Review: Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII Collector’s Edition
I can’t say I’ve ever really got on with WWII fighter pilot games, don’t get me wrong, I love the look of the planes and the historic nature of the dogfights – I just find the whole context a little lacklustre in the adrenaline department – give me a high-speed jet armed to the teeth any day of the week. So will Mad Catz’s entry into the games’ market with Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII change my opinion on this?
The Pacific AV8R flight stick comes packaged with the collector’s edition of Damage Inc. and is a marked improvement on its predecessor. The stick itself is far more comfortable to grasp and the Pacific also has small plastic arched Legs underneath it, which sit comfortably over your leg, offering additional stability when using the stick. The front 4 buttons are now like switches, which I’d imagine have been modelled on a WWII cockpit. While the X and Y-axis of the Pacific do feel slightly looser than the previous AV8R, the Pacific ‘twists’ a lot better – this is used to control the yaw of your plane. It’s a great upgrade to the AV8R although if you do own the older stick you needn’t rush out and buy the Pacific, although you may want it.
Considering Damage Inc. comes packed with the flight stick I found it interesting that the controller options only map out the standard control pad layout and not that of the stick, oh well the tutorial will set me straight right? Wrong. Unless you are familiar with the Saitek stick, which luckily I am, you’re on your own here, left to work out what each button does – not a great start.
You can opt to play each mission on easy, medium or hard and then select which flight mode to use – arcade allows for an external view and offers simplified controls whereas simulation mode allows you to choose external, cockpit or nose view and gives you a greater degree of control over your plane – simulation mode it is then!
The menus are fantastically illustrated with vector graphics similar to wartime posters. The cutscenes also take on this illustrative feel and I for one greatly appreciated and enjoyed this. The story is nothing clever – in fact it’s a text-book ‘war in the Pacific’ story but this isn’t a game you’ll play for its deep story, it’s a game about shooting stuff out of the sky although don’t skip through the story, there’s a lot of hard facts here and you may even learn something about the war in the Pacific.
The graphic design of the menus and cutscenes unfortunately is the only pretty thing about Damage Inc. it’s quite an unattractive game. Ground textures are a mess and if you can get over the jagged lines of the planes and their interiors then at least you will find something nice to look at. Explosions and balls of flame look ok but it’s all very lack lustre especially when compared to the graphics of Ace Combat. Thankfully once you’re up in the clouds the 2D trees, blocky landscapes and clunky naval ships begin to look ok, especially if you squint
Sound wise Damage Inc. is pretty tight, although the voice acting is a lot to be desired. Bullets and explosions sound great and my favourite SFX was the sound your plane makes as you dive bomb towards the ground. There are plenty of ambient sounds that blend the game together as you roll from one dogfight into the next, it wraps the game up perfectly and if it weren’t for the terrible voice acting I would say the audio is top-notch.
Once you get a grasp of the springy movement of the flight stick and become accustomed to how your plane swings about in the air as you wrestle to find that sweet spot, manoeuvring can become a real joy. Damage Inc. is possibly the first flight sim I’ve ever played where my first attempt at landing was a success, then again manoeuvring your plane is more like an arcade experience – it seems you’re unable to stall your plane even at tight slow turns or dangerous climbs. I would have liked an option to adjust the X and Y-axis sensitivity to counteract and tame the somewhat manic control that the flight stick has with this game, but like the control mapping this seems to have been completely neglected.
The action is pretty fast paced, blink and you’ll miss that vital shot and if you’re not used to a flight stick then you may feel like you’re far too inaccurate to take down enemy Zeros, luckily you have a great resource to hand, Reflex mode. By slowing down time and slightly zooming in on your target, rookie pilots will rely on this ability heavily – overuse can however lead to a somewhat samey set of dogfights so I do encourage you to try to learn to take down enemies the traditional way, “use the force Luke”.
Once you’ve been in Reflex mode for a while, coming back in to the normal pace of the game can make the controls feel quite floaty and less responsive, particularly if you’re using the flight stick. It takes some adjustment but there is a lot of fun to be found while playing this game with the stick. Saying that, I did find that the control and support for the stick isn’t as perfect as I would have expected. Being bundled with the stick I would have hoped that the integration with Damage Inc. would be spot on, instead I’ve found that the stick gives a much better performance with several other flight games currently out for the 360.
To take down planes and ground targets you need to adjust your aim to lead your shot, don’t worry it sounds more complicated than it is. A small red dot will appear in front of your marked target, aim for this to perfectly lead your shots and destroy your enemy like a pro. Like any good flight game, you can cycle your targets and the “next target” button will be your new best friend if you hope to repel waves of enemy fighters. Thing is the “next target” won’t necessarily be the next closest target unless you remember to press and hold it down. Often I just pressed the button for my next primary target but I would latch onto the closest target in front of me rather than an enemy behind me that was actually the closer threat. It’s a minor grumble but if you use the mini map with the next target button and remember to press and hold the button you will have no problem in saving the day.
Another tool at your disposal is “warp speed”, which is a speed boost to get you from one area of confrontation to another – there is only one problem with this though, I had no idea how you’re meant to activate it on the flight stick! With a controller you simply double press the right trigger but as the right trigger is a slider on the stick there is no way to double press! This is where a flight stick layout would have helped – it was only after seeing what happened when I used warp speed with a control pad that I eventually found out if you held down the LB switch on the flight stick it would kick in warp speed, I can only hope that full retail copies of Damage Inc. contain a full printed game manual containing a control map.
Reflex mode has no limit, you can use it as little or as much as you please – it’s a shame that there wasn’t a meter to restrict its use and require you to build up the ability because overuse can make the game feel a little too easy. It’s down to self-control to challenge yourself by not relying too heavily on this “skill”. Warp speed does have a meter, but it fills again quickly so it’s hardly a constraint. You’ve also got infinite ammo, although holding down on the trigger for too long does mean your guns will overheat and stop for a short period before you are able to fire again. Secondary weapons, such as missiles or torpedoes will replenish once depleted after a short period of time.
Mission wise, Damage Inc. becomes a one trick pony: fly here, protect this, fly there shoot that, fly back over there and protect this. With little variance in combat, missions can begin to feel a little too long. The first mission had me shoot down over 120 air targets taking just over half an hour – that’s quite a lot of effort using a flight stick when you’re only accustomed to working out your thumbs! Checkpoints are generously placed throughout each mission, although you will only really need them should you facepalm your plane into the landscape or fail to complete an objective – it seems you are pretty tough against enemy fire although there is a health bar tucked away in the top left amongst the bland looking instrument dials. It’s only when flying against enemy aces that I found my plane began to take more holes than I would have liked.
After the first few missions the novelty of Damage Inc. can wear off (particularly if you’re playing with a pad) and the feeling of a grind will set in. Levels last too long, the missions are unimaginative and at times a chore to play through – now’s the time to go online and I don’t mean for Damage Inc.’s competitive modes. You can fly any of the missions online with up to three other gamers making missions exponentially more enjoyable. A word of warning though, Reflex mode isn’t available online.
As well as co-op there are 3 competitive modes to choose from: Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, Survivor and Team Survivor and lastly Scratch One Flattop. Deathmatch is self-explanatory, Survivor is the same but you each have a set amount of lives and Scratch One Flattop has you attacking an enemy aircraft carrier while attempting to defend your own. I’d love to be able to tell you how great the multiplayer is but sadly every time I went in search of a game I found myself all alone in a lobby – it seems nobody is playing this online competitively, either because it’s terrible or co-op is just that much fun!
With over 30 awesome WWII fighter planes to choose from, flight fanatics and lovers of history will find plenty to enjoy about Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII. There are 23 missions that may be played in single or co-op play so there is certainly a lot of content to get through, which at times can be mighty challenging. You’ll easily net 12-15 hours on a campaign run through, with co-op increasing the longevity of the game. There’s nothing better than forming a squadron and working together as a team, it certainly cuts through the repetition of the mission objectives and also provides some amusing gameplay as your teammates fly head first into a hillside!
While this isn’t the high adrenaline action of a modern-day fighter that I prefer, the great mix of using Reflex mode, the red aiming points and the flight stick kept me hooked to Damage Inc. long after I could have given in to the feeling of repetitive gameplay. It’s certainly a Marmite game, but for me I really enjoyed the balance it struck between an arcade flying shoot-em-up and flight sim. I did find it weird how a game packaged with a flight stick is so biased towards a control pad, the joy of using a stick with a flight game is second to none although Damage Inc. is far easier to play when using a control pad.
Review: Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII Collector’s Edition Results
What we liked:
A great balance of arcade and flight sim
4 player co-op
Great audio (minus the voice acting)
What we disliked:
No control map for the flight stick
Flight stick control over your plane can initially feel too imprecise and sensitive