Which came first, the flight stick or the game?
Well, obviously the flight stick came first, because Saitek’s AV8R Flight Stick controller has been around for a while. But when Mad Catz, in their new role as videogame publishers, decided to package their new flight combat sim, Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII, with the Pacific AV8R Flight Stick, did they want the flight stick to help sales of the game, or the game to help sales of the flight stick? It is a quandary as on one hand you have a very impressive controller, as per my review, but on the other is a game that just doesn’t do it justice.
Damage Inc. begins by offering the player a choice between arcade controls, with a fixed camera set behind their plane, or the more “realistic” simulation controls, which offer a choice of camera placements along with more demanding controls. Whilst the arcade setting is perfectly suitable for a quick blast on the game, the sim setting is the best bet for use with the flight stick. The player then jumps into a tutorial.
Which is perhaps the first point at which players will find themselves disappointed. As I mentioned in my review of the Pacific AV8R Flight Stick controller, the flight stick which comes packaged with the Collector’s Edition of Damage Inc. takes a fair bit of getting used to. Now if you picked up the game without the flight stick, then it could be assumed that you are already comfortable with flight combat games and the short tutorial, which sees you doing fly-bys and such, will be enough. However, if you picked up the Collector’s Edition and were hoping to get to grips with the new flight stick, then you will find yourself struggling through the short tutorial before being dumped into the main game before you have full control of your plane. The flight stick makes everything much more precise, and therefore, much more twitchy. It’s not so much of a problem when the player is in the skies where there is room for mistakes, but attacking jeeps on the ground or flying in between warships is a real exercise in patience.
So whether you are using the flight stick or a regular controller, the tutorial is soon over and the player can begin following a loose story across the Pacific Theatre, beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbour. The story is not the most engaging, but manages to weave together the multiple missions in what turns out to be a fairly lengthy campaign. Let the dog fighting begin.
And begin it does, and continues throughout. There are a few quirks that make the game interesting, at least in the beginning, and the actual flying is quite enjoyable, whatever your chosen controller. One of the quirks is that when targeting an enemy plane, the player will see a red marker which is the predicted flight path of the plane, allowing the player to target where the plane will be rather than where it is. It makes sense, but feels too imprecise and spending all of your time targeting a marker is not exactly fun. Once the enemy plane starts spouting smoke and eventually goes down, it is a satisfying feeling, but it seems a little detached. There is also a slow-motion ability that can help with locking on to a target, but everything still feels too random and just not realistic enough.
But you had better get used to it, as dog fighting makes up a large portion of the game. The missions do try and mix things up with the inclusion of different planes and different objectives, such as aerial reconnaissance and the supremely difficult dive bombing runs, and there are the heart-clenching landings on aircraft carriers. But the entire game seems more centered around the dog fighting mechanic than anything else, which is fine if you actually enjoy it and can put up with the way the game looks.
Which is the other major disappointment. The planes themselves, of which there is a wide selection, all look nice and well polished. But beyond them, everything else just seems unimpressive. The backgrounds are lacking in detail and feel decidedly old, and the presentation is overly simplistic in its attempt at an authentic look. Damage Inc. is not a good looking game.
However, there is a light on the horizon. The game includes a variety of multiplayer modes in the form of co-operative play across previously completed missions, and competitive matches across some well known modes, such as deathmatch or last man standing. Of the multiplayer modes, perhaps “Scratch One Flattop” is the most interesting and sees two teams each trying to take out the others aircraft carrier. Damage Inc. is all about the dog fighting at heart, and if you are the sort of player who would enjoy such antics, then playing them with friends is undoubtedly the best way to do it. Many of the criticisms raised against the game become less noticeable when you are hot on the tail of a friend.
If shooting down planes is something that you can spend hours doing, then Damage Inc. may not be a bad purchase. It has faults beyond the lack of variety, but they can be ignored in the heat of battle. If you want a fancy new flight stick, pick up the collector’s edition. Otherwise, Damage Inc. is just an average game that will bore most players way before they finish the campaign.