World War II is something that we haven’t seen in too many games lately. It used to be that World War II was the focus of a lot of military shooters – the Call of Duty series was all World War II before Modern Warfare came along, and the Medal of Honor and Battlefield series did their part in making sure that there was never a lack of World War II games. Then, World War II as a setting for war games seemingly vanished, thanks in no small part to the fatigue players began feeling after a while.
In Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII, World War II is back, but in this game we see it in a different form. Instead of taking the role of a soldier fighting the battle on the ground, you are a fighter pilot. The sky is your battlefield this time around, and you’ll be spending a lot of time there. Is it good to see a new flight combat game on the scene? Absolutely. Is the time you’ll spend with Damage Inc worthwhile, or is the game a disappointment? That question is a little more difficult to answer.
Developer: Trickstar Games
Publisher: Mad Catz
Version Tested: Xbox 360
Damage Inc picks up immediately before the history-changing events at Pearl Harbor. Life has not been good to you, as your farmer father’s efforts at making a living came up short year after year. Your family eventually moves to the city, your father taking work where he can get it, but all is not well: the Nazi forces in Germany and the Japanese are beginning to rise up, and it isn’t long before war breaks out. You and your brother join the armed forces – you head to the Air Force, and your brother joins up with the Marines. Thus begins the story of Damage Inc, which promises to take you through the “greatest aerial battles of WWII.”
Things start off with a bang, too. After the initial (and necessary) tutorial mission, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in force, officially flinging the United States into World War II. It’s a hectic battle, and you’ll be tackling various objectives as you try to fight off the Japanese. You’ll be shooting down other fighters, protecting ground troops, escorting other, defenseless planes through the air space, and shooting down more fighters. It sets the tone for the rest of game pretty well, as not only is it a chaotic battle, but it also has you doing a number of different tasks. Damage Inc isn’t just about shooting other planes out of the sky after all, and the battle at Pearl Harbor does a good job at showing you what you’re in for.
After that, you’ll fight your way through a total of 23 different missions in 11 different locations. Damage Inc follows the American fight against Japan from 1941 until 1945, ending with the famous battle at Iwo Jima. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock brand new planes to use. Planes come in a number of different varieties – you’ll have fighters, dive bombers, torpedo planes, and even the odd reconnaissance plane or fighter jet at your disposal. There are 32 planes in all, and with each one, you can upgrade to different variations buy spending upgrade points you earn for completing missions. The game is pretty generous with upgrade points, and you can earn extra points by completing bonus objectives that can get quite difficult sometimes. Developer Trickstar wants you to upgrade those planes, so it made you sure you always have enough points to do so.
Gameplay is generally pretty solid, as there are quite a few genuinely thrilling moments to be found in this game. Battles can get intense quickly, and as the war continues on, your enemies will be getting better thanks to new planes, just like you. The difficulty builds at a nice steady pace, but you have help from a feature called "Warspeed" to give you an edge. Warspeed allows you speed up your plane or slow it significantly down, which comes in handy when you need to make a quick escape or can't quite line up a target in your sights.
All the while, you’re treated to something of a history lesson – Mad Catz and Trickstar have been touting the fact that they paid attention to historical accuracy in this game, and I’m pleased to say that it shows. The planes are historically accurate, and after finishing up all the missions in a particular area of the world, we’re given narration from the main character that takes us through the major victories and losses of the war. If you just so happen to be a gamer who is also a history buff, you’ll probably appreciate the work that went into this recounting of the events of World War II.
The visuals are decent, but the environments can get a little on the bland side sometimes. The planes are obviously the most detailed, and overall they look pretty good. Other things, like ships and buildings, aren’t as detailed as the planes, which can make for some pretty ugly visuals when you get up close (which, if you’re like me and crash all the time, happens a lot). Most of the time, however, you’re going to be too busy watching your plane and enemy fighters to notice that your surroundings aren’t as detailed as they could be, so at least the graphics are solid where it matters the most.
While the graphics may leave something to be desired, the sound doesn’t. The game actually has a very good soundtrack, but it tends to get lost in all of the commotion of battle. The planes and the guns sound great as well, and do a lot to help immerse you in the game. There are plenty of explosions to be heard too, so get ready for those.
Sadly, the voice acting isn’t anything to write home about. It isn’t that the voice actors are particularly bad, but they’re lacking emotion most of the time. That’s especially true for the player character, who at times sounds eerily similar to Neil Patrick Harris. The battle at Pearl Harbor is a perfect example of this. There are plenty of reasons to be panicked here – the United States was just forced into World War II and you’re probably going to die today, for instance – and yet our character’s exchanges with Control seem to be cool, calm and collected. There is a ton of chaos in this game, don’t get me wrong, but all of that chaos is lacking a sense of urgency, which is also very important when you should be trying to convey desperation. Remember, the United States didn’t want to get into World War II, and we were pushed into it by a devastating sneak attack from the Japanese. Sadly, as the events of Pearl Harbor unfold right before their eyes, our character and Control discuss objectives as if it were any day other than December 7, 1941.
That isn’t the case for every character in the game however, and the emotion does begin to pick up as we speed toward the events at Iwo Jima. Some of the supporting voice actors are quite good (though some have a tendency to be clichéd and annoying), and later on in the game, our boring player character actually has a few inspired moments of his own. They’re few and far between for the most part, but those moments of emotion are in there.
Once you’ve finished the single player campaign, there’s a multiplayer mode for you to tackle. Multiplayer consists of a variety of different game modes, but the usual suspects such as deathmatch and team deathmatch are present, only this time around they’re called “Dogfight” and “Team Dogfight.” All modes support up to eight players, but if by-the-books multiplayer isn’t your thing, there are other modes like Survivor, Team Survivor and Scratch One Flattop.
In Survivor, players start out with a set number of lives, and once your lives are gone, you’re out of the game. Team Survivor is the same idea, only you’re on a team instead of going it alone. Scratch One Flattop is a particularly interesting team-based mode that has you working with your team mates as you attempt to take out the other team’s aircraft carrier. This means that you’ll need torpedo planes and dive bombers to do damage to the carrier while your fighters keep the bombers safe. It forces you to work as a team, and since aircraft carriers are able to take a lot of damage before going down, it can make for some pretty tense battles.
Of course, multiplayer battles are tense anyway, because here actual humans are controlling the other planes. While the AI can be quite tricky at times, after becoming more familiar with the game, it gets easier to lead your shots and take down the computer-controlled opponents quickly. You won’t always have that luxury with human opponents; some will naturally be easy to take down, but you’ll be endlessly chasing others all across the battlefield as they try to shake you off their tail. Multiplayer will offer a challenge to players who have seen all there is to see in the campaign, and it also has the added bonus of being fun. If competitive multiplayer isn't your thing, you can team up with up to three other friends for some co-op play. This mode is only available over the Internet, meaning that there unfortunately isn't any couch co-op, which is arguably the best kind of co-op.
Disappointingly, this game suffers from a number of bugs. Occasionally, I would have the cutscenes produce nothing but this awful screeching static noise, which as you can imagine is quite jarring and terrifying when you’re wearing headphones. Sometimes after a cutscene had played, the camera would lock down and I wouldn’t be able to do anything other than restart from the most recent checkpoint. There were times when my plane didn’t make any noise at all, and when that happened, my bullets didn’t do any damage. I also experienced one or two instances where my objective seemed to disappear entirely from the map, meaning I couldn’t destroy it and progress through the rest of the mission. These bugs didn’t occur all the time, but they happened enough to be worthy of noting.
Saitek Pacific AV8R Flight Stick & Control
Any fan of aerial combat games (or flying simulators for that matter) will tell you that good controls are paramount. Included with the Collector’s Edition of Damage Inc is the Saitek AV8R Flight Stick, and the game is actually compatible with all Saitek flight sticks. The flight stick is a nice piece of equipment, but it does feel a little on the light side. On the stick itself, you of course have a trigger – the A button – along with the B, X, and Y buttons on the head of the stick. LB, RB, LT and RT have been turned into switches on the front of the flight stick, with a little nub in the middle that serves as the D-Pad. On the back of the stick is a lever for controlling the speed of the plane, and the Start, Select and Xbox Guide buttons are present as well.
Damage Inc comes with two different control modes – arcade and simulation. Those new to flying games will want to start with the arcade settings, while those who have been “flying” for years will probably be fine just jumping into simulation mode. Mad Catz recommends that the AV8R is used in simulation mode, and in simulation mode, it does indeed work best. Arcade mode works better with a controller, whereas simulation mode was made to played with a flight stick. Obviously, simulation mode’s controls are much more complex than arcade’s, but the result is that you have more precise control over your aircraft.
Die-hard flying game fans will want to pick up the AV8R, because overall it isn’t a bad flight stick. It’s comfortable and easy to use, and it means that you don’t have to play the game with a traditional controller. Even though Mad Catz and Trickstar are really pushing the AV8R with Damage Inc, it isn’t required to play the game at all, and both arcade mode and simulation mode work just fine with a regular controller. The game is just as enjoyable no matter which control method you use, though some passionate players are likely to get a little more fun out of the game by using the flight stick.
Despite Damage Inc’s flaws, which can be quite severe at times, I can’t help but like it. It isn’t the best flying game we’ve ever seen, nor is it the most polished – not even close. But it does have a certain charm to it that you don’t often find in other games. This game offers a number of thrills and exciting moments, and even though it’s lacking in other areas, having a game that’s fun to play is ultimately the most important part of the equation.
The game is fun too, when it’s working properly. It can also be incredibly frustrating at times, because there are some objectives that require your timing and shooting to be spot-on. There will likely be a few times that you’ll find yourself attempting an objective over and over again, but that difficulty doesn’t come from the fact that the AI is overpowered and you’re underpowered, as is the case in so many games these days. Rather, this game requires skill, and maybe a little bit of luck when it comes to getting those shots perfect. That is definitely appreciated, as it really gives you a feeling of accomplishment once you finally succeed.
I can’t recommend this game to everybody though. World War II and history enthusiasts, have at it. The same goes for flying and combat fans. For those players, the game will be fun and interesting enough that they probably won’t have a problem forgiving the game’s less-polished aspects. For everyone else, however, this is one of those instances where it’s a good idea to rent it before you buy it, just to make sure you can live with its flaws.
All in all, Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII is a solid game with a few glaring issues holding it back from greatness. It’s still a fun game though, so if you’re hankering for some aerial combat action, you’ll probably be satisfied with Damage Inc.