|System: Xbox 360*, PS3, PC|
|Pub: Mad Catz|
|Release: August 28, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Language, Violence|
by Robert VerBruggen
It's hard to believe how much I wanted to like Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron. The package from the game's PR folks arrived at my office containing not just the game, but also Mad Catz's Saitek Pacific AV8R flight stick and a very cool Hellcat model plane. Not some cheap little plastic model plane, either—a nice metal one. Heightening my excitement was the fact that the game promises a combination of real World War II history and arcade gameplay.
Unfortunately, my love affair with Damage Inc. ended shortly after I popped the game into my Xbox, and I can't recommend that you buy the disc or the flight stick. Both products have their moments, but in the end they're too frustrating to be worth the trouble.
I'll start with the AV8R—"aviator," get it?—because it's being sold with the game as a crucial accessory that's also compatible with other titles. (If you have no interest in the stick, skip this paragraph and the next three.) The developers recommend playing in "Simulation" mode when you use the stick, meaning that the game doesn't automatically level your plane out for you. Without that assist, you have to make very subtle, precise movements with the stick—but I just couldn't get that kind of performance from the AV8R.
For starters, the stick gives you a lot of resistance, and the range of movement isn't very large. I found that I had to twist pretty hard to get the plane to move at all, but by the time I did that, the stick was already all the way to one side and the plane was lurching sideways. It helped to place the stick on a flat surface rather than holding it on my lap (there are attachments included that stabilize the stick on your leg), but even then I found it difficult to control the aircraft. I had to abuse the game's Max Payne-style slow-motion gimmick (which is unlimited) every time I wanted to actually hit something.
Another issue is the throttle placement. In Damage Inc., you frequently need to goose the throttle to catch up to other planes, as well as lay off the throttle to give yourself more time to find a target. However, the throttle bar is located inconveniently behind the stick, making this uncomfortable.
It's not that hard to make a joystick without these problems. For example, my PC stick, the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro—not exactly the Rolls-Royce of video game accessories—offers a wider range of movement, less resistance, and a small, manageable throttle control that can be flicked with the thumb of your left hand. I've never even been tempted to play a flight game on PC without my 3D Pro, but I unplugged my AV8R in favor of a gamepad after about an hour.
Fortunately, that did the trick. If you use a gamepad and switch the controls to "Arcade" mode, you'll be shooting Axis planes out of the sky in no time at all, even without the Max Payne slo-mo gimmick. The right stick serves as a convenient throttle, the left stick steers, and the trigger buttons fire your guns and explosives. After wrestling with the AV8R for so long, I found it surprisingly easy to focus my crosshair on enemy planes' lead indicators and then pepper them with bullets and missiles.
But once the control issues are resolved, you have to ask yourself whether this game is worth the asking price of $50.
The graphics are pretty awful, to begin with. Some of the planes are fascinating, with accurate modeling of historical details, but everything else is incredibly primitive. When you fly close to the ground, it looks like you're playing a Nintendo 64 game. If you want an accurate portrayal of WWII locations in stunning high def, you won't find it here, and you'll notice plenty of bugs and glitches along the way.
The campaign certainly isn't promising, either. It's meaty at about ten hours, but the story is told through absolutely horrific voice acting, and most of the "missions" are basically just a succession of enemy waves for you to shoot at. It's also incredibly frustrating, because there's a lot of time between checkpoints and you sometimes die unpredictably. Who wants to painstakingly eliminate one enemy after another, only to lose ten minutes' worth of progress and start all over again? Even though the basic mechanics of flying around and killing things can be thrilling, the game conspires against you.
The great thing about the campaign, though, is that it gives you the chance to unlock and upgrade a series of authentic World War II planes, from fighters to dive bombers. Aviation buffs will love this, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment to take your favorite plane and develop it until it has powerful engines and lethal weaponry.