Pearl Harbour. These two words conjure up images of sinking U.S. battleships and suicidal Japanese pilots. It is, of course, well remembered as the turning point in World War II, the action that lead America to join the war.
The bombing of Pearl Harbour is the starting point for developer Trickstar’s Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII (trying saying that three times fast!), which then moves through various battles throughout the Pacific Theatre, included the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Trickstar, perhaps best known for International Cricket 2010, has endeavoured to create an historically accurate flight combat game. If you looking for this game to scratch your simulation itch however, you will be disappointed. As the title might suggest, this is an arcade experience from the outset.
The 23 mission storyline should take around 10 or so hours and can be played on one of two settings. Arcade mode auto levels your plane, but limits you to an external view only. Simulation mode allows full control and adds the option of a cockpit or nose viewpoint. Other than that there seems little difference. Trickstar have lauded their attention to historical detail and have included 40 authentic WWII aircraft and accurately recreated the locations involved as well.
The single player campaign mode is the meat of the game and it is a mixed bag. Dogfighting is good fun, especially once you get used to the flightstick and you will be barrel rolling and spinning in no time. Enemy aircraft that you target have a red dot indicating where to lead your machine gun fire. Combat includes air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-ship missions with bombing and torpedo runs. Unfortunately, the game also throws repeated fly over, fly past and fly to objectives that go on far too long. To speed things up Trickstar have included “warspeed” which is apparently WWII slang for turbo boost. And if you’re finding combat a bit too hectic you can hold the “reflex” button for some bullet time slow motion. It is only the fact that the whole game is more arcade shooter than flight simulator that forgives these completely unrealistic play mechanics.
Graphics are also mixed. The aircraft models are fantastic and pleasingly detailed. The environments however, perhaps due to its huge vistas, are average at best. Considering that much of your time is spent flying over vast expanses of ocean, there really isn’t that much to look at. It is always difficult to get a balance between draw distance and detail, but even so the detail here seems a bit lacking.
It was a little disappointing that despite the apparent detail that has gone into the authentic aircraft and location design, this is as far as it goes. I was expecting to be able to delve into the historic details about each aircraft and its use. A historical timeline represents your mission structure, but it only makes you want to know more about the places and people mentioned. Damage Inc.’s website has such details so it is mystifying why it couldn’t be included in the game itself. The game therefore feels like a shallow attempt to replicate history when a much more rewarding and deep experience could have been created with a little more effort.
To round things off I came across a couple of instances where the game crashed. Once, in the first mission after the tutorial, I was too slow to protect a ground repair crew and failed an objective. When the game restarted I was stuck in midair with no visible plane and unable to move. Even restarting the entire mission did not fix this, and I was eventually forced to quit out completely and start again. This happened again later in the game, only this time it was after I had successfully completed an objective.
Damage Inc. includes several multiplayer modes. It has a 2-4 player co-op campaign if you want to take on the Japanese with a friend. It also has several multiplayer modes for up to 8 players. Dogfight and team dogfight are the deathmatch of the air variations. Survivor allows each player only a set number of lives in a kind of last man flying. Scratch One Flattop involves teams of planes attacking their opponent’s carrier while defending their own.
No review of this collector’s edition would be complete without discussing the Saitek AV8R flightstick included in the package. Madcatz supplies the stick and is also, by lucky coincidence, the publisher of the game. The stick is styled after WWII combat aircraft, including toggle switches. It plugs into the USB port of your Xbox and also has the option of plugging into a 360 headset. A sheet of WWII era decals allows you to customise your stick to your personal preference. The stick itself has a soft rubber finish which is comfortable for extended play and it does perform well. It has curved feet that allow it to sit easily on your thigh while playing. It also features two modes; the first a default mode that is used in this game as well as Tom Clancy: Hawx 1 & 2, IL-2, and future flight sim games. The second mode is used for Blazing Angels 1 & 2.
Incongruously, for a game that almost seems to be a piece of software designed to sell the flightstick, there are no in-game instructions on how to use the stick. When attempting to play using a controller (which is not a easy task), the game gives you instructions on which buttons perform which functions and the options menu has the standard controller diagram available.
No such luck with the flightstick. It isn’t overly difficult to work out what you are doing, but seems like poor planning to leave out something so basic.
If you are looking for a fun WWII-themed arcade shooter you could do worse than Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting more and feeling unsatisfied once it’s over.
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Madcatz Interactive
Players: 2-4 online co-op, 2-8 online multiplayer