“Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII” is Mad Catz's second release as a software publisher, however it's the first to take advantage of the company's key strength: High quality gaming peripherals. So does this World War II combat flight simulation soar high or crash and burn? Mad Catz was kind enough to provide me with a free review copy of this historically accurate and intense aerial combat game developed by Trickstar Games.
Set in the Great Depression, your family has abandoned their farm and moved to the city in search of work. You and your brother have decided to enlist the military. After your brother's transport plane is shot down in the Battle of Pearl Harbor, you're fueled by a personal vendetta to hunt down and destroy the elite Japanese Goryo fighter squadron responsible for your brother's death. Your quest for vengeance has you volunteer for increasingly dangerous missions all the way to the Battle of Iwo Jima.
A series of attention grabbing vignettes that mix actual real life footage with colorful animations help serve up a healthy dose of history for those who aren't familiar with the era, and there's a great little narration before each mission that give background to the event and explains your objectives. Unfortunately the dialogue and emotion in the voice acting of the game's main characters left a lot to be desired.
The main campaign of “Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII” features over 20 episodic missions with 12+ hours of game play. You'll perform a varied array of tasks in each mission, from protecting allies and taking surveillance photos, to dive bombing enemy aircraft carriers. As you progress through the game you'll unlock 32 planes that can be upgraded with experience points you'll earn as you complete missions and bonus objectives for a total of 68 variations. While all the planes boast a standard machine gun, secondary weapons can include torpedoes, rockets, bombs, dive-bombs, and supplies.
Although the main campaign can be played co-op online with up to three additional players, the lack of split screen diminishes what would have been a thrilling experience to share alongside friends and family members.
In order to shoot down an enemy plane you must align a red dot that signifies where their plane will be with your weapon's reticle. I had more trouble landing my plane on a aircraft carrier than shooting down an elite Japanese pilot. That's because you'll find yourself slowing down time in “Reflex Mode” to quickly take out the opposition. Additionally, “Warspeed” allows you to boost towards your next objective or enemy.
The game can be played in Arcade or Sim mode. Arcade mode is a simplified control scheme, whereas Sim mode allows you to have a higher control of your aircraft. You can play in third person, first person, or sight restricted cockpit view. Cockpit view, combined with the Pacific AV8R FlightStick, provides the ultimate experience and gave me a real appreciation for the challenges that real life bomber pilots faced.
The Collector's Edition of “Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII” comes bundled with the new Pacific AV8R FlightStick, which was built specifically with the Sim mode of the game in mind. Included with the Collector's Edition is also a package of stickers so you can personalize your stick with “kills” and pin-up girls.
The Pacific AV8R FlightStick is styled after WWII aircraft, with “inspired” toggle switches (LB, RB, LT, and RT buttons) on the front and a lever for acceleration on the back. The soft-touch rubber grip is “historically accurate“ to the planes from the era. The main handle has three buttons (X, Y, and B), a trigger (A), and a point of view analog stick. There's also a little nob for the D-Pad and of course the Xbox Guide button above it. The handle is removable, allowing you to store it easier. The Xbox 360 version boasts an integrated headset port for communicating with your friends on Xbox LIVE.
The Pacific AV8R FlightStick also works with “Microsoft Flight” and the following games for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3: “Birds of Steel,” “Birds of Prey,” “Hawx 1,” “Hawx 2,” “Ace Combat 6,” “Apache Air Assault,” “Heroes Over Europe,” “Blazing Angels,” and “Blazing Angels 2.” You'll also receive a special DLC plane with upgraded weapons for both the main campaign and multiplayer use.
I used the included curved plastic feet to play with the Pacific AV8R FlightStick balanced on my right thigh, and found the Pacific AV8R FlightStick surprisingly light compared to the heavy FightSticks that Mad Catz produces. The FlightStick makes controlling your plane much more effective than using a standard controller. Plus, it's fun and cool to use.
There's some gorgeous background scenery and a lot of attention to the details of the airplanes, however the graphics start to suffer when you're not zipping through the air at several hundred miles an hour. This problem is exacerbated when you're shooting at small ground targets like trucks. Pair this with the amount of time you'll spend in Reflex Mode, and you'll find yourself staring at ugly ground targets you can barely see. Even the large aircraft carriers, which play a pivotal role in many of the game's missions, look rather blocky and dull. Luckily this problem is significantly diminished when you hop into the online multiplayer, where the game really shines.
Several multiplayer variants help keep “Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII” from growing stale. Dogfight is the classic deathmatch mode where you can test your chops against up to seven other players and there's a large mix of customization options to choose from. Unlike the solo campaign, it's much harder to destroy an enemy's plane online. Against a skilled opponent you can spend minutes pitching and turning in an intense race to be the first to have the other player in their target sights. In fact, it's actually easier to pick other players off from a distance or to sneak in behind them with rockets. Team Dogfight adds much more strategy, as you'll have to work with your allies.
In Survivor and Team Survivor players start with a set number of lives and battle it out to be the last person or team left. Scratch One Flattop is perhaps the best variant, where two teams struggle to sink the other's aircraft carriers while also defending your own. Does your team fly fast fighter jets and play defensively or launch an all out bomber assault to inflict massive damage?
Despite all its flaws, “Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII” delivers a fun and challenging multiplayer experience that yields countless hours of entertainment for aviators. If this is the type of game that appeals to you, then it's definitely worth the extra splurge for the Collector's Edition with the Pacific AV8R FlightStick.
“Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII” is available now for an MSRP of $49.99 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. The Collector's Edition has an MSRP of $99.99.
For more information about the game, visit www.damageincthegame.com.
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