damage inc logo In Flight Emergency with Damage Inc.

Damage Inc., Pacific Squadron WWII (hereafter referred to just as Damage Inc.) fills a very underserved niche on consoles (though it is also coming to the PC) – flight simulators. Hearkening to the days of true dogfighting, Damage Inc. brings you back to the second World War kicking off with Pearl Harbor and flying through the real battlefields of the Pacific Theater. Aiming to bring true realism to the game, developer Trickster has used real missions, actual pilot names, and realistic representations of the planes of the time to span a 23-mission flight to the past. So why is it that the whole game’s thin “get those Japs!” storyline is completely predicated on a lie?

The game kicks off by introducing two brothers; our protagonist and his younger brother “Jimmy”.  We join the Air Force and our brother joins the Marines. When the strike on Pearl Harbor is unleashed on the United States, Jimmy’s B-17 Bomber is struck down by what looks like a Japanese A6M2….with a missile. While the Germans worked heavily on rocket technology, the Japanese had nothing of the sort. Toss in that our protagonist was part of the “Air Force” – an entity that didn’t exist by that name until 18 September 1947 and you have some real head scratching to do about the purported authenticity that Trickster delivered here.

As I mentioned before, the game unfolds over 23 missions spanning from your flight training just prior to the bombing at Pearl in 1941 all the way to the end of the war in the Pacific in 1945. Kicking off your mission is a mix of silhouette cut-out style interludes and real footage from the war to tell the personal story of our protagonist. These actually represent a real high point for the game, aping the Americana art style of so many tattoos on sailors and servicemen of the time, they fit the tone and setting of the game perfectly.

Another aspect that fits the game perfectly is the portion that Mad Catz contributed to this package – the Pacific AV8R. This flight stick is very similar to the Saitek stick I have used in the past on the 360 and performs about as well. With a full twisting handle, a castle (the directional nub on top of the stick) to use for looking around the plane, and a fairly comfortable grip, it hands in a decent performance. The throttle controls are integrated into the base but only seem to feature 0, 50%, and full throttle – I was rather hoping for a more analog progression. There are four switches on the base that allow you to engage the slow-motion mode as well as revving the engine past it’s maximum – think of it as afterburners on these ancient crates. The stick works on other titles including Birds of Prey, both H.A.W.X. titles, Ace Combat 6, Apache Air Assault, and the Blazing Angels games, so don’t think of this as a one-time use peripheral.

Rounding out the solid aspects of the game, the music in Damage Inc. is decent enough. Though it does get repetitive after a while, it is certainly serviceable. On the other hand, the voice acting in Damage Inc. lowers the bar to a Resident Evil on the PS1 level of bad. To put it simply, there isn’t a single decent voice actor anywhere in this game. Unfortunately, the rough edges don’t stop there.

Launching in November of 2005, you could say that there has been plenty of time to really get to know the hardware and software of the Xbox 360. We’ve seen incredible looking games on the system; Gears of War, Assassins’s Creed, Bioshock, Dishonored, and Halo 4 coming to mind immediately. Developers have pushed the Xbox 360 to its limits and have wrung every drop of performance out of the system – unfortunately none of that knowledge has made its way into the guts of Damage Inc.

Graphically this title is a bit of an eyesore. From the title screen to the gameplay itself (other than the aforementioned cutscenes) everything on this game calls out for higher resolution textures. Many of the models look only marginally better than what you’d expect out of the original Xbox, and despite the 720p graphics, it is incredibly jagged in all ways. Even with the low-poly and rough look of the game, the framerate suffers terribly. I think the developers tried to hide this under the aforementioned slow-mo mode that allows you to slowly hone in on your targets to take them out – when you engage this mode the entire world around your immediate target takes on a smeared appearance to focus your view. When I put in H.A.W.X. to test the stick I got a very sharp reminder of how beautiful a flight simulator can look, which only made Damage Inc. look that much worse.

At Gaming Trend, our policy is to rate the gameplay portion of a game with twice the score weight of any other aspect. After all, it’s the most important part of any game.   If the game isn’t fun then what is the point? Damage Inc. is absolutely a mixed bag in this department. The framerate mentioned above obviously has an impact on gameplay, but overuse of the slow motion system tends to at least abate that a bit. It also means missions take twice as long as they should. The second mission, the attack on Pearl Harbor, had me killing 96 fighters. Knowing full well that Richard I. Bong is the highest scoring ace in American history with only 40 kills under his belt, you again have to question the authenticity angle of this title.

Missions are often broken down into sub-objectives, asking you to take down incoming bombers, destroy Japanese cruisers, bombing strategic objectives, and defending allied forces. Since the AI for your fellow squadron members is all but shut off (I can’t say I saw any of them ever score a single kill or help with any objective whatsoever) you’ll be left to tackle all of these tasks yourself. These missions often flag your targets with yellow triangles while enemy fighters are flagged with red triangles. Since a great many of the missions are in some way timed (and nearly all of the bonus objectives are timed as well) you’ll have to quickly learn to ignore those red triangles entirely. Put simply, if you don’t focus on the objective targets entirely you’ll lose, and quickly.

I keep calling Damage Inc. a simulation, and that’s partially true. While the game’s kill count certainly focuses heavily on arcade action, you can use simulation controls on your plane as well. I used them a few times and honestly just found myself fighting the controls more than the enemy. The fault falls squarely on the game, as the joystick handles things just fine. It was in this cumbersome control scheme that I encountered two unintentionally funny bugs – the ability to bounce off of planes and the water. I accidentally collided head-on with an enemy fighter and skipped off harmlessly. When my trajectory had me headed towards the water I resigned myself to my death only to watch my plane bounce off and fly straight upwards! These sorts of bugs break immersion, quickly taking you out of the moment of trying to be a WWII fighting ace. Oddly, the selection of Simulation mode also has an effect on your available perspectives. You can only use third person view in arcade mode, and you can only use nose and cockpit while in simulation. The ugly textures extend to the cockpit, so it doesn’t paint a pleasant picture to use this setting.

While the game does support up to 4 players cooperatively, with the framerate as rough as it is I couldn’t imagine inviting network lag on top of it. Playable over Xbox Live, the game features four modes – dogfight and team dogfight (kill till the clock runs out), survivor and team survivor (you die until you run out of lives or apply this to a team setting). Admittedly they are rather uninspired modes, so I can’t say that I stuck with them for long.

Coming in for a landing with this review, I look back at my bullet-riddled plane and wonder just what happened here. A game focused so heavily on the history of WWII manages to get so much of it wrong. Unlimited weapons, physics that have you bouncing off other solid objects, unrealistic kill counts, and timed missions come together to make for a game that absolutely cannot be called a simulation. The AI on both sides of the fence is lacking, but it’s the voice acting and storyline that made me put this game down in a hurry. The only real redeeming quality is the AV8R from Mad Catz. The stick performs very well, is solidly built, and can be used on a variety of much better software. Either wait for Damage Inc. to hit the discount skids, or pick up any of the comparable Mad Catz flight sticks – this flight title is not flight-ready.