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War in the Pacific

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Release Date: June 22, 2004
Publisher: Matrix Games
Developer: 2by3 Games
Reviewed by: John Siminoff

War in the Pacific, a turn-based WWII simulation concentrating solely on the war between the Allies and the Empire of Japan (the map range is from Karachi, Pakistan to Denver, Colorado, including essentially both poles) is probably one of the most overwhelmingly detailed war games you are ever likely to encounter. The scale is sixty-mile hexes with controls for individual ship, plane and land units as small as brigades for any nation whose units participated in the Pacific War in anything more than an oddball way. The player may play as either the Allies or Japan, with the opposite side being played either by another human via hotseat/PBEM or AI. Scenarios range from famous battles within the wider war up to the all-out throw down. The game covers from a few seconds after the first Japanese bombs strike Pearl to 1946, should the war continue to this length.

The game is quite stable, and will run on most systems so long as they are even remotely current (This reviewer has run it on as small as a 1 megahertz celeron notebook with 128 megs of RAM with onboard video). WiTP uses a very simple graphical interface and sound structure, so that even very low end hardware will run this game. The game’s producers, Matrix Games, offer superb support and frequently patch issues to reflect all but the most insignificant problems.

Historical Authenticity
A dedicated WWII history buff may learn things from this game. All details are accurate for ships and planes down to specific versions of AA guns, number of depth charge launchers, speeds, number of floatplanes on a particular model of cruiser, a plane’s version (B-17C vs B-17E), American dud torpedoes, low rates of Japanese pilot replacement, etc. Almost no conceivable detail is omitted from its unit information on land, sea or air. Real leaders are represented throughout the game on both sides, with ratings such as inspiration and leadership ability.

Game Features

One almost hesitates to call this a game. It is truly a simulation of the war, to the best of the ability of the hardware in question to represent. If you are a casual player of war games (you like Risk and wish Starcraft was still current), you will NOT like this game. The turns take several minutes to process (each can be set to a single DAY of WWII) even on a fast system. A casual player will be bored to tears setting up the logistical support required for even a small assault on an enemy island or trying to figure out where the replacement planes for the 5th Fighter wing are and what the best way to get them to their current location might be.

More importantly, this simulation is true to the facts on the ground as they were in those theatres. Production and supply realities on both sides will restrict various operations or the deployment of new units. The Allied player cannot much vary his production (which tends to be quite plentiful in any case), but the Japanese player has control over the production of various airplanes and ships than most previous games would allow. That being said, production controls are not easy to understand and are one of the aspects the game’s creators may significantly patch in the future.

In so far as combat, outcomes are generally very realistic in the skies and in the seas. Ships do not often sink in five minutes. You will often take weeks of game time until intelligence finally discovers if that crippled cruiser got away. Fog of war may have your enemy thinking he put five bombs into the Yorktown while it took but one hit. Ten five hundred pound general purpose bombs will not much harm a Yamato class battle ship, even though your bombers will come back and tell you they plastered it. I actually found it quite entertaining to see the weapons and realities so realistically portrayed. Wonder why everyone was so scared of the Yamato? Well try to stop a battleship of its armor and size with anything short of a perfect wolfpack ambush or a hundred plane carrier alpha strike and see what you can do to it.

Land combat is adequately represented, but is the least satisfying of the three types. It is abstractly represented and while detailed enough to do its job, at times you will wonder precisely how that overland movement speed or combat result was calculated. This being said, since there was very little overland maneuver combat in this part of the war, and since small island and siege type fighting works well, it doesn’t derail the experience.

One of the most outstanding things about this game is that seemingly very small factors can dramatically change outcomes in battles. Send high experience Japanese pilots up in their shockingly maneuverable Zeros against relatively obsolete American planes in the early game and the Allies will be wiped out, all things being equal. Send those same unstoppable Zeros against the same Allied planes after forcing the Zeros to fly at maximum possible extended range after two non-stop fatigue-building weeks of flying long range Combat Air Patrol because your trying to do everything at once while the Americans fly over their own airfield for the first time in three days, and a few survivors might make it back to collect sake rations. Again this is the kind of thing that will sicken a casual player and send a serious war gamer into paroxysms of delight.

Similar issues exist in a strategic sense. You can change history, but not flip it on its head. Japanese troops will not end up fighting street to street across the Hollywood hills. The fighting in the early months is severely lopsided, as the inexperienced and generally poorly equipped forces of the Allied player can do little better than a stinging fighting retreat to buy time against locally superior Japanese units. Alternately, towards the “end” of the game, Japan has little hope of winning in an outright sense. They may win the game via its point structure (essentially outperforming the historical performance of the real Japanese forces) but they cannot realistically hope to win the war by say sinking all of America’s fleet or sweeping the skies free of its planes.

One last point. If your interests extend to seeing what you could as overall commander of either side, given an essentially realistic set of limitations and capabilities including your own self-imposed rules, you will love this game. If your interests lay in playing a game to win, via whatever possible route presents itself, you will not like this game and will tire of it in days. This is a simulation that almost (for better or worse) seems to have been built presupposing that its players were interested only in historically plausible actions with the context of the military, political and economic realities of that time.

Some examples; by abusing the rules the Japanese have to represent their initial surprise conditions at the outset of the war, the IJN can mount devastating assaults far deeper into allied territory than would have be dared by the most audacious Japanese commander. Using such “gamey” tactics I have seen Japanese torpedo-bombers intercepting allied shipping on December 10th, 1941 from bases in the Dutch East Indies within fighter range of northern Australia. Or having every Allied unit in the Pacific up and leaving for Australia literally the morning of December 8th 1941 because they “know” that Japan can’t be stopped until their reinforcements arrive. Not a fighting retreat mind you, but a hell for leather evacuation starting before the local troops might have even found out about the attack.

Overall the game play is great if it’s what you’re looking for, and improving with the monthly patches. If you are in the market for a seriously detailed WWII strategic simulation, especially one dealing with material far less frequently covered than the Western War, War in the Pacific will satisfy you like nothing else on the market.

War in the Pacific Web Site


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