When I was a kid, we loaded up our NES collection with all sorts of flight games. My Dad and I spent many evenings wincing over failed refuelings in Konami’s Top Gun and being not-so-discreet in Activision’s Stealth A.T.F. When he stopped by the other day, he noticed the new Saitek Pacific AV8R flight stick sitting on my shelf and, while I was thrilled to show him the fantastic piece of hardware, I wasn’t able to be as enthusiastic about the game with which it came bundled. Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII from Madcatz and Trickstar isn’t the best showcase for the controller, but it will likely appeal to history buffs and those that long for the days when this type of joystick had a home on the desks of many gamers.

Madcatz has been making increasingly impressive gaming hardware since the late 1980s. They’ve acquired Saitek and Tritton and have sewn up licensing agreements with Capcom for Street Fighter-themed fightpads and sticks (which I can tell you from first-hand experience are extremely comfortable and much better than the standard 360 controller for that genre) and Activision for Call of Duty-branded controllers. This is their first foray into the software field though, and it’s rocky.

 

Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII, as you might expect, focuses on the Pacific theatre starting with the invasion of Pearl Harbor and proceeds through other major conflict zones including Wake Island and the Marshall Islands.  Even though the game does a fantastic job of imparting historical knowledge and doing a fantastic job of recreating memorable moments in our war against the Japanese, the content of the 20+ missions begins to get repetitive quickly. The campaign largely feels like an objective-based horde mode, with a very linear “wave” feel to almost everything that takes place.

As a pilot named “Bobby” (with the minimal amount of back story required to make him distinct from any other person in a cockpit), you’ll be tasked with the odd reconnaissance and photography assignments amidst what amounts to a game that feels like one large and unforgiving escort mission. You’ll be doled out one task at a time, whether it’s to defend some bombers, ground troops or naval vessels. The only exception is during the one moment in each of the missions in which you’ll be given an optional objective. These typically aren’t difficult to execute, though.

You aren’t always alone in the air, but I often felt like I was. Your squadron of AI wingmen are useless, and unlike in other flight games (like the Ace Combat series), I don’t think I once saw one of them in the air. They exist solely to provide radio chatter, and I’m disappointed that none of them ever suggested that I do a barrel roll.

It’s unfortunate that the dialog isn’t better written or delivered, because in the seemingly interminable missions, it would be nice to have something interesting to hear. In nearly every flight, I just wanted it to be over long before it was. The higher-ups on the ground reminded me of Peter Falk’s Columbo. You saved the bombers? Great! Just one more thing… they didn’t hit all their targets. You took out all those nearly-industructible buildings with your regenerating supply of rockets? Fantastic. Just one more thing… we’re about to get pounded here, so you can you fly on back and save our asses?

No war is ever fought by just one man… except for this one. Thankfully, there is a great deal of diversity in the aircraft you’ll have access to, each modeled as accurately as possible (except for the magic regenerating secondary weapons). After each mission, you’ll unlock American and Japanese planes rated on four different stats: guns, armor, speed and maneuverability. Many of them can also be upgraded with points earned after each battle, though it’s unclear what contributes to the total. There is a distinct and noticeable advantage gained by investing in your vehicles, especially when secondary weapons and additional gun mounts are the reward.

It’s a bit more difficult to sense the difference in speed and control when you’re in the air, but with the AV8R flightstick, I had a great time piloting. While Madcatz and Trickstar recommend using the simulation controls with the specialized controller, I had a difficult time with that option. Your plane won’t auto-level, so you’ll find yourself twisting the stick for finer horizontal adjustments. It’s a lot to remember, especially after years of playing with a more common control scheme. Opting for the arcade layout was easier to get used to, but the camera option is limited to behind the plane. In simulation mode, you can place your view in the cockpit or on the nose, both more interesting options.

The controller features a throttle on the front (furthest from the player), a high-hat on top of the main stick for looking around, and switches to engage warspeed (because the “p” is running down your leg when you’re flying that fast) and reflex mode. The former rockets your plane ahead and is powered off a meter that recharges when not in use. The latter slows things down and zooms in to line up shots more effectively. There is no limit to how long or often you focus, and it is probably one of the smartest design elements included in Damage Inc. Even in dogfights, when primary objective enemy fighters actually pay attention to you, I managed to come away victorious. Without it, I’m not sure I would have succeeded.

It’s unfortunate that the enemy AI isn’t more engaging. Often, enemy planes are laser-focused on their objective and won’t pay attention to you at all. On the flip side, unimportant foes circle the mission area acting as an invisible wall (of bullets). You likely won’t be harassed if you stay toward the center of the zone. This creates a false appearance of air traffic and intensity that is never matched by the gameplay.

There is are online co-op campaign and competitive options, but I would strongly suggest that you not even consider the game for the latter, and only for the former if you have friends you know will be playing. The game has been out for less than two weeks and the online scene is absolutely dead. Most modes had absolutely no games active. I managed to get one game in before even that group disappeared. There are dogfight (solo and team), limited life survivor (solo and team) and carrier destruction modes, but again, you would need to have a significant stroke of luck to find randoms to play with.

For a game this late in the console cycle, Damage Inc. doesn’t look terribly good. The airplane models are fantastic, and there was clearly a great deal of love and attention put into making them look just right. However, everything else from the wide bodies of water to the landscapes and buildings below is muddy at best. The game doesn’t do the beauty of Hawaii and the other settings justice.

As mentioned earlier, the voice acting is flat and practically emotionless. I’m going to break my spoiler rule and let you know that something very bad happens early on in the game at Pearl Harbor. Regardless, the protagonist seems unfazed by the destruction around him, with only a glimpse of humanity in the proceedings when the Arizona is sunk by the Japanese assault. The music is largely forgettable, with the sound effects serving as the one highlight, if a little unrealistic. The sounds of bullets hitting metal and bombs exploding are meaty enough, but my shells hitting enemy planes tended to sound as if the damage was being done to me and not vice versa.

There are moments of fun to be had with Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII, especially when using the Saitek AV8R flightstick. However, poor pacing, outdate textures and environmental graphics and an online mode that is all but dead less than two weeks after launch make it hard to recommend to all but a few. If you are a fan of accurately modeled aircraft, World War II history or just looking to recapture the days of sitting in front of a PC with intricate joystick in hand, keep an eye out for the game on sale. For everyone else, there are better ways to scratch the itch for arcade dogfighting.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Intricate and accurate modeling of WWII aircraft
+ Rooted in history
+ I enjoyed playing with the AV8R…
-     … but I would have rather been playing something else with it.
+ Online options are great with friends…
-     … but there is almost no one playing online so soon after launch
- Muddy graphics
- Poor pacing and overly long missions
- Emotionless voice acting
- Unintelligent Artificial Intelligence 

 

5 and 5.5 are mediocre. These aren’t necessarily bad games, they just don’t do anything that is worth caring about and not worth the time of most people.

Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII was developed by Trickstar and published by Madcatz. It was released on August 28, 2012 at the MSRP of $49.99 for the game only and $99.99 for the Collector’s Edition with Saitek AV8R flightstick. A copy of the Collector’s Edition was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.