Platforms available on: PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Trickster Games
Publisher: Mad Catz Interactive
Genre: Flight sim/shooter
Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII shows the power of getting the basics right. Publisher Mad Catz has said that its new strategy is to back games that showcase its hardware peripherals. The collector's edition of this arcade flight shooter comes beautifully bundled with a specially branded Saitek AV8R flight stick, but unfortunately it accompanies a dreary, repetitive and rather ugly game.
Damage Inc suffers from the age-old problem of being no things to no men. The game purports to offer historically accurate battles and realistic simulations of dogfights, but it fails on that score. Approach it as an arcade shooter, and there is fun to be had in performing incredible, maverick moves while jammering away on unlimited bullets, but this only lasts so long.
Damage Inc features various activities of a WWII pilot in the Pacific, including torpedo and dive bombing, reconnaissance and carrier takeoffs and landings. But most of your time will be spent locked in dogfights with opposing planes, pursuing moving targets and attempting to obliterate them with unlimited guns.
Targets are marked with a red dot, while the Reflex Mode gives a bullet time-style system that gives a few precious extra seconds to lock on to the target. But the problem is that nothing ever feels that precise. Airborne fighting is much more about tactics and positioning than ground warfare, but Damage Inc makes combat a frantic challenge of desperately trying to line up a target somewhere in the distance and then hammering the weapons in the hope of striking a hit.
There is a rather strange sense of joy when the target does finally smoke and go to ground. Not out of the feeling of a job well done, but simply the relief at having got the task out of the way. But uh-oh, you only have to do it all over again in the next mission...
There is also not a massive sense of challenge in Damage Inc. It is far more likely that you will die from some over-ambitious move or foolish mistake than by a rival's guns - or instead, just stop playing entirely. The addition of ground-based threats is positive, but not quite enough to truly test those flying skills.
This issue is not helped by an overall lack of variety in the missions. Frequent tasks under time limit become tiresome, as do photo-reconnaissance sections. There is some good attention to detail with the historical accuracy, particularly in the battles and 30 available aircraft, but the narrative feels misplaced and the visuals are just downright ugly in parts.
Damage Inc elevates itself with the multiplayer, as fighting against human players adds at least a sense of unpredictability amongst the frustration. There are some good ideas here, such as Scratch One Flat-top, which tasks two teams of players with fighting it out while also trying to sink an aircraft carrier.
Up to eight players can take part in reasonably fun versus and dogfight multiplayer modes, while two and four-player co-op action over Xbox Live is a decent addition to the package. But even playing with other people does not ease out the overriding sense of frustration in actually trying to hit anything in the game.
Unfortunately, the real damage with Damage Inc was that Mad Catz did not focus on making a game that was as good as its hardware.