That creaking sound you hear is the Panzer General engine beginning to show its age. But the old gray mare still has enough breath left for one final gasp, and it's a pretty good one, too.
Panzer General, released over two years ago, is the most successful wargame of all time, with over a quarter million units sold. A series of good, but less successful, sequels followed in the "5-Star Series": , , , and now Pacific General. Each improved the engine a bit, and each was a fine game in its own right despite some rough spots.
Pacific General is the last hurrah before SSI moves on to Panzer General II and a whole new series of wargames. It does exactly what it sets out to do - give us all of World War II in the Pacific - and then some. If the engine has some quirks and the graphics are beginning to look wan, then think of it like that tattered, dotty old uncle who still has some good tales to tell.
In Pacific General, you can take on the role of either the Axis or the Allied in a series of single scenarios or a full-blown campaign. Everything from the invasions of China and Burma and the attack on Pearl Harbor to the hypothetical invasions of the Japanese mainland (Operation Olympic) and San Francisco are here. Orders of battle for the Japanese, Americans, British, Chinese, and minor nations are included for with infantry, armor, artillery, naval, and air units.
Like its predecessors, Pacific General is a grand strategic game with a charming simplicity. The idea is to get novice gamers playing as quickly and easily as possible. Naturally, this is anathema to grognards who demand realism and accuracy (yet who keep playing despite their bitching). Think of it like Milton Bradley's Axis and Allies: a simplified game that gives you the flavor of sweeping conquest without the attention to detail. Combined forces attacks are out, and gameplay is a matter of moving a unit, then firing, then moving another unit, and so on. It's this ease of play that has made the series such a success.
PacGen introduces some innovations that give us a tantalizing glimpse of what Panzer General II has in store. The most prominent of these is the attention to naval warfare, which played a large role in the Pacific. Naval units occupy more than a single hex and can suffer "critical hits." These signify damage to the structure itself, and can be repaired in a special repair mode. Aircraft can be placed on CAP to protect ships from air attacks. Submarines can now be submerged for attack, with just their periscopes showing above the surface. Aircraft carriers can now be "opened" to reveal a deck full of fighters ready for launching. The interface is a bit cumbersome, and the means of repairing damaged aircraft at sea is obscure, but the innovation allows for grand naval battles like Pearl Harbor, Midway, Coral Sea, Guadalcanal, and the Marianas Turkey Shoot to be re-created with some level of skill.