A forgettable flight through some of WWII’s most intense air battles.
Developed by Trickstar Games, Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII is the latest entry into the crowded World War II flight game genre. The title’s publisher, Mad Catz, claims that it will put players in the pilot seat while they dogfight, dive bomb, and launch torpedoes during some of the most historic air battles of WWII’s Pacific Theatre. While Damage Inc. does technically make good on those promises, it does little to set itself apart from the competition, and ultimately ends up being a rather average experience.
Much of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII‘s marketing is focused on claims that the game features “historically accurate missions”, which it does, up to a point.
The game’s 23 missions do follow actual WWII battles like Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, and the Battle of Iwo Jima. While the basic outlines for these missions are historically correct, the actual gameplay within the missions has (at times) been spiced up a bit for the player.
For example, during one of the missions at the battle of Midway you take control of a B-26 that has been modified into a torpedo bomber, and sent off to play with the incoming Japanese naval fleet. In the game you are successful in sinking the ships, and even engage in a little dogfight with some Japanese Zeros.
In the actual battle of Midway when the four modified B-26 Marauders, lead by Capt. James Collins, started their torpedo run two of them were shot down immediately. The other two (one of them being Capt. Collins) did managed to release their payload, but didn’t score any hits with the torpedoes. Afterwards, they were “escorted” away from the fleet by an estimated 50 Zeros and barely made it back to the island, where they promptly crash landed due to extensive flak and bullet damage.
Obviously, Damage Inc.‘s version of the B-26’s role at Midway is a tad bit more uplifting.
Before each mission, there is a narrative by the player’s character that sets up the next battle and weaves a “personal revenge” story into the historical setting. The historical accounts of this narrative are largely accurate, aside from a few annoyances, like when the opening of the game suggests that there is a US Air Force prior to WWII (which is not correct, it was part of the Army until 1947). Petty grievance? You bet, but what would you expect from a USAF brat?
Unfortunately, all that good historical narrative and story in Damage Inc. falls flat thanks to some extremely poor voice acting. The player’s character sounds enough like the 1940’s Oklahoma farmer turned Navy pilot that he is supposed to be, however, each line is read with about as much emotion as an airline attendant doing their pre-flight emergency exit ritual. It really hurts the entire presentation, and ruins what could have been a nice trip through WWII history.
The rest of Damage Inc.‘s presentation is a bit of a mixed bag. Aircraft and ship models look good, but that is offset by some pretty low quality ground textures. Additionally, the game’s frame rate has a tendency to take a hit during the heat of battle, or sometimes (strangely enough) just after the heat of battle when not much is going on.
With that said, there is one entirely positive aspect of Pacific Squadron WWII – the game’s sound design. The plane’s engines sound terrific as they throttle up, the high pitched whine during dive bombing is spot on, and it’s always satisfying to hear the “plink-plink” of your bullets impacting on Japanese Zeros.
Sadly, great sound design is not enough to overcome the game’s other shortcomings.
The one overreaching problem that impacts all aspects of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII is the game’s control options, or to be more accurate, lack of control options.
In Arcade mode the main flight controls work as follows: The left stick is used to control both the pitch (up/down movement) of the plane, and to basically steer it through horizontal (left/right) turns, that don’t allow you to have independent control over the plane’s rudder. The right stick is used to adjust the throttle up/down and make the plane manually roll left/right. In this mode the left and right triggers control the plane’s secondary and main guns respectively.
Due to the lack of direct control, Arcade mode is going to feel extremely limited for anyone who has experience with flight games. This leaves Simulation as the only feasible control option. The good news is that in this mode you get independent control over the plane’s rudder (yaw left/right), the bad news is that Simulation completely remaps the controller in a way that is far from ideal.
In Simulation mode the main flight controls work as follows: The left stick is used for pitch and to roll the plane, making it work exactly like a flightstick (that’s the good part). The left and right bumper are now used to control the plane’s rudder (yaw left/right). The right stick in this mode ends up adjusting the camera, which pushes throttle control to the right and left trigger buttons. This pointless change forces the secondary and main guns to be moved to the B and A buttons respectively.
The problem that I found with this setup is that it becomes unnecessarily difficult to simultaneously adjust pitch, roll, and yaw, while at the same time moving the throttle up/down, and activating the weapons systems during a dogfight. Had the developers left the weapons on the triggers, and put the throttle and yaw on the right stick (or even better, let me customize the settings myself) Damage Inc. would have been a much better game. After several missions I did adjust to the game’s forced control scheme, but it always felt like I was fighting the controller, rather than simply using it.
Despite having an Arcade and Simulation setting, Damage Inc. is strictly an arcade flight experience. No matter which control setting you use, you will never have to worry about; stalling your plane, using up all of your ammo, being punished for abusing Warspeed or Reflex Mode (Warspeed give you a speed boost to cover distance between objectives faster, Reflex can be endlessly spammed during dogfighting to slow time with a slow-motion effect), or running out of fuel.
There is also very little intentional challenge during most missions, and often the game seems extremely forgiving. This is especially true during carrier take-offs and landings, which require very little effort and no skill to successfully accomplish.
Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII consists of 23 single player missions, each lasting on average twenty-five minuets if you only focus on the main mission objectives. This gives players about 10 hours of gameplay, slightly more for those that go after optional mission objectives.
The missions are varied, and more often than not you can choose which one of the game’s 32 aircraft to fly in. Everything from the legendary P-51 Mustang, to the PBY-5 Catalina Seaplane, and the Japanese Zero is included, and most of the planes can be upgraded to their later variants using points earned during missions.
Damage Inc. has a decent amount of single player content, and it is all mildly entertaining, but it’s also all very par for the course. Aside from the game’s controls, that is the biggest complaint that I have against Damage Inc., it all feels very average.
The video game market is flooded with World War II flight games, and there is nothing here that sets this title apart. Furthermore, when you actually compare it to others in the same genre Damage Inc. feels completely outclassed in every aspect.
For example, Konami’s Birds of Steel, which released earlier this on the Xbox 360 and PS3, allows players to 100% customize the game’s controls and difficulty to the point where it can be an pure arcade flight shooter, a semi-flight simulation game, or any combination of those two extremes. Additionally, Birds of Steel ‘s missions span both the European and Pacific Theatres, and the game’s visuals are leaps and bounds above anything found in Damage Inc. Finally, Birds of Steel launched for $39.99, compared to Damage Inc.‘s $49.99 initial asking price.
No matter how you look at it the end result is the same, Damage Inc. is less game for more money.
In addition to the lackluster single player campaign, Trickstar Games also included several competitive multiplayer modes for up to 8 players, and an online co-op story mode for up to 4 players.
The competitive multiplayer modes include; Dogfight (standard deathmatch), Team Dogfight (team deathmatch), Survivor (last man standing), Team Survivor (team last man standing), and Scratch One Flattop (a sort of capture the flag mode, where two teams must protect their carrier while trying to sink the opposing team’s).
Unfortunately, this review was written pre-release and I was unable to try out any of the multiplayer modes after, several attempts turned up nothing but empty game servers.
Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII Collector’s Edition ($99.99) contains a few extras, one of which Mad Catz claims will improve the game and give players “the precise control required to conquer the enemy and rule the skies”, the Saitek AV8R Flight Stick.
The AV8R Flight Stick is similar in form to the company’s other Aviator Flight Sticks, but it has been styled to look like WWII-era combat aircraft. Overall the AV8R’s appearance is eye catching, and the actual stick itself has a nice feel to it, with a soft-rubber finish. Sadly, that just about wraps up all the good features of the controller.
The AV8R’s biggest problem is its configuration. Throttle control is placed at the back of the unit, and feels awkward to use during gameplay. Additionally, the four switches and d-pad (which control Warspeed, Reflex, Cycle View, Look To Target. The d-pad operates Zoom, Look Back, and Cycle Secondary Weapons) are located at the base of the unit. This position of the switches requires your hand to move a considerable distance from the throttle, and is an unforgivable design flaw.
Other minor problems with the AV8R include the overall height of the stick (it feels too tall), the high tension in the spring makes it snap back into a neutral position too quickly, and the twist on the stick (which controls yaw) doesn’t feel right.
Given the game’s awkward Simulator controls on the standard Xbox 360 controller, I have no doubt that Damage Inc. may play better with a flight stick. However, it doesn’t play better with the Saitek AV8R Flight Stick that is included in the Collector’s Edition.
The one really nice addition to the Collector’s Edition is the F6F-5N Hellcat Navy Night Fighter model plane. The model is 1:48 scale and made of die-cast metal. It features a retractable landing gear, attachable rockets, attachable external fuel tank, and two different stands. The model feels solid and looks fantastic. Honestly, it is the best part of the whole package, which is disappointing.
Overall, the Collector’s Edition of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII is not worth the $99 premium price tag.
Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII is not a bad game. There are a decent number of missions, and the title meets all the basic requirements that you would expect from a World War II flight arcade game, however, that is all it does. In a crowded genre, it’s not nearly enough to just be competent.
If you are in the market for a WWII flight game, there are far better options that have released this year for a lower price tag. In that light, it makes it hard to recommend Damage Inc. for a rental, and impossible to recommend it for a purchase.