Over the past few years there has been a shift in the first person shooter genre, with franchises that were once based during the Second World War, now being set in the present or near future. The lack of games based during that 1940’s era has been noticeable but Mad Catz and Trickstar Games have decided to rectify the situation with Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII.
You are put into the pilot’s seat of various WWII era planes from fighters and jet bombers to torpedo planes and even reconnaissance aircraft. The twelve hour plus campaign spans over 20 missions that begin with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the United States into World War 2 and culminates at the famous battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII often straddles the line between being historically accurate and creating a fun and challenging flight experience for players. The battle for Wake Island for example sees the player defending the island against similar threats faced in the actual attacks, ending with the Japanese occupation of the island. The game has the player repelling these forces solo without the help of the other wildcats and ground forces that fought during the war. It balances the retelling of history while maintaining a level of challenge for the player.
Challenge is an appropriate word to describe many of the single player missions of the campaign. Chasing down fighters, bombing ships and many of the other objectives will require both accuracy and timing. Failure to destroy a bomber before it is over top of friendly base or prevent landing parties from making it ashore will happen quite often. There is never the sense that these failures are due to a shortcoming of the game but the abilities of the player. Damage Inc. requires both skill and sometimes luck to overcome the tremendous Japanese forces that are thrown at you.
The main obstacle to becoming successful without having to repeat objectives is to learn and master the flight mechanics. The tutorial mission at Pearl Harbor offers a much needed explanation of flight controls as well as introduces the player to the various forms of objectives encountered throughout the game. Damage Inc. can be played in either arcade mode, which is more user friendly or simulation mode which mimics real life flight mechanics and should be played with a flight stick. Simulation mode is a lot of fun but those who don’t dedicate time to mastering the flight techniques may find the game frustrating once timed objectives come into play. Flying in both simulation and arcade mode can be difficult at the outset, but once mastered it becomes a lot of fun.
While you will be doing battle against ground forces and even ships, fighting against other planes is the best part of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII. As you do battle against the Japanese zeros over the pacific, you get to witness the technological arms race between the two nations. As both the war and the game progress, the United States and Japanese forces will begin using better planes to try and combat one another.
The game gives players a leg up by putting an artificial red dot in front of every enemy vehicle, pointing out the optimal place to fire in order to lead your shots. Shooting at the body of the plane from 2000 feet away will not work. By the time your bullets reach where you fired, the plane will have already flown away. The team at Trickstar Games included two additional mechanics, reflex mode and war speed that really help during some of the later battles. Reflex mode slows down time and zooms in, granting more accurate shots and additional time to shoot down enemies. War speed allows your plane to fly at ridiculous speeds to cover a wide area quickly. While reflex mode and war speed are unrealistic, both are a tremendous help, especially when faced with timed or spread out objectives.
There are over 32 different planes that populate the various missions of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII. Each plane is accurately modelled after the real planes used during that era of flight combat and bring a level of authenticity to the dog fighting above the skies of the pacific. Unfortunately when the fighting takes place closer to the ground the visuals leave a lot to be desired. While the planes look really good, the various structures and terrain do not. It would be nice if the objects on the ground visually stacked up to the planes in the air, or any modern Xbox 360 game, but they ultimately only become noticeable if you continually crash into the earth.
Another flaw that is noticeable at certain parts of the single player story is the voice acting. Throughout the cut scenes the lead actor does an admirable job of retelling the events of the war but stumbles when it comes to delivering lines during combat. When the Japanese raid Pearl Harbour, the sense of desperation and confusion is never conveyed, instead it is handled as if an enemy attacking a naval stronghold is a routine training exercise. There is also a point in the story early on where the lead character’s brother is killed and the expected emotions of anger and sadness is delivered with as much depth as a piece of cardboard.
Not all of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII’s sound department is hit or miss. The audio effects that go along with plane battles, such as bullets whizzing by or hitting the exterior of a plane, the sound of machine guns or missiles, and even a sharp nose dive descent all sound exceptionally realistic. It is only the voice acting the serves to pull the player out of the events of each mission.
In addition to the single player campaign there are surprisingly various multiplayer modes. The single player campaign can be played cooperatively over Xbox Live with up for four teammates, which is a lot more fun than playing solo.
There are the standard adversarial modes like death match and team death match which are referred to as ‘dogfight’ and ‘team dogfight’ respectively. There are also the survivor and team survivor game modes which are similar to death match and team death match but each player has a finite amount of lives. The most intriguing game mode is called ‘Scratch one Flattop’ which pits two teams against one another, trying to sink the other team’s aircraft carrier. Teams will have to work together using a variety of bombers and torpedo planes to take down the aircraft carrier while being protected by fighter planes. With each mode supporting up to eight players there is plenty of fun to be had once you’ve completed the single player campaign.
Included with the collector’s edition as well as the review copy we received is the Saitek AV8R FlightStick. The flight stick is a great way to play Damage Inc. that gives a much more authentic flight experience, particularly when playing the game in simulation mode. The stick itself is really nice with buttons that correspond to that of the Xbox 360 controller as well as transposing the LB,LT,RB,RT buttons to manual switches on the front of the stick, reminiscent to those in an actual cockpit. There is also a lever on the back of the base of the flight stick that controls the plane’s throttle which is much more satisfying than simply holding down the right trigger of the controller.
The stick itself is very comfortable to use and can easily be detached from the base for convenient storage. While being somewhat of a novice at using a flight stick and playing the game in simulation mode I wish that there was a little more resistance to the control input as I found myself over compensating when trying to steer the plane. Damage Inc. is a lot of fun to play while using the flight stick but for those who just want an arcade dog fighting experience, playing with a controller should be just fine.
Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII brings video games back to the World War 2 setting in a great way. While it may stumble at certain points in the campaign there are plenty of exciting moments and lots of thrills during some of the overwhelming scenarios. The single player’s bonus objectives gives players an incentive to go back and play through missions but the surprisingly entertaining multiplayer can be a lot of fun as well. With the lack of flying simulators and even dog fighting games for the matter, Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII is a welcome addition to the Xbox 360 library.
This review is based on a retail copy of the 360 version of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII.