifiers come when you attack from more than two directions—which you’ll have to do because you can’t stack units, so you’ll need multiple units to amass the needed 5:1 (or better) odds to guarantee you inflict higher losses than you suffer. And it won’t be easy to set up these multiple attacks either. Since the jungle terrain drains your action points like the mosquitoes of a real jungle drain blood, maneuvering a unit to get it next to an enemy often consumes all of the maneuvering unit’s AP, leaving it open to a pre-emptive attack and/or air/sea bombardment that will sap its attack efficiency. This terrain limitation ensures that the game actually plays quite slowly over land since it takes some time to gather enough units into an invincible land force. The easiest way to mass enough offensive power at a decisive point is to use your navy (or launch an airborne assault) to land an invasion force away from enemy strength and let the terrain help blunt enemy counterstrokes.
One problem I found is that it’s easy to lose track of which units have moved and which have AP left. Each unit has a blinking dot on the side if it has not attacked and three lit dots below if it has remaining AP or is low on supply or is understrength, respectively. Problem is you have to zoom in close to see these indicators so you can’t look at the entire map at once and spot unused units. There is a hot key for selecting the next active unit but the map doesn’t center on it so doesn’t help much.
Although the navy component is vital to success in SoP, it is the least fulfilling part of the game. Contact on the high seas is never a sure thing, and if you do encounter four Japanese carriers northeast of Midway, the only interaction you’ll muster is moving a ship closer to or further from the action and selecting a target—that’s it. It’s the same process used in WW2: Time of Wrath and has the same shortcomings. Shore bombardment is also frustrating. If you have enough ships available you can pretty much hit all enemy units in range, but you can’t mass fire—each battle and patrol group can only hit individual units once.
Air power is simple, yet effective. You can perform airborne assaults, tactical and strategic bombing. The former affects combat efficiency, the latter affects production points. Production points are used to buy new units, replacements and upgrades and to research infantry, tank, navy, airpower, submarine, and nuclear doctrines.
Supply is similarly simple yet effective. Lack of supply affects the ability to replace losses and lessens the ability to use strategic, amphibious, and airborne movements. Certain cities are classed as Main Supply Sources (MSS); other cities and units must trace a land route to an MSS to receive full supply but that supply is reduced by the distance from the MSS to the city or unit. Island cities receive supply via convoys. Convoy transport is handled automatically; the player has no control over convoys other than assigning priority. According to the manual, convoys can be intercepted by enemy fleets but again, this is resolved by the computer. Supply can also be generated at a reduced rate or duration by a friendly fleet or a Mulberry harbor.
Diplomacy is simulated by using diplomacy points to influence your own or another country. Just like Time of Wrath, the world is divided into Allied, Axis and Comintern factions.
After you’ve ended your turn, the enemy gets his turn—but it will be hard to tell just what he has done to you. You get results windows for each land assault, and the map will center on the action, but unless you recognize the landmass you won’t know where that action took place. You’ll also sometimes get a notice that there has been contact between fleets but will be unsure what happened due to some vague translations in the text. There is a lot of info in these combat windows—which will please the grognards, but the data is somewhat cryptic unless you spend some time with the manual to figure out what it’s telling you. If you lose patience, a graphic at the bottom, a skull for example, will let you know what the bottom line was. Another problem is you don’t receive notice when the enemy captures one of your ports or cities. I tried to reinforce Midway Island for several turns before discovering that the Japanese had already occupied it. I had no idea it had fallen.
Wasteland Interactive has applied a great many good ideas from Time of Wrath—and apparently transferred some of the same faults that ACG.com contributor Jim Cobb found in his review. For example, the naval component and victory conditions (you have to capture every single victory point city within a country’s border to force surrender) remain exactly the same. The game appears stable though I have had a transport group disappear and a saved game that now crashes to desktop.
SoP is not without problems but it gets a lot right. There are tons of options and preference settings, combat modifiers and data, and PBEM for the long-distance armchair generals. For a strategic game covering such a momentous subject, Wasteland Interactive has created a fast-paced and easy game to play, one in which you’ll want to say “just one more turn.”
Armchair General Score: 84%
About the Author
Neal West is a retired USAF airman with a BA in American Military History and is beginning is Masters. He began wargaming as a teen with such board classics as PanzerBlitz, Jutland, and Rise and Fall of the Third Reich before graduating to computers with Chris Crawford’s Eastern Front 1941 on the Atari 800. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s he crushed his enemies, saw them driven before him, and heard the lamentation of their women (and sometimes the men) through most of the old SSI and Microprose catalog of games. Today, he’s fond of grand strategy games, FPS (look for ‘AchtungPanzer’ on CoD: World at War tactical servers), and air/naval simulations.