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Naval aviation takes center stage in a new sim.

Since this installment of “Airware” reaches the newstand shortly before the anniversary of the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor, it’s fitting that Attack on Pearl Harbor ($30, requires Microsoft Windows XP/Vista, 1.6Ghz processor, 512MB RAM, 500MB hard drive space, 64MB DirectX 9 compliant video card, DVD- ROM drive, CDV,  brings World War II’s Pacific air battles to life in a historically inspired action game.

Pearl Harbor is the opening act in this light simulation, which hops across the Pacific, visiting many of WWII’s naval air battles. After the December 7, 1941, attack, the player travels the region to participate in engagements at Midway, the Philippines and Japan, among others.

The game has two sets of campaign missions, one for American sorties and one for Japanese. The developers do a nice job with the visuals. The islands of locales such as Pearl Harbor and Wake Island are recognizable. Perhaps for copyright reasons, the aircraft in the game sadly do not carry their real names, though they are fine replicas of their historical counterparts and easily identified.

It doesn’t take long for any player reasonably well versed in history to realize that Attack on Pearl Harbor is not designed with deep historical accuracy in mind. The flight models are very simple, and each aircraft flies about the same, whether it is a Mitsubishi A6M Zero or a Douglas SBD Dauntless.Bombers do have operational tail gunners, however, and armaments types are correctly assigned (bombs for bombers, torpedoes for torpedo planes, fighters have stronger guns). In addition, several of the missions involve night fighting between aircraft not normally qualified for night duty.

There is also a mission about the Doolittle Raid. In the American version of the mission, the player flies a fighter that escorts the North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, but they’re clearly flying at a higher altitude than the history books specify. In the Japanese version of the mission, the player pilots a fighter and tries to shoot down the bombers, as one pilot tried to do in a prototype Kawasaki Ki.61, but failed to catch up. It is interesting to see this mission included, since it’s a rarely visited topic in simulations.

There are several nice touches in the game, including a map of the Pacific that shows where missions take place. It’s a nice way to track the campaigns as they bounced around the various islands. In addition, most of the popular simulations about the Pacific theater tend to focus on either dogfights (Il-2 Sturmovik’s Pacific Fighters release) or naval battles (Ubisoft’s Silent Hunter series). Attack on Pearl Harbor is more like Eidos’ Battlestations Midway, in that it depicts WWII naval warfare as a clash of combined air and surface forces. The player sees the action from a plane cockpit, but going on all around him is action of all sorts. Other fighters and bombers are dutifully pursuing their goals, anti-aircraft guns are firing flak bursts, and surface ships are exchanging shots.

Battles aren’t just collections of static vehicles shooting at each other. Nice special effects give ship formations life as they steam toward each other, leaving wakes behind. Airborne flak bursts and damaged ships and planes leave streaks of smoke in the sky. There are usually more than 20 vehicles at a given time fighting it out in three dimensions. Although in real life carrier groups were not close enough to engage in direct surface fighting, this title does a good job of giving the user the impression he’s in the middle of an active battle.

Attack on Pearl Harbor’s missions tend to feel the same by the time a player has run through several of them, though the ability to sometimes choose the type of mission and aircraft adds some variety. Don’t expect a highly technical or accurate simulation like Il-2 Sturmovik or Dangerous Waters. This is an arcade game that’s easy to learn, affordable and easily played—for those looking for a diversion.


Originally published in the January 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here