World War 2 games have lit up the shelf over the last couple of years. Most of them have focused the ground battles and conflicts of the war, or have been combined arms games. The majority of them have been first person shooter games, bringing the action and frentic pace of the battlefield right up to the player. For the last several years a Russian developer has been bringing us flight simulations based on the WW2 Eastern front, centered around the IL-2 Sturmovik. After a sequel, and an expansion for the sequel allowing for play in a larger European Theater, they have now brought us Pacific fighters. This game covers the mostly US/Japan conflict in the Pacific with missions flown from carriers and islands. Let us see how it stacks up and what it brings to the table.
he flight graphics for this game are incredibly detailed. Just sitting on the carrier, and looking at the detail put in each of the planes flight surfaces is amazing. All the proper control surfaces are modelled, and animated. The guns on the deck of the carrier turn and fire at incoming enemy craft. The engine for this game is the same as the one for IL-2 Forgotten Battles, but it has improved the animation for the secondary units. The ships come alive with deck guns blazing and flack blasting around you as you make your torpedo runs. The planes themselves have not changed much, but they seem to model damage a little better than previously. The only time I really cringed at the graphics engine was when I experienced head on collisions with another plane or a carrier, as your plane breaks apart in this regular pattern that is unrealistic.
On a note to ATI mobility players: I had little problem getting this game to run, and it looked great with the details up, but I had to run the game at 1024×768 resolution with the screen stretch turned on. Any other resolution forced my display into 1024×768 and wanted me to scroll around the screen with my mouse to see it all. Granted, this is minor and the game box reported that laptop displays and video cards may not support the game properly.
The sounds in the game are relatively unremarkable, but as a whole do a good job of immersing you in the world that is your cockpit. You hear bullets go shooting by you when someone is blasting high caliber weaponry at you, and the plane engines will rumble your subwoofer appropriately when you fly one of the larger multi-engine craft. The reports from the ground control or your wingmen are well done, and do a better job than earlier incarnations of the game of relaying important information to you.
The control of this game provides a lot of options to players, and covers details that the most experienced simulator pilot will want. The basic setup will allow just about anyone with a joystick to dive right in and start flying if they want to, and little needs to be changed. If you have a joystick and throttle, or a larger HOTAS (Hand on Throttle and Stick) setup, this game gives you the control you need to customize everything to your liking. Without using the profiling software that came with it, I made use of my Saitek X45’s controls with little issues. It was a snap to assign all the axies and buttons that I needed to all the buttons. One thing that I discovered in my attempts to play the game, is that some of the critical controls (for carrier takeoff) begin the game unmapped. I would definately suggest a full reading of the readme file after you apply the current patch (v3.10) so you know which controls must be mapped. On my first play of the game, I found that I could not take off from the carrier, even though my engine was running, flaps were down, and my plane would not roll. It turns out that the “chocks” control was not mapped by default to any key and without that, I wasn’t going anywhere.
This game is not for the faint of heart when it comes to controls. There are over 100 options in the key bindings menu for you to assign items to. The default bindings cover most of the important details, aside from releasing the chocks and unfolding your wings. I would advise anyone to at least give most of the options a good read before taking off, and again consult the readme file in the root directory of the game for control details.
For those of you into new gadgets, Pacific Fighters has support for the Track-IR device. Track-IR allows you to put a small reflective dot on your headset, hat, or even forehead and place a device on top of your monitor that is smaller than a USB camera. It then provides minor head tracking support. It sets things up so that you can look just a little to the right or left, and the view will track in that direction. You can define it so that the tracking scales. If you only move a little bit, then the view only shifts a little bit. But if you move farther, the device treats it as if you looked over your shoulder, and you’ve only moved your head an inch or so. This is a nifty add on for a game that needs something like it. Having not tried one myself, I couldn’t say how difficult the setup of the sensitivity is, but it is well spoken of inside the IL-2 community, and Pacific Fighters provides the proper support for it to work.
Here we get down to the nuts and bolts of the game. Gameplay in Pacific Fighters is your standard mission oriented gameplay, allowing you to go into one-off quick missions through a generator, or play a full military career in the Pacific Theater. There are also single missions to play through that are not campaign linked.
The instant mission mode allows you to pick a series of planes for both sides, and set up a basic air duel. It is simple to set up a one on one dogfight, or a massive battle with bombers and fighters, with ships to protect. The instant battles can’t provide the complexity that the other modes can, but it can allow you to set up a battle that you can spend fifteen minutes to an hour enjoying.
The single mission mode allows you to play some specific pre-created missions for the different nationalities offered in the game (Japan, US, UK), or play missions created in the built in full mission builder. This mode does not differ greatly from the instant mission mode, aside from the setup. This mode allows for more complex missions, such as multiple objective and much more appropriate fields of play.
The campaign mode is what most pilots will be looking forward to. Campaign mode allows you to create a pilot and follow him through several points of the war in a standard career. It tracks your kills, and maintains a flight record for you, as well as mission completion. You can take the war a mission at a time, or fly multiple missions in a row. The campaign mode in Pacific Fighters utilizes the new dynamic campaign system, which shows areas controlled on the map, and allows for the occupation of new airbases. It also helps regulate which assets are available to you during the course of the campaign. This is a nice change from the previous campaigns, which amounted to a series of static missions that you got scored on. Now it is important to know how many planes came back, and how much fuel was used.
A nice option is the amount of difficulty settings that can be turned off and on independently. You can set the basic options such as unlimited fuel, ammo, and invincibility. There are also options for more advanced flight behaviour such as the shaking of the plane when firing the guns, and specific engine issues that can crop up in combat. It also has toggles for easy, medium, and hard auto settings that will adjust the majority of the toggles for you. These settings help adjust the game for the new pilot or the advanced sim flyer.
I have found the multiplayer setup to be okay, but it could be improved upon. For people joining games through a matchmaking tool, it isn’t hard to do. Others who wish to host games may find the things a little harder to get going without some minor technical knowledge, especially if you are beind a firewall. Again, consult the readme file, as it contains lots of setup info, and some good configuration instructions.
The replay value of the game is quite good. The multiplayer community for the game is developed, with support on All Seeing Eye, and several other custom applications for matchmaking. There is a full multiplayer campaign system allowing you and your friends to fly together as a wing over time. The instant mission mode lets you put together a quick mission that can take only fifteen minutes to fly. Definately a good break or flight when you want it.
The big added value with this game is to those pilots that own IL2 Forgotten Battles and the Aces Expansion pack. When you install Pacific fighters, and have the other two already installed, you have the option to install Pacific Fighters as an expansion. This then allows for dynamic campaigns in all the available theaters for both single player play and multiplayer. All the fightercraft also become available in all modes, unless a campaign specifically doesn’t not allow it. You can actually see how a Zero would stand up to a BF-109 Messerschmidt, or an IL-2 Sturmovick would stand against a F4-U Corsair. With the IL-2 Forgotten Battles gold pack selling for 20 dollars in most stores, it’s hard not to pick both up in one fell swoop.