I have always dreamt of being a pilot. The movie Top Gun was a superb air force recruitment tool for kids my age, and I was chomping at the bit for a long time. As I grew older and wiser, it was apparent that I’d never be a pilot. For one, I’m too tall, but mostly because I don’t have enough money. I say all this because I love flight simulators. I don’t have to be a certain height or weight. I don’t have to have more than a couple hundred for a really good flight stick set and the game of choice itself. There’s no permits, gas prices, uppity Lier jet doofuses (dofusi?), or laws of physics to deal with when playing it on the computer. So when I was handed another Pacific Storm title I was rarin’ to go!

I have a modest Intel dual-core T2400 CPU with 1GB of RAM, Windows XP ME, and onboard SigmaTel Hi-Def sound. This is a laptop since the game won’t work on my PC and I was forced to use the X1400 onboard video rather than my much juicier 6800GT. I use a Microsoft Sidewinder 2 joystick with Force Feedback, and a reckless abandon for my digital fuselage. I usually don’t bother with goggles, but my scarf is nearby at all times.

The menus use the typical old school theme of sepia tones and antiquated equipment on the verge of falling apart but-it’s-American-so-you-know-you-can-count-on-it sort of thing. Then we get a nice intro movie with a british plane under attack from a couple Japanese “Zekes” if I remember my terminology correctly. They’re zipping 300 feet above the water like dragonflies, and just before the Brit takes one up the tailpipe he’s rescued by a trio of Russian planes! Wh-wha-whaaa?

In game, depending on what aspect you’re playing, there are good things and bad. The planes are small and fairly well detailed. It’s hard to get a look at them due to the camera system being a bit of a stretch. There’s no auto-chase or ability to look at your unit unless you are inside of it. The limiting factors of the first person cockpit or gunpit views just don’t give you much sense of immersion. The dials and guages are fuzzy and barely workable, but some props need to go it for at least making them somewhat functional. The sky is very boring, and the sea is textured nicely but static. There are no waves, but there is some effects of wake and such.

There’s not much to the ships. The scale is WAY off in terms of boats vs ships vs aircraft, but its not really a large detriment because you’re so busy fighting the controls. It’s all too small to see people working on deck and that. It all boils down to scale of the game. There’s too much world to fit onto the disc, and they tried anyway.

The sounds in the game, by themselves, are not bad. The sound effects of birds sound like real birds, guns make gun noises, and even the engines are replicated pretty well. However, trying to get these going all at once is a nightmare. The soundtrack tries to be an avant garde throwback to the movies of the 40s mixed in with electric guitar. It drowns out everything else and gets very repetitve very quickly.  The gun and exposion noises come and go as they please, and the din of the engine is easily outpaced by the cawing of seagulls. There is no human radio chatter or anything like that — which is good because it would certainly provide additional nuisance rather than assistance.

The voices of the people working the tutorials is comical. The japanese man trying to give you advice is of the impression he is Pat Morita in Karate Kid. His voice is much higher than Mr. Morita, and his forced dialect is almost insulting. The American voiceover guy thinks he is Casey Kasem. The scripts he reads do not flow well, and he’s very bad at pulling it off. Overall, a poor effort.

Now we’re talking! The game options immediately recognize my beloved SideWinder2, much to my delight, and then spends the rest of the game laughing at me since I can’t make it do anything. Everything in the game is used by the mouse or the keyboard. Flying by keyboard is ok, but the command-queue is large enough that my plane continues to roll for 2 or 3 seconds after I’ve let off the arrow key. I found no way to remap my keys so I was forced to use the right-handed-dominant standards. Screw you righty!

Controlling a plane by mouse was ultimately neutral, but starts off very badly while you think you have real-time control. Instead, you move the mouse to a desired location, and the nose of your craft works its way over to it. It’s difficult to make a banked turn when you can only use the Yaw rudder and you’re constantly picking up the mouse to put it back on the pad. Very annoying.

Controlling groups of planes or ships is on par with C&C-type games. You see all the groups already segmented for you, so its just click one and right-click on a target, or just Control+A to select everything to have them go whack-a-mole on a single target. The carriers have options for aggresive maneuvers, defensive stance (hold still basically), and options for proximity to target. You also have a weapons free option so they can fire at will, and automatically launch and recover aircraft if the ship has that option. At times there is so much going on that you might as well select auto-pilot and cross your fingers. There’s a target-priority map you can change, but the AI is going to do what it wants to anyway.

A large problem with the controls is that I have to use the mouse so much. Plus, everytime I have to click something, the mouse has to be reset to the center. The mouse may be on the button you want to click, but if you didn’t move the mouse then the cursor is still in the center of the screen. This really hits home when trying to select several things on the base screens, and made for very annoying tutorials.

Talk about ambitious. Pacific Storm was such a nice and straightforward flight sim I am not sure why they thought they had to leap on to a global sim. Like a real-time-sim you are always keeping track of money, oil, aluminum and iron. While these resources come in you then crank out techologies, vehicles, and ammo. Then you’re thrown into an economic sim with subsidies and production values vs cost. Adding subsidies decreases production time, but costs can go way up. There’s also a troop morale aspect that fluctuates with factors like experience and base mortality rate. Before you freak out entirely, there is some automatic options for these.

Once you create these items, you can ferry them around to other bases from the main base. Build formations of troop types and match them with a commander, and relocate them to bases all over the Pacific. Move troops, engineers, and the necessary resources all over the place to ensure that your forces can defend themselves. Again, there are AI options for those of us that don’t want to keep track of all this, and I don’t think I want to be stuck in an elevator with the person that thinks all this needs to be micromanaged. Yipe.

Along with formation movements and base production, one has to deal with the environment. Your naval group may be the keenest force on the map, but one good hurricane and they’re an underwater museum off a shallow coastline. I never found out if the weather patterns are representative of historical data, or randomly generated. Fairly impressive an attempt as well, but was more aggravating than necessary.

This isn’t a flight-sim. This isn’t a real-time strategy game either. It isn’t turn based, but one can pause and make decisions in due time. The detail-oriented mind, or manic note taker, may fall in love with the aspects that they can manipulate in here.

I’ll stick with my dreams of being the flight jockey.