Pearl Harbor: Defend the Fleet is in essence an old style coin-op type shooter with the objective of the game to fend off wave after wave of enemy fighters using the Pearl Harbor scenario as a backdrop. You could easily be fighting off Germans in Britain or Iraqis in Desert Storm for all the game knows but Pearl Harbor appears to be in fashion this time of the year, although I am not entirely sure why since the actual event happened in December. With that said, it seems to also coincide with a few other WWII oriented titles who want to capitalize on the hype developed around the Pearl Harbor movie.
In this game, the player is responsible for manning the deck gun on your ship. In fact, it is your only deck gun but that probably means your battleship is not the most important one in the convoy. Many people may remember the recent submarine movie, U-571, and the deck gun used there to blow a hole right through the German ship's radio room. The deck gun you are given in Pearl Harbor is a lot milder as you defend against wave after wave of Japanese attackers. While your gun lacks the firepower found in that movie, it actually is pretty sophisticated with a digital readout of how much ammo you have for each type of gun and also an indicator on how healthy your ship is. In the first three missions of Pearl Harbor, it proves itself to be on par with the B-17 turret gunner game recently released. Each wave consists of fighters hitting your fleet while you gun them down with your deck gun.
The Japanese are able to wield a variety of aircraft from the very nimble Mitsubishi Zero fighters to slow torpedo bombers. The aircraft are rendered quite nicely in comparison with the other sub-par objects. Each type of plane is also distinctly colored so that the bombers are all bright yellow. I'm not exactly the greatest expert on Pearl Harbor but I imagine the Japanese were not that arrogant or foolish to fly bright colors into battle. If so, it just proves how creative Japanese manufacturing is with packaging but they serve as a device to prioritize targets for the players. Torpedoes and bombs are devastating to ships while regular gunfire is relatively harmless. Your weapon can also morph into different types of guns on the fly. Thus, you are able to fire everything from a regular machine gun to rockets. You won't, however, simply use rockets once you acquire them. For one thing, unlike the whole degrading Pearl Harbor situation, your ship actually improves through the course of the day, bringing better and better guns up "online" as the radio chatter says. Moreover, rockets come in limited supplies and may not be right for every target. For a Zero fighter, you would want to employ a machine gun for its quickness but for bombers, you can opt to use the heavier shell guns to get a bigger punch.
The developers of this game are well aware that a shooter can get quite old so they have added more than just a variety of enemies to keep the title interesting. To complement Japanese airplanes, there are some missions that require you to scope out the water for torpedo-toting submarines. These submarines wreck havoc on your allied ships and also damage crucial re-supply ships. Periodically throughout the missions, re-supply ships are sent to increase the ammunition for one weapon. The process is rather tedious since you have to "use" the weapon you want to re-supply, which is unwieldy if you are being swarmed by enemy units. Submarines and bombers can also destroy your frail supply ships so it is in your best interest to protect them. You won't ever be out of ammunition though, as the first two guns in your arsenal are virtually unlimited in that you can use your score points as currency to purchase reloads. Unlike the aforementioned B-17 turret gunner game, your allies in this title are actually effective in deterring the enemy. When the lead Japanese plane appears in the sky, you can be sure it will be treated to some heated welcome from the various other deck gunners on allied ships. Although their damage is significantly less than what you can do, it is still good to see some friendly AI present and contributes to the relative realism of the Pearl Harbor backdrop. At times, even friendly fighters can get off the ground but I found their effectiveness to be a lot less than the fellow ships. At best I thought they were able to divert some of the Japanese fighters' attention. However, I also made the mistake more than a few times in the hectic firefights of downing a few American fighters, which luckily didn't impede my progress in the game.
This game works on the principle of running through a gauntlet of waves but the developers vary the types of opponents thrown at you. Sometimes you only face bombers. Sometimes you face a full assortment of enemy aircraft. Submarines are occasionally mixed into the fray or can become the primary antagonist in a mission. The last wave in each mission has you defending your fleet so certain allied ships can make an escape. Ships, originally thought to be static, actually move in and out of the harbor to escape, much to my pleasant surprise. The allied ships you fight against are all roughly the same despite some legendary ones like the Missouri or Arizona.
Furthermore, the graphics simply do not do justice to the naval units. The textures used for the ships and terrain are about on par with something you would expect from a voxel engine on a Windows CE/Pocket PC PDA game. Though the airplane models were quite nice, the terrain and ships were simply too poor in quality, becoming very pixilated without even zooming close to them. Users of a Voodoo 3 or under will probably find it worse. The animation for the deck guns is fair. At any given time in a battle, there is a significant amount of tracer fire on screen, which adds greatly to the feel of the Pearl Harbor invasion. Quantity does not exactly equal to quality though. The explosions effects do not seem dramatic enough. Water splashes from gunfire is one good example of this. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the game is the destruction of enemy aircraft. Though airplanes smoke and burn when hit severely, they seem to mysteriously vaporize when destroyed. No hurtling shrapnel or debris is ever given to reward the player for a job well done. I'm sure Japanese kamikaze fighters would be rolling in their graves if that happened in the real world.
There are actually kamikaze "bombers" in Pearl Harbor despite the fact that this technique was only used in the latter part of the war. To their credit, the developers acknowledge they have embellished the whole incident and devoted some static pages of the game to explaining the truth about Pearl Harbor. With respect to education, they grossly exceed the effort made by the summer movie to educate people about Pearl Harbor. They also point out that there were only a half dozen submarines in the actual attack but I believe I sank a half dozen in one particular mission. Pearl Harbor features some periodic music that is at least not too out of touch with the overall theme. I had a bit of trouble getting the music to play properly. At a volume level of 2, the music still overwhelmed the sound effects, which were set at 60. The audio component, again, is not technically amazing but certainly by comparison, more consistent than the visuals.
As you finish each set of waves in Pearl Harbor, you move along a loose "campaign" structure that has you trying to escape the area itself or at least get by. Enemy airplanes do not seem too fixed in their attack runs. Some like to attack from the ship's aft since your deck gun is in front. Many like to swoop in from the aft right above your command tower so you cannot effectively take aim at them. Gameplay is done through keyboard and mouse. The latter is naturally more effective but I wish there was some way to configure mouse sensitivity as the keyboard moves the deck gun turret much faster than the mouse ever could. After some adjusting on the player's part, I'm sure most gamers will be able to cope with the slow rotation speed. Eventually, as you enter in the third area, the Japanese get hint that you are the most effective battleship out there and begin to unleash their barrage of weapons fire on you en masse.
There is no multiplayer component to the title nor is there a random mission generator or any way to effectively replay the title. Thus, this title seems to be aimed at the intended audience of the movie Pearl Harbor. Those interested in an extended and unrealistic battle sequence with lots of guns firing, airplanes blowing up (or in this case vaporizing) and ships billowing with smoke will definitely appreciate it. Beyond that though, they offer very little depth and this game won't offer nearly as much special effects. Both also require you to sit through the entire length of the title as the game has no save feature and to get through the length of the game is roughly equal to the time spent viewing the film, plus or minus the time needed to get popcorn.