September 07, 2012
Launching peripherals with an accompanying game is nothing new, especially in the heady world of plastic instruments, but an aerial combat game with a shiny flight stick is something else entirely. Of course for those with a little less cash there is always the option to play the game with a humble pad (like a common beggar) so no one feels left out. Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII is hardly Rock Band however, and the game never seems to live up to that initial, fleeting, moment of magic when you pull the new peripheral from the box. As a way of getting your range off the ground, this is a title that feels like it stutters on the runway.
From the off things are made rather more difficult than they need to be, as the tutorial is far more helpful in terms of pad-based gamers than those who’ve actually splashed the cash to get the bundled stick. Still it’s nothing too drastic that a bit of trial and error can’t resolve. Having said that the stick itself is not quite as fluid as you would hope. It never feels like you're gaining a deeper sense of control, or improving your split-second reactions in any way. Considering the pricey nature of the peripheral you would hope that it would significantly add something to the game, or at least open up a few nuances in the control scheme, but it feels a bit cumbersome if truth be told. Ironically, it's actually easier to play the game with a regular controller than to pretend you're being a proper pilot, which defeats the purpose somewhat.
Control issues aside, what we have here is a flight game that is fairly indecisive in what it wants to achieve. Damage Inc. certainly strives to portray a realistic enough conflict, with accurate representations of classic planes and a decent enough flight engine. However, on the flip side of that coin is the arcade style combat, slow motion ability and dubious mission objectives that never totally mesh with the plane you're controlling at the time. Being expected to chase down fighters while piloting a cumbersome bomber, or blow up ground-based targets while in a weedy scout craft just seems like poor design rather than clever planning. Rather than taking the relative strengths of each of these lovingly recreated classics and building a mission around them, instead it seems that the objectives were thrown together first and then planes were randomly assigned to each. This often leaves the player to do the best that they can with often limited resources.
It’s not all bad though. As at least the missions gradually introduce a range of fighters, bombers and so on for you to get behind the controls. Blowing apart your adversaries is also good fun, even if some of the missions can feel like they start to outstay their welcome. The game has a handy targeting marker that helps you to track moving targets and deliver a swift kicking, and you can also steady your aim with a handy bit of bullet time-style slow-motion. When you're gliding through the air, ripping squadrons of enemies apart is when the game is at its finest. Unfortunately that warm glow seems to disappear all too suddenly, as you realise that you then have to dispatch over a hundred more identical planes just to move on. At times the arcade-style action just seems to drag on interminably and with very little in the way of decent support from your wingmen or a challenging AI opponent, it never feels like you’re having much fun.
The game does at least mix things up, with recon missions, bombing assaults on enemy ships and even bizarre boss style encounters with enemy Aces, but it never quite hits the heights of similar games. The fact is, Damage Inc. is stuck between being a faithful representation of the era and a rather arcadey shooter, which doesn’t help either, as it doesn’t have the strong plot or engaging action to pull off either really well. That’s not to say that the campaign doesn’t have its moments, but after completing it once there's no real urge to go back. At least you can tackle the game in co-op with some buddies which should help to take the sting out of things.
Outside of single player you can also take to the skies for some multiplayer style dogfighting, though most of the modes are painfully obvious. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Elimination (which is last man/woman/child standing) have all been done before with far greater variety, though at least you will have far more challenge trying to take down human opponents than the rather flippant AI offerings in the campaign. The one saving grace is the Scratch One Flattop mode, which sees teams vying to blow up each others' aircraft carriers. It actually creates a fairly frenetic atmosphere and is easily the pick of the online modes, creating a sense of strategy and invention that is severely lacking elsewhere .
Of course you can expect to rack up a hefty sum of achievements along the way, but you will need to invest a bit of time into the multiplayer and co-op modes in order to max everything out. This wouldn’t be an issue with a popular title, but Damage Inc. has a pretty small community at present that is only likely to diminish over time. So get in early or get a buddy to pick up the game and you should be fine. Nothing here is too taxing with simple progression-based achievements for the most part, plus a bunch of online tasks for winning multiple times in each mode. There is a real lack of inspiration if truth be told, which is rather in keeping with the rest of the game.
On the whole Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII is hardly a tragedy. It offers uncomplicated dogfighting and a few different modes to keep you occupied. However, the controls are wonky at times and the occasional glitches and bugs that pop up during missions are an annoyance. The actual game itself has far too many inconsistencies and objectives that just seem to drag on at times which makes things a lot less enjoyable. As flight games go Damage Inc. does have the advantage of a handy peripheral (if you are willing to shell out for it) but the game itself hardly lives up to that hype and feels rather like an added bonus to the stick than a title you would be keen to play on its own merits.
Decent but unspectacular, a workmanlike collection of authentic sounds, music and the like. Still if you like the chatter of old-fashioned machine guns then this is for you .
Some of the planes look fabulous but at times the rest of the game struggles to keep up with some ropey textures and frustrating glitches.
The control system is far from perfect and the gameplay hardly makes up for it either, with objectives that fail to match your plane and tasks that go on far too long or, worse, are slapped with an imposed time limit. There are occasional flashes of fun, but it veers from one extreme to the next and the generic nature of the action hardly makes it compelling.
A decent campaign, decent multiplayer options and rather fun co-op support add up to a game that offers just enough to keep you fairly happy but never enough to feel like it surpasses similar titles in the genre.
Play the campaign through and then play some multiplayer matches, that’s about it really. A bit more thought and variety wouldn’t have gone amiss.
A flight game that never quite takes off, mainly due to the fact everything feels like it has been done on a tight budget and, more importantly, that everything feels a little bit laboured. The campaign never really gets going, the multiplayer is so-so and only the co-op offers any real fun, mainly because that’s what co-op is all about. Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII is a generic flight game designed to sell a peripheral, so you’ll get just as much enjoyment out of the game as that.