Admittedly i am unqualified to comment on this game as i have yet to play it. Nonetheless, having received (my first official "comp" btw) a copy and read through the rules i was compelled to comment on a few things.
First, it is a testament to just how much tactical level WW2 games are loved by us wargamers when you consider how many of them have been released. This is a species that may never face extinction but does in fact require an annual thinning of the heard as it were. As i read through the rules i instantly recognize so much that has become standard fare. It seems we have reached a comfortable plateau within wargaming in general and ww2 tactical level wargaming in particular such that innovation is taking a bit of a back seat. This is not to say that there is no innovation within wargaming or within Heroes of the Pacific. This is to say that a number of certain mechanics are becoming universal and taken for granted.
I can imagine how ground breaking the idea of Morale was when it was introduced in Squad Leader. These days its as common as the common cold. But this brings me to another point: I understand there are a lot of ASL haters out there. Each one has his own reason why but you can't disregard the fact that ASL has even if inadvertently established so much of what has now become nearly routine within ww2 tactical games. Is this good or bad? It's neither. Its an observation, its a pointing out that ASL is a damn good game and the fact that games continue to echo aspects of that system is just further proof. But how long will games continue to stand on shoulders? When and what will be the next innovative breakthrough? It's hard to conceive but we may have just reached the apex of efficiency. Perhaps things are done the way they are within these games because its the best way to do them. If it isnt broken, why fix it? Right? But how long can we ride the "morale" wave until it crests? How can a game continue to use what works without rendering itself a facsimile of 15 other games? Its tough. There's really no point in being different for the sake of being different but things may get a bit stale if we continue in the same vein.
So take Heroes of the Pacific. Here is yet another game that mirrors another game/s but is somehow successful. How? Perhaps it has something to do with Lock N Loads quality components and graphics, or perhaps it has something to do with a relatively easy to understand rules set that is able to fit everything within 59 pages. Yea maybe. Or is it the flavor crystals? For example, within Heroes of the Pacific are Event Markers. These clever due dads inject a scenario with a kind of plot reminiscent of a novel or movie and this can mean the world of difference between estranged, mechanical experience and an exciting, cinematic engagement. But wait you say, ASL doesn't have this and yet you hold it up so high, what gives? ASL engages through engrossing you in detail. Some abhor the detail, but for others, its a complete world in which nothing is left out. The point is Heroes of the Pacific can pull you in with minimal detail by other means.
I should also add that more and more people are trying on wargamer shoes for the first time and that is precisely who is predominantly fueling the sales of games like Combat Commander and Heroes of the Pacific. They aren't going to pull a game system like ASL from the shelf because its intimidating (and old) but little do they realize that so many of the same game mechanics they are enjoying came long before the very game they are in fact enjoying. Not that it matters really. And perhaps that is another draw of Heroes of the Pacific, the blend of old and new. Additionally, combat within this game is sufficiently non-similar to similar games to stand out without embarrassing itself as is the mechanic of "spotting."
So is Heroes of the Pacific a great game or more of the same? The question is perhaps unfair. Heroes of the Pacific is just as effective doing what it does as other games are doing what they do. Certainly the burden of innovation falls on all, not just one title, but at the same time one can't be blamed for refusing to improve on something that seemingly need not be improved upon. Heroes of the Pacific seems to succeed where others fail and as such, thins the heard. Finally, I suppose NEW is a matter of perspective, and games like Heroes of the Pacific that are best able to shift our perspective of that which we can't help but already know, are all the cleverer for it.