Attack on Pearl Harbor Hands-On

This action-heavy combat game about World War II doesn't require any knowledge of flight or tactics.

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While its title suggests that Attack on Pearl Harbor centers upon only those pivotal events in December of 1941, when the Japanese launched their infamous surprise attack on the United States, this upcoming action game actually covers the entire breadth of the Pacific War, all the way to 1945. And while Attack on Pearl Harbor may, upon first glance, look like a complex flight simulation, it's actually an action arcade game that anyone can pick up and play. We recently dived into the opening missions of Attack on Pearl Harbor for some hands-on impressions.

In addition to multiplayer support for 12, Attack on Pearl Harbor features four campaigns: two from the perspective of a US pilot and two from a Japanese pilot. There are about 50 missions throughout those campaigns, and what's interesting is instead of a straightforward and linear campaign structure, the campaigns have a branching structure that offers you different choices. For instance, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, you can, as a Japanese pilot, choose to move on to Wake Island or help with an attack on Darwin, Australia. This ensures that there are numerous different ways to play through each campaign. In most missions, you can also choose which aircraft to fly. There are eight flyable craft in the game, divided into fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo planes. These include the American Corsair and Dauntless, and the Japanese Zero and Val. Your performance in missions will unlock replacement craft, so if you're shot down and lose a Corsair, you might not have another one for the following mission, depending on how well you've been flying.

You'll rack up more kills than the Red Baron in Attack on Pearl Harbor.
You'll rack up more kills than the Red Baron in Attack on Pearl Harbor.

The flight controls are pretty simple. You can use a joystick, but that's not necessary at all, as the mouse serves more than adequately as a flight controller. The default settings are inverted, like a flight stick, so to pull the nose of your aircraft up, you move the mouse downward; to dive, you push the mouse upward. (You can reverse the y-axis, if you want.) Banking left and right is as easy as moving the mouse laterally. Speed is handled with the W and S keys. The former makes you go a bit faster (though at the price of your plane shaking from all the stress) while the latter slows you down, which is what you want to do when you're right on the tail of a bogey and don't want to slam into it.

Weapons are handled with the mouse buttons; the left mouse button fires your guns while the right handles any special weapons, such as bombs or rockets. Each plane has unlimited ammunition (you don't have to worry about fuel, either), though guns will heat up if you fire them for too long, which means they'll have to cool down before they can be fired again. Bombs and rockets, on the other hand, need a few seconds to reload after you fire or release them.

Most missions feature multiple objectives, so first you may need to take out antiaircraft emplacements on the ground and then clear the skies of fighters, or perhaps you'll need to shoot down incoming bombers. The damage modeling is very forgiving, and your plane can absorb a lot of bullets before it even starts to smoke. However, it's not invulnerable, so you still have to fly smartly, especially since many missions will keep you in the air for a while. You don't need to know anything about flight tactics or maneuvering, though. In fact, you don't have to worry about basic flight physics. It's almost impossible to stall the aircraft, and you can pull off violent maneuvers that would snap a real plane in two. The only thing you really have to worry about is not slamming into the ground, which is a danger when you're chasing down an enemy fighter at treetop level.

The game is packed with Hollywood-style dogfighting. Realistic physics are nowhere in sight.
The game is packed with Hollywood-style dogfighting. Realistic physics are nowhere in sight.

Put it all together, and the action in the game is very fast paced, with very few lulls. In many ways, Attack on Pearl Harbor is similar to Crimson Skies, the popular arcade flight combat game from Microsoft. Of course, Attack on Pearl Harbor has the benefit of the latest graphics hardware. This isn't a state-of-the-art or demanding game, but it still looks pretty good. More importantly, it plays very smoothly, even when there are a dozen fighters on the screen and explosions everywhere. Attack on Pearl Harbor may not appeal to fans of realistic flight simulations, as it has the action and realism of a Hollywood movie, but that's the entire point. This game is being aimed at those who have never picked up a joystick in their life. Attack on Pearl Harbor is almost finished and it will ship next month.

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