Flight simulators have always attracted a specific crowd of gamers. Often blurring the lines of popularity between simulation and arcade style flying, the genre has had its attention divided between its fans. Fun, racing style arcade titles like Skydrift have hit the market for those that don’t want the full fledged airplane experience found in Microsoft Flight. Admittedly, this reviewer hasn’t spent any serious time on a combat simulator since Falcon 4.0. It wasn’t for lack of interest, but rather it took a title that got it right in enough ways to pull interest away from the random fun the arcade styles provided. Now Mad Catz and Trickstar games have teamed up to bring us a mix of both worlds with Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII. Given Mad Catz penchant for quality hardware and Trickstar’s past attempts with Jane’s Advanced Strike Fighters under their belt, how will this game fair in the unfriendly skies of history?
First, it bears mentioning that the developers have gone above and beyond to ensure the historical accuracy of the title. We here at Front Towards Gamer appreciate that a studio cares enough about the lives of the soldiers that fought during World War II to get it right. That said, this reviewer looked at the title with a more scrutinizing eye. Paying careful attention to the story lines, the environments, and even the planes themselves, I can say that I feel comfortable how much effort they put into the research. If anything, the only things I questioned had to do with the timeline on when Japan had structure-based radar, as well as the story’s protagonist joining the United States Air Force before that specific branch of the military had been formed. Be warned though: for all of the work that went into providing an accurate look into the past that there is some disconnect from complete historical accuracy for the sake of trying to make an entertaining game. I can’t ever recall a time in military history where planes had a full compliment of missiles or torpedoes that regenerated seconds after use. I really would have preferred that they didn’t mix cartoony, cel-shaded elements to the story telling, given the gravity of the story and the use of actual footage.
While playing Damage Inc., the player goes through over 20 different missions ranging from striking against Japanese Zeros in the skies, bombing runs on aircraft carriers, recon missions, and some basic one pilot standing base defense scenarios. During each one of these missions, a variety of planes are available that can be upgraded after claiming victory on a previous assignment. Upgrades don’t involve custom outfitting of your fighter ace, but rather upgrades to the aesthetics and stats like agility, speed, and armor. Planes are also unlocked after certain victories for use in missions or in multiplayer. As Reaper Leader, you go through the game trying to avenge the loss of a friend at the hands of an elite Japanese fighter ace. While the main goal is your orders, you’ll never pass up a chance to take on an ace in a dogfight hoping to avenge his death.
The gameplay is about what one would typically expect from a military style game. You have your orders and objectives, now carry them out. The campaign consists of actual battles from the Pacific arm of the United States war front during World War II. Along the way you’ll have to test for flight mettle against an enemy that wishes to end your existence. While your tool of trade can be an Xbox controller or a flightstick, the game will carry on in the same manner. Arcade elements come into play like the aforementioned ammo regeneration, checkpoint restarts, navigational prompts, and targeting/tracking assist. The goal of these elements is to take away the stressful parts of a simulation to bring more fun into the game. Flights aren’t long to objectives. In the off chance they are, you be greeted with a short clip to cut the travel time. The odd thing is these clips often have the first parts of dialogue cut from them because of the longer load times of the title. That aside, Damage Inc. aims for all action all the time. If you aren’t fighting off waves of fighters, you’re doing something that is going to garner their attention shortly. Where the simulation aspect comes in is with the mechanics. This isn’t a blind fire your missile into the sky and have it track to your target type of game. Instead you have to depend on firing arcs, synchronous target receptacles, and pilot predictability.
The importance of detail is something that comes across very well in Damage Inc. The terrains, the rolling ocean, even the textures on the planes do their best to be accurate. It must be said that even outside of that, the world you are immersed in ends up looking quite good. The planes are the stars of the show. From the sounds of the engines to the detail in the paint, each model offers something different to the observer. Though it must be noted that while the planes look fantastic, they mostly feel and handle the same.
Damage Inc. also offers multiplayer modes for those that wish to expand upon the campaign. From free for all dogfights, king-of-the-hill style survivor mode, and team based games, there should be a little something for everyone. During play testing, it was apparent that the multiplayer modes seem to have heavy reliance on connection latency. Planes skipped around the skies, especially in the case of the red dot for targeting. In the end it may not make much of a difference, as most matches are spent eternally circling and shooting one another trying to predict the path of the enemy fighter. In all honesty, it doesn’t make for much of an exciting game. This is the reward for waiting long periods of time for a game to fill up.
From just the pure functionality side of the game, there were not many problems that were run into. There was a glitch that occurred during a mission defending the USS Enterprise from incoming bombers. As soon as the game loaded, it instantaneously blinked to black. From there, the mission was over and had to be restarted. Also, the shadows seen inside the cockpit view were very choppy, to the point it wasn’t rendering them smooth at all. On the trusses of the cockpits you could see the triangles and polygons that attempting to be rendered. It ended up being something that often drew the eye away from the game play. However, playing in third person view with the flightstick felt rather awkward, so it was unavoidable.
On the more noticeable issues, there was a handful more. One of the planes you could choose, the F4F-3 Wildcat was strangely absent from the plane selection menu…as in, you could select the plane, but the model didn’t actually appear. If the plane was upgraded, you could see the next in line. If you tried to select the base F4F-3 though, it was just blank. And of course, there’s just something strikingly odd (or funny depending on how you look at it) that planes could just bounce off each other in mid air. Only once during a head-on collision did this not occur; meanwhile, a plane could barely nick a con tower or the deck of a carrier to result in a crash. It was just more of those arcade elements coming into play in a weird way.
Weighing everything taken in from Damage Inc., it fits in a sort of grey area for a flight game. All of the elements that make an appealing arcade style game or simulation style game are there. The problem is that they just don’t mesh together well. From the dark tone of the story to the importance placed into the historical accuracy, we want to take the title as something serious. As soon as our minds are set though, the arcade elements pop out of their hole to remind us that Damage Inc. isn’t about that. It is almost as if they don’t belong. Instead they are there for the sake of driving action in the game rather than focusing on the elements of fuel, stalling out, ammo conservation, and initiating the “fight or flight” responses one would expect if they were actually there. I applaud the fact that Mad Catz and Trickstar are trying to infuse action into the boring elements of a simulation. The problem is, the changes result in the game being a “one and done” title where players just want to finish it and move on.
As the collector’s edition of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII was provided for this review, it would be unfair to comment on the game without taking a look at the flight stick that came with. The Saitek Pacific AV8R FlightStick stood up as something that became a necessity for the title. Playing with the standard Xbox controller ending up being so funny feeling, that use of the flightstick was not longer optional. The construction of the AV8R seemed on par with things that you would expect from Mad Catz. It didn’t have the heft that some of the serious sticks out there have given its plastic construction. However, I came to appreciate how light it was after having it sitting on my leg for hours at a time. Little rounded clips came with it to snap into the bottom of the stick to create more of a non-slip grasp on the players leg while playing.
There were a few other nice additions as well. For a stick that seemed to be a little on the lower end of quality peripherals, nothing felt too cheap. Granted, it could probably fall 20 feet and snap something off at the base, but it doesn’t have that feeling when it is in your hand. The rubberized grip holds well and it is detachable to boot. The buttons respond well without a plastic click. The micro switch used in the trigger responds rather well enough to the point it feels that someone could walk the trigger. Tension on the stick can be set to a player’s preference by the thumbscrew that you attach the rubber part of the stick too. Even the response and comfort of the throttle, or the switches that mimic the one that may be found on the dashboard of planes of the area were a nice addition.
What it comes down to is that the AV8R does the job it was intended to do. As an added bonus, it will even work with some existing titles like Ace Combat 6 or HAWX 2.
FTG Editor Note: Game provided by publisher for review.