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Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII – The PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Monday, 17 September 2012No Comment

Peripheral veteran Mad Catz has been making inroads into game publishing since last year when they signed a deal with Harmonix to acquire the rights for Rock Band 3. Now they’ve taken the next step by bringing Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII to the market.

The theory behind this move is sound: by having solid hardware to marry with the right software, Mad Catz is uniquely positioned to offer players a more absorbing gaming experience than your average publisher.

In this instance, Mad Catz has teamed up with the Australian-based studio Trickstar Games to make a flight combat game to sell alongside a dedicated flightstick. Damage Inc. comes in two forms: a Standard Edition with just the game (MSRP:  £39.99) and a Collector’s Edition which includes the Pacific AV8R FlightStick (£82.57).

Half of this package is great. The stick, made by Saitek, is well designed – both solid and attractive. Styled after a Second World War aircraft stick, it features a comfortable soft-rubber grip and sits well on either a table or your thigh. The downsides are it’s a little too light and not as precise as other high-end flightsticks, but it’s still a good piece of kit for its price range. It also definitely adds to the experience.

It’s just a shame the game doesn’t do the hardware justice. Damage Inc. falls short in most of the key areas. In the graphics department, ugly low-res textures make it impossible to gain a sense of place in the exotic Pacific locales, while lacklustre sound effects sit low in the mix never offering any tension.

Trickstar Games has followed the no-frills arcade approach of early Air Combat games by going for huge maps and multi-objective missions and by focusing on dogfighting. It is well-worn ground but with careful execution it could have turned out well.

Sadly the game plays at a sluggish snail’s pace meaning it never offers the adrenaline-fuelled thrills that are essential to make a game like this a success. It is very accessible and you’ll quickly fall into the zone but the slow pace removes all sense of urgency and any need for skill – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel with the amount of time you have to line-up shots.

In an attempt to spice up the gameplay, Trickstar Games has included a Reflex mode. This effectively allows you to slow down the game so you can pick off targets with more ease. Considering the game is slow enough at normal speed, this seems a strange inclusion as it only serves to make the game even easier.

Not helping matters is an enemy AI which never poses a threat, even on higher difficulty levels – you can easily go through the entire singleplayer campaign with only a few deaths by enemy fire. Your biggest threat in Damage Inc. is yourself and that’s never a good sign.

It’s a shame because Damage Inc. is a full-featured game with a fairly robust singleplayer mode. From the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, you’ll take squad leader Bobby through a 12 hour plus campaign across the Pacific battlefront, dive-bombing ships, dogfighting with enemies, destroying runways and torpedoing aircraft carriers.

Trickstar Games has come up with plenty of good ideas, but due to a lack of care or (more likely) a lack of budget, the missions aren’t as fleshed out as they could have been and end up blurring into one. This also applies to the aircrafts – there are 68 variations of 32 unique aircrafts in the game but many feel indistinguishable from each other. Perhaps it would have been better to have half that number and focus on making each unique.

Most of the game’s highlights can be found in the later missions, where you have to contend with threats from everywhere – a sky filled with aircrafts, a sea of ships and islands covered in anti-aircraft guns. And yet, even these high points come with negatives due to the frame-rate often creaking to a stop whenever the engine decides it can’t cope with the modest amount of drama on the screen.

In addition to the large singleplayer campaign, up to eight players can jump online to sample the game’s five multiplayer modes (dogfight, team dogfight, survivor, team survivor and scratch one flattop). Scratch one flattop is the pick of the bunch; it has two teams battling away to see who can sink the most enemy ships. There is also a co-op mode for up to four players. So, there is a good amount of content.

Online, away from the dumb AI, is definitely where Damage Inc. will offer the most fun. However, be warned, I had difficulty finding others online so it may be wise to avoid banking on the multiplayer unless you can convince some mates to join in. If you can, Damage Inc. can provide a decent evening’s entertainment, especially as it’s voice chat compatible.

Damage Inc. isn’t so much a bad game; it rarely frustrates or irritates. However, it is distinctly average and its quality levels never fly anywhere near as high as the big birds in this genre. It could have just about worked as a guilty pleasure had it been an affordable downloadable title, but it’s hard to recommend it as a full-priced retail game, even if it does come with a nice stick.