Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII is the latest foray into publishing by hardware manufacturer Mad Catz. It comes bundled with a flight stick and poses as a historically accurate arcade shooter-cum-flight simulator. The reality is very different. Damage Inc. is a jumbled, boring mess of a game that poorly supports the very stick it's supposed to be promoting.
An opening cutscene briefly outlines the political climate in the run up to WWII. You play as Bobby, a pilot who enlists in the Air Force with his brother Jimmy, and you can immediately see where this is going. Jimmy's plane gets shot down over Pearl Harbor, and so in an act of revenge, Bobby attempts to defeat the entire Japanese air force single-handedly. Of course. Personal vendettas and thinly veiled racism aside, the revenge and glory storyline is tepid, which is a shame given rich historical setting. The teeth-grindingly bad dialogue and voice acting do little to pull you into the experience either; the actors sound like they're reading their lines for the first time, and the banter between Bobby and the air traffic controller is excruciating.
The AV8R flight stick included with some versions of the game is modeled on the sticks from actual WWII fighter planes, and it certainly looks the part. Sadly, it also feels cheap and often flat-out refuses to respond when you're navigating menus. The game doesn't tell you how to use the flight stick properly, either. The in-game tutorial refers to the "zoom" and "reflex" buttons, but doesn't tell you which is which. Therefore, the opening missions require a lot of trial and error to figure out the controls.
Once you've got them down, it becomes painfully clear the flight stick isn't all that great at controlling the planes anyway. It takes a lot of practice to fly a plane smoothly--particularly since the stick flits between being overly sensitive and being unresponsive with no warning. Using a traditional controller is a much better option. It's easier to get to grips with, and frankly, the planes handle better. With the flight stick, a small, mistimed manoeuvre often spells disaster, but the traditional controller makes it much easier to roll, pitch, and yaw to safety. What's all the more confusing is that Damage Inc. uses the controller as its default control method, despite being a game that's clearly made to sell a piece of hardware.
Damage Inc. is pitched as a flight simulator meets arcade shooter, but it doesn't succeed as either. Playing in Simulation mode places you directly in the cockpit, with a limited view of the theatre of war. But because the gravity-defying rolls and manoeuvres you perform totally remove any aspect of realism, it's an unnecessary addition. Playing in Arcade mode with the camera behind the plane is hardly a heart-pounding, enthralling experience either, and the slow, stilted dogfights do little to improve matters. Watching a pilot bail out as his aircraft is destroyed is satisfying the first few times, but it quickly becomes boring and repetitive. The game does have its own slow-motion, bullet-time mode named Reflex, but the fact that it's unlimited saps all the joy out of using it as you cruise through whole missions with little effort.
Damage Inc. looks like it was made 10 years ago on a meager budget. The cloudy blue skies are attractive, but once you get closer to the ground, things take a turn for the worse. The landscapes are dull, with repetitive textures and no distinguishable landmarks. And there are frequent graphical glitches too. The planes themselves--heralded as accurate representations of their wartime counterparts--are difficult to differentiate between thanks to all-too-similar models and paint jobs. While you can upgrade and unlock planes between missions, the differences in their looks and in their handling are negligible. History buffs may have some fun collecting and comparing them, but there's little to keep non-experts entertained.
Likewise, even with the rich historical setting, Damage Inc. somehow manages to make the most interesting air encounters of WWII boring and routine. Well-known battles such as Pearl Harbor and Wake Island are reduced to repetitive escort and recon missions with a few boring dogfights thrown in. Checkpoints are scarce during missions too, and it's incredibly frustrating when you have to replay up to 15 minutes of already tedious action just because of some dodgy plane handling and a misplaced checkpoint. The game also seems to enjoy leaving you to face the might of the Japanese air force alone. It manages to come up with implausible excuse after excuse as to why your squadron isn't flying with you, with Bobby always finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Damage Inc. comes with a few online co-op and multiplayer modes for up to eight players, including traditional Team Deathmatch and Free-for-All. A modified Team Deathmatch mode, Scratch One Flattop, sees you battle other players while also defending an objective. But, like in the single-player mode, the action isn't exciting enough to keep you in the air. That's not to mention the lack of players online, and more often than not you can spend an entire afternoon in lobbies without finding a single match.
The multiplayer is just another of Damage Inc.'s problems: the game is simply a bad, shoddily made, and unentertaining flight simulator that has been made to sell temperamental hardware. While history fans may find some joy in the faithfully re-created airplanes and theatres of war, Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII is one game that's best left out of the history books.'