It has to be mentioned from the get-go, but I do love a good strategy game. Having played a multitude over the years, including all of the Command and Conquer games (I know, not in the same league, but there is a point here so bear with me) on a variety of consoles, it’s safe to say that a tactical test is right up my street.
Strategic Mind: The Pacific was released onto the PC platform way back in 2019, met with, shall we say, mixed reviews. So now we have it in place on our shiny Xbox consoles, should it be something that we’re looking forward to? Let’s step back into history and find out.
Strategic Mind: The Pacific is based on events that happened way back in World War II, in the Pacific Ocean when Japan and the USA went to war in the largest naval encounters ever seen. We are tasked with taking control of either the US fleet, or the Imperial Japanese Navy, and then given a series of scenarios that we have to meet. The US scenario takes place just after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, and – honestly – it is here where I concentrated most of my efforts, mainly because you want to be on the side of the eventual winners, right? The scene was set for an epic encounter….
Taking a look at how the game presents itself and there’s no kind way to say this, but the cutscenes that introduce the various missions are absolutely awful; cringeworthy even. The acting is stilted, with the voices sounding like they have been run through Google Translate first of all, then through some kind of robotic speech interpreter. There is no way that any human ever used these turns of phrase, or spoke in such mono tones. Add to this the fact that the animation of the cutscenes is jerky, stilted and skips about, and we are not off to a good start.
The graphics in the actual missions are a little better, but some odd design choices with regards to the camera make this a bit more difficult than it needs to be. The sounds in combat are okay, although if I hear one more pilot say “Low on ammo, not altitude!”, I’m going to do something drastic. All in all, not off to a great start so far.
Now, all of these concerns about the presentation of the game could be forgiven if, once you get into a mission, the action keeps you playing until you lose track of time. And, you know, as long as there was a decent tutorial that showed you the ropes and what to do, you can forgive a few graphical hiccups. Sadly, there isn’t any form of tutorial in Strategic Mind: The Pacific, as we are thrust straight into our first naval encounter without so much as a by your leave. To this day, I am not sure that the ropes actually exist, much less where they are, and the success I have had in the game has been down to me pressing random buttons and hoping for the best.
Let me explain what I have discovered about the systems in place. First off, this is not in the same bracket as Command and Conquer, as Strategic Mind: The Pacific plays as a turn-based affair. The sea is split into hexagons, and each ship or aeroplane at your disposal has a certain range that it can attack inside, and a certain range it can move within. Clear so far? So, if we want to move a carrier, we would select the ship, then choose where to put it. Strangely, here we find that carriers can also directly attack other vessels, which is something I was fairly certain didn’t happen – I thought the point of a carrier was to stand back and throw aircraft at the enemy, but it appears I have been wrong all these years. Launching aircraft from a carrier is also fairly easy, you select them from the list of available units in the middle of the screen and choose where to send them. It’s a lot more straightforward than getting them to return to the carrier, believe me.
In addition to the carriers, you have various other units, such as battleships and subs with which to bring the hurt to the enemy. As each mission progresses, you are given objectives to achieve, be it to destroy Japanese landing forces, or sink two carriers, and so on. And don’t think you can ignore these: if you don’t meet an objective, it’s game over man, game over. Still, having targets to work towards can help to focus the mind, and as such aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
So what is wrong with Strategic Mind: The Pacific? First off is the camera in the battle screen; the majority of the game. The battlefields are huge yet Strategic Mind: The Pacific will only show you a small portion of the screen. If you are using your battleships, with their massive guns, to attack a target at maximum range, it is almost impossible to have both the shooting unit and the target on the screen at once, as you can’t zoom the camera out. You also can’t rotate the camera, which makes things confusing when the ships close up for a fight.
The most unforgivable crime that the game commits however, is not found in the dodgy graphics or camera, it is that it takes something as exciting as a huge naval battle and makes it hugely tedious and a massive ordeal to play through. Your opponents seem to have an inexhaustible supply of ships and so any thought of strategy has to go out of the window in favour of just trying to stay afloat. Add to this the most confusing set of menus ever made and the whole thing is a bit of a mess. I have apparently levelled some ships up through combat, but can I give them any new abilities? Can I heck. Even trying to replace the units that are lost seems like an insurmountable issue, and honestly by halfway through the second mission you’ll wish for the whole thing to be over.
I am sure that Strategic Mind: The Pacific would work great on a PC. I can see the potential, and as such it is a real disappointment that the game is hidden behind poor controller integration and the most complicated menu system ever seen. If Strategic Mind: The Pacific could have been streamlined a little, optimised for the console market, it could have been a contender, but as it is the obstacles to just getting on with the game are too damn high. And that’s a shame. A massive shame.
Grab Strategic Mind: The Pacific from the Xbox Store