Thursday, September 20, 2012

Damage Inc Pacific Squadron Review

‘Must try harder’. This only appeared on my school report once or twice, thank goodness, but it’s a phrase which constantly came to mind when I was testing out Damage Inc – peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz’s recent flight simulator release.

The game, which came packaged with Mad Catz’s latest ‘AV8R’ joystick – this one optimised for use on the PS3 (see separate review), feels rushed, is rough-around-the-edges and falls down in a lot of ways. The singleplayer campaign sees a plucky, all-American hero take to the skies shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in World War Two, and proceeds through a number of very lengthy missions, gradually unlocking new aircraft along the way.

As this is primarily a flight simulator – as it purports to be, at least - the majority of the missions sees the player gunning down enemy aircraft or carrying out strafing runs on ground targets. The first problem, however, is that the missions themselves are too long, and rather boring. Take the attack on Pearl, for example – the mission is a good 30 minutes long, and a lengthy series of dull mission objectives left me wondering A: when the mission would end, and B: why nobody had scratched my paintwork – the enemy AI is poor, and even on the hardest difficulty, I could shoot down Japanese fighter pilots by looking at them funny. Plus, the fact that by the end of the mission I was an ace five times over pretty much killed the ‘simulation’ aspect for me – the game is an arcade shooter at heart, even if it pretends otherwise.

Aside from the glacial pace and poor AI, the game is also let down by poor graphics, abysmal voice acting and a lacklustre score – if I hear my All-American hero shout “Got ‘im!” one more time I may fly into the badly-pixelated buildings at Wake Island’s airfield.

While the game does offer a nice ‘reflex’ mode – which slows the world around you, allowing you to pump your unlimited supply of bullets into Japan’s fighters with ease – the majority of the game is fly to point, shoot, fly home. Rinse and repeat.

While there are a number of aircraft to unlock, including some 30 fighters, dive-bombers, bombers and torpedo bombers – and each one can be upgraded to make it even more deadly, the game relies mostly on its considerable length for replay value.

Outside the singleplayer, Damage Inc does include a fairly strong multiplayer mode, which ups the challenge to a significant degree - human pilots are a lot more wily and less inclined to fly in a straight line... It’s a shame, then, that the multiplayer matchmaking is pretty shoddy, and prone to dropping out mid-dogfight, sucking the fun from the game’s redeeming mode.A personal favourite of mine, however, was the ‘Scratch one flat-top’ mode, which combines dogfighting with having to sink the enemy’s aircraft carrier, forcing your flight to work as a team – clever idea.

Control-wise, I played the majority of my time in the skies using the AV8R, and was pleasantly surprised by how well the peripheral responded to my demands. The joystick’s ergonomic design made playing the game easy, and the big buttons and throttle leavers added a pleasing ‘40s feel’ to the action. The in-game aircraft responded well to the joystick’s control, with no lag that I could see. The game can also be controlled using the joypad, but these controls are a little more clunky and difficult to master.

Overall, Damage Inc tries to be both an arcade shooter and a simulator at the same time, and it doesn’t quite pull it off. While playing with the joystick makes the action more enjoyable, poor graphics, dull mission design and bad voice acting let it down. I’d probably wait for Damage Inc to appear in the bargain bin before I gave it a try – especially when there are so many other flight shooters out there that deserve more time in your drive. Must try harder.

Reviewed on PS3