When some of us COG staff sat down with MadCatz at E3 this year we did not expect them to be showing off an actual game. Historically MadCatz has worked solely in the peripherals market but recently they started expanding the brand into game publishing. Available on its own or packed in with a flight stick controller peripheral, Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII is their first entry into the games market and you know what, it is actually not half bad.
From its name alone, you can probably tell that Damage Inc. is set in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. The campaign begins with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and stretches through to the battle of Iwo Jima over 20 some odd missions. Damage Inc. also features a full suite of cooperative and multiplayer modes for those folks that like to take their game online.
Since the setting is WWII, the action in Damage Inc. focuses more on your plane’s guns than what you would find in a more modern set game like HAWX or Ace Combat. I found it requires a higher degree of precision compared to relying simply on acquiring a target lock to shoot “fire-and-forget” missiles. I rarely, if ever, use guns in those games. To assist you in this endeavour the game presents you with a handy red ‘outside of your plane’ aiming reticle that shows where you have to aim to lead the enemy as you fire. For the first time while playing any flight game I found myself using the yaw controls (mapped to the shoulder buttons if you’re using a controller) to really fine-tune my aim.
With regards to controls, Damage Inc. features either simulation or arcade controls. The arcade controls are what one would expect. Left turns left and so on and there is no roll. This is good mode for beginners but flight game fans are going to want to opt for the simulation controls as they clearly give greater control over the aircraft and allow it to behave like it would in real life with rolls and what not. I was amazed how you could ‘throw’ your plane around and I really do wonder if old WWII planes could fly like this.
Unfortunately, as it is in many flight games, the actual art of dogfighting is not well represented here. With waves of enemies in the air it doesn’t take a ton of skill to find the red arrow that highlights a bad guy, select it as your target so you don’t lose it (there’s a handy directional arrow), and try and shoot it down. Gameplay ultimately gets dumbed down to select target then turn, turn, turn, shoot, select target again then turn, turn, turn, shoot. Damage Inc. does feature a HAWX-like targeting button that keeps the camera aimed towards your target. It takes a bit of getting used to at first but it can be a handy assist. Thankfully, Damage Inc. is not all dogfighting. There are plenty of air-to-surface missions that will have you taking out ground and water targets with guns, bombs and torpedoes. I found these missions to be more entertaining than the dogfighting.
As you play through the campaign you unlock new aircraft and points to upgrade them. Upgrades are handled very simply. Rather than upgrade a specific attribute like weapons, performance, or armour, upgrades come in packages that combine all three attributes. Those that like to really fine tune their upgrades might view this as disappointing but this is welcome for players like me who prefer not to get bogged down in the minutia of upgrade trees. Upgrades also feature visual changes to the aircraft and their graphics. This sort of thing is nice to look at on a menu screen but has no bearing on when I am playing the game from the cockpit view. Call me indifferent but if you are playing the game in third person it might be a cool feature for you.
The Collector’s Edition comes with the Pacific AV8R flight stick. While it sports a modified rubber grip and color scheme to match the game it really appears to be just a modified version of MadCatz’s own Aviator stick that has been available for a couple of years now. After playing with both the controller and the flight stick my preference lies with using the controller because I could be far more accurate aiming with it. The AV8R is extremely light and my first impression was that I was worried I would break it. It does feature a handy screw on handle that lets you quickly set it up or take it apart for easier storage and also has some interesting “legs” that attach to the bottom of the base to help position the stick on your lap. If you’re a hardcore flight gamer or already have another flight stick that you are looking to replace, I might research other flight sticks before deciding whether the extra $60 is worth it for you. The Collector’s Edition also comes with a pretty sweet die-cast metal replica Corsair. There are a couple of interchangeable stands that come with it along with weaponry like missiles and torpedoes that you can customize its look with. In regards to cost, the Collector’s Edition is $110 and includes all the stuff I just mentioned. The game alone is $50.
If your gaming interest primarily lies online, Damage Inc. has a good suite of co-op and multiplayer options. Any of the game’s campaign missions can be played cooperatively with up to four players. Up to eight players can play any of the five multiplayer modes including your standard solo and team death matches. The most original mode is Scratch One Flattop that pits two teams against one another in a battle to sink the other team’s aircraft carrier. I reviewed the game quite early and the online arena was virtually desolate given the game did not hit retail yet. If I find any problem with the online gameplay I will update this review accordingly.
From Damage Inc.’s very first menu screens, many jaggies are noticeable on the plane models. At the start of the very first mission you are met with bland textures and spartan models of buildings. This isn’t necessarily the best introduction to the game’s visuals. The saying that one should not to judge a book by its cover comes into play though as once you are in the air though these issues are minimized. Sure, we are not dealing with the most detailed models of buildings and ground targets, but at altitude and speed these issues are generally not all that big of a deal. Islands and landscapes are not devoid of life and they are decently populated with structures.
Three views are playable including behind your plane, a nose cam, and a full cockpit view. I am a cockpit fan all the way and I found that the game is very playable in this mode. You can click left thumb stick to zoom in a little bit almost as if you were concentrating on something specific with your own eyes. The right thumb stick allows you to free look around the canopy. All in all pretty good and something that surprised me.
The sound in Damage Inc. follows the same theme. The musical score is more than adequate and appropriate to the period of WWII. There is plenty of dialogue during the game and the voice acting is decent enough to be believable. Sure, some things get repetitive but no more than any other game. I do caution you as well as there is some strong language to be found. Overall nothing here makes the sound stand out from other games but there really isn’t anything to be overly critical of either.
My expectations with Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII were wide open, and as it turns out the game is a pretty decent one with plenty of options for view, control, and playing with or without friends. Aside from the inclusion of the model plane, you really aren’t getting anything extra with the Collector’s Edition because its price reflects the game being bundled with the controller. Even if you are a real flight buff and are looking for a flight stick, my inclination would be to opt for just the game and do your research about what other flight sticks are available. At the end of the day if you are looking for a WWII flight game to play on your console, Damage Inc. may just have your name on it.