Battlestations: Midway has a steep learning curve and a tutorial nearly as long as a stint at Annapolis. That's because players of this combat simulator are armed with a fleet of World War II-era boats and aircraft, each with its own unique control schemes to master and systems to monitor. Every fighter, submarine, and battleship can be manually controlled, but the campaign in the Pacific theater can't be won behind the wheel of a single vessel. The game's strategic bent punishes hot-dogging and favors those who take the wide view, commanding squadrons rather than single fighters.

That doesn't mean there are no thrills to be found in this genre hybrid. A good tactician can jump from cockpit to cockpit just in time to dive-bomb an aircraft carrier, pull some Gs in a dogfight, or torpedo a destroyer. It takes patience and frequent referral to the game's manual to digest the myriad commands that armchair admirals can issue to their troops. The service's requirements are unforgiving, but ultimately rewarding—especially if you harbor a fetish for naval war machines.

Beyond the game: Early in the campaign, motor torpedo boat PT-109 comes under your command. A young Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, voiced in a near-comedic Bostonian accent, is among the crew.

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Worth playing for: Serious strategy dorks will want to play online, where up to eight players can enter the fray. Voice chat over headsets makes sprawling cooperative battles manageable and immersive. Mayday!

Frustration sets in when: The game is locked in real time. Fast-forward would help close the gap when there's a lot of ocean between airbases and the target. Hairy battles would be easier to command with the ability to pause and examine the action during a firefight.

Final judgment: Hell in the Pacific for the trigger-happy. V-J Day for the wannabe Nimitz.

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