After taking to the skies with Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII and finally getting a taste for WWII flight games, I was eager to take my new Mad Catz Saitek Pacific AV8R up in to the clouds more often, luckily for me Dogfight 1942 has just been released on to XBLA. At 1200 MS points and a size of 1.99 GB, the game comes packed with 400 achievement points to hunt over a campaign, which can be played either solo or local co-op. From the screenshots and the description of the game it sounded a lot like Damage Inc., which to me certainly isn’t a bad thing although hopefully the graphics aren’t as bad though!

Up, up and away

Thankfully the graphics are a vast improvement on Damage Inc. cutscenes are bright, full of action and brimming with texture and lighting blooms. The options also feature a map of the flight stick using the old Saitek AV8R model – score one point to Dogfight. As you’d expect, you can choose to take full control of your plane in simulation mode or allow the game to assist you with arcade control, of course being a Saitek veteran there was no way arcade was ever going to be an option for me. Unfortunately the support of the flight stick stopped there because the how to play menu only details the finer points of playing the game with a control pad.

Once you’ve selected a mission you can customise your plane from a choice of decals placed on the nose, wing and side of the aircraft. Where applicable you can also select what camouflage the plane will carry. Each mission can be played in either easy, medium or hard and the game kicks off with an optional tutorial which, unlike the how to play menu, covers the controls of the flight stick perfectly including a detailed graphic should you press A for more details.

Once up in the sky, I got to take a good look around. The graphics are bright and I found them to be much more appealing and detailed than the mess of Damage Inc.’s. The environments looked great, models of boats and trees actually looked real and the landscapes are full of buildings to fly past – London looked particularly good. Motion blur and air stream come off the wings of your plane but I did find that it looked rather small on the screen even when using the closer ‘chase’ camera. I was also a little disappointed by the lack of a cockpit view; instead you get a nose camera or rather a floating reticule on the screen.

The planes handle well with no stalls, enabling you to pull off high-speed stunts and perfect loop the loops. The combat follows a similar style to Damage Inc., red dots allow you to perfectly lead your shots and there is also an aim assist in the form of ‘ace mode’ or should I say auto pilot. When entering ace mode your plane will line up to your target allowing you to simply shoot them down. Great for when those illusive targets just keep evading you but not so great in that it really does the job for you. Like the aim assist in Damage Inc., I think a meter system should have been implemented to prevent overuse of this ability and thereby forcing gamers to push themselves to play the game properly instead of relying on this mode.

During some missions you can easily get torn to bits but by flying out of harms way you will begin to recover health. When playing co-op you can heal your partner by shooting at them, which is a little weird. Flying too close to the ground or the masts of ships will mean certain death which if you’re not careful, ace mode can often place you in these situations especially if you choose to use it when flying too close to the ground. Although this isn’t too troublesome there are some awkwardly placed checkpoints and you can end up repeating some rather boring sections over and over again.

Unfortunately there are no online modes

Dogfight 1942 takes you through a variety of aerial combat theatres in the Pacific and the war back home, during which you are able to issue orders to your wingmen, either attacking targets or getting into formation. If they just can’t seem to help you shake that tail you’ve picked up then there is always the target camera, which really messed with my perception of direction. By holding the target button down the camera swings around onto the enemy that is attacking you and enables you to easily manoeuvre your plane around, release this and the camera wildly flicks back to the chase view losing the lock on you previously had. I found this useful but hard to actually take down my attacker but use this with ace mode and it’s a different story, I soon had control over the situation even if it did feel like I was cheating myself by relying on ace mode.

Missions don’t drag on, or throw too many objectives at you but then they also don’t offer much variety in what you will be doing. There are elements of great mission structure like sneaking up on the Germans in one of their own planes or hiding from the Japanese in the clouds but these ideas are few and far between and I would have liked to of seen more missions like this. At times during each mission when you dispose of an enemy you are treated to a rather nice close up kill cam which shows the enemy plane falling to bits or going down in a ball of flame which I felt was a nice touch. Landing at the end of each mission proved interesting, offering no direct instruction, relying on you to trust the games’ assists and that you actually know a bit about getting a plane down safely.

Dogfight’s sound is pretty tight with hectic musical scores to create a sense of urgency and pace as well as beautiful orchestral pieces that fit the time period. After tearing about the Pacific skies in Damage Inc. I did miss the scream of the planes as you thrust them towards the ground but I did find the voice acting far more bearable in Dogfight 1942, the actors sound like they took their roles far more seriously although the racial slurs felt rather jarring to listen to at times.

Apart from online leaderboards there is no online support. There are two other modes accessible through Quick play, but these are modes either against or with a friendly AI or local co-op player. Dogfight mode is a tally score; simply kill more foes than your rival. Survival is a team game against wave after wave of enemies. Both modes can be played on one of the 5 locations from the main game; it’s a fun distraction from the campaign but offers little difference to the gameplay, with the exception of survival’s endless wave based modes.

You can fly through the campaign in 3-5 hours

For 1200 MS points many may feel that 2 acts with a total of 16 missions, which you can ‘fly’ through in 3-5 hours, is too short for the price point. Had the game come packed with the two pieces of DLC that have quickly appeared on the marketplace then Dogfight 1942 would have made a great package at that price but as it stands the game is over far too quickly.

It’s great to see support for local co-op but with the omission of online co-op I feel City Interactive have missed a trick here, especially as Damage Inc. is a lot of fun when played online. Heavy reliance on ace mode can make the game far too easy but take down your foes using your own aerial skills and Dogfight 1942 will certainly give you a challenge.

Does Dogfight take inspiration or ideas from Damage inc.? It’s hard to say, both have similarities and although Damage Inc. had far greater depth to the individual planes and how you need to fly them, Dogfight is far easier to pick up and play with brighter and more detailed graphics with excellent support for the flight stick. It may be a little short and lacking in multiplayer support but if you have a flight stick it certainly deserves your time.