When I think of Mad Catz, the first two things that come to mind are a childhood filled with subpar peripherals at my local EB Games, and how well they’ve stepped up in recent years by providing the fighting game community reasonably priced, solid arcade sticks. Either way, when Joel told me that Mad Catz was sending me a game that they published, I had to spend some time doing the proper research to make sure he wasn’t pulling my leg.
Sure enough, a few days later I was unpacking the Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII Squadron Leader’s Collection Edition for Xbox 360. Accompanied by a collectable model of the F6F-3 Hellcat, it’s no wonder that the collector’s edition of the WWII flight combat simulator features both the game and the Saitek Pacific AV8R flight stick. As the publisher’s first game, Damage Inc. makes a point to try to give players a real arcade feel, and the AV8R flight stick is a nice touch to complete that feeling.
The game has a controller mode to make use of the flight stick, where the left analog is the main flight stick and the right analog, located on the thumb portion of the stick, is used to adjust one’s camera. My control with the flight stick was rather subpar, though I’m willing to admit that the reason for that is likely my lack of experience with flight sims.
My lack of personal history with flight simulators means I can’t really say whether the stick is worth the independent price of $40.00, however I will say that Mad Catz could have stood to give some heft to the product. Grabbing a trusty controller and switching my controls allowed me to give the game my best shot. A quick training mission gives you ample time to explore the controls just long enough before it drops you directly into your first dogfight.
Set in the time frame of the Pearl Harbor attack, Damage Inc. pits the player as an ace pilot of the Reaper Wing squadron against the attacking forces of the Japanese. The game’s opening screen mentions that Damage Inc. is aiming for historical accuracy in both its gameplay and presentation, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that the game makes very liberal use of the term “Japs” in its dialogue and throughout mission briefings. It’s WWII and we’re defending America, take that tolerance and political correctness crap back to your namby-pamby 21st century, sissy.
The game comes through on the historical accuracy claim, at least in visual presentation. Cinematic scenes play as if someone were rolling a black and white reel, recapping the historical events surrounding Japan and America’s involvement with a war that the United States had previously not taken an active hand in. The game’s protagonist is quite fair in his depiction of WWII. There’s a light air of patriotism in his words, but he has a certain level of uncharacteristic detachment from the events that prevents him from demonizing the Japanese. Unfortunately, that detachment is also apparent in the protagonist’s reaction when Japanese fighter pilots gun down his brother. Good with the bad, I suppose.
The single player campaign comes together to make use of the game’s 30 aircrafts to train the player in dogfights, reconnaissance, dive-bombing, and torpedo deployment. Each mission will feature main and bonus objectives that can grant the player medals or extra points to upgrade their available planes. Upgrading a plane will increase its general attributes, increasing the plane’s armor, speed, maneuverability, and available machine guns. Upgrading will also grant certain planes new secondary weapons, such as bombs, dive-bombs, torpedoes and rockets.
What the game claims it has in historical accuracy, it gives up in physical accuracy. The planes all make sense in terms of take off, acceleration, handling, and landing, but a quick 180-degree barrel roll or some daring maneuvers will make it quite apparent that the planes do not feature any sort of stalling mechanic. At times, Damage Inc. feels more like a space fighter than a game set within earth’s atmosphere. Part of me feels like this was intentional though, as gravity has an effect on acceleration while ascending and diving. Trickstar probably didn’t want people crashing just because they wanted to pull off something flashy.
While Damage Inc. is some solid arcade-style fun when playing by oneself, the gameplay aims to show you how much more fun it would be if you had the rest of your squadron by your side. Luckily, the game grants you co-op for up to four players, giving players a chance to form their own Wing to decimate enemy fighters, bombers, landing ships and carriers. With online co-op and the sheer variety of missions players can take part in, the 12-20 hours of gameplay (playtime varies heavily based on player experience and enemy proficiency based on difficulty), Damage Inc. affords you will prove to be an engaging, challenging-but-fun experience for everyone involved.
Online modes do not stop at co-op. Players can also engage in eight-player dogfights, with game modes that include team matches, survival mode, or (my favorite) “Scratch One Flattop”, a capture-the-base objective mode where players have to take out enemy fighters and their carrier before their own side is sunk. You get to play Battleship and Star Fox at the same time, I don’t know how much simpler I could possibly present such an awesome concept. The competitive multiplayer in the game was a bit choppy, but that may be the fault of my own connection, so I’m reserving judgment until I upgrade my connection.
Edit: Upon fixing my connection issues, I’ve come to find that the problem is not on the client end. Damage Inc. player-vs-player is choppy to say the least. Enemy pilots will end up teleporting across the sky after stuttering randomly, making getting a kill more frustrating than difficult. As a result, unless they fix the multiplayer function of the game, Damage Inc. suffers considerably.
The game’s aesthetic presentation lies squarely in the realm of making the planes as detailed and diverse as possible. Each plane features different attributes that are made immediately apparent when you select the aircraft – even propeller speed varies based on model. With over 30 planes to choose from, your play style and the game’s objective will never combine into a situation where there isn’t right plane for the job.
If there was any aspect of Damage Inc. that I can say snuck up on me, it would have to be the music. Featuring a striking soundtrack that is meant to inspire the same kind of feeling that war movies produce when all the badass pilots are walking to their planes for that final mission, Damage Inc.’s music sets the ambiance for the daring air battles, causing an aural tension that flies in line with the nature of the gameplay.
For a first attempt at publishing, Mad Catz picked a good title to back. Damage Inc. was an unexpected pleasure, and now that the game has launched, maybe I will be able to play more online co-op and vs. mode. I legitimately considered buying a second copy of this game and another Xbox so that my wife and I could enjoy this game at the same time, it is that good. The jury is still out on the flight stick peripheral, but the game is well worth the 50-dollar price tag. Fans looking for a good air combat experience will not be disappointed by this title.