Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Developer: Trickstar Games
Publisher: Mad Catz
The Pacific AV8R flight stick is a nice piece of kit. As an iteration of the Saitek AV8R, this entry-level joystick retains the chunky throttle and satisfying resistance of its predecessor while adding a much more comfortable grip and a superior hat control. The blue and white exterior evokes classic World War II American warplane bodywork, which can be utterly ruined with a selection of decal stickers. Better yet, both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are compatible with PCs via USB (though they're not cross-console compatible). We'll give the Pacific AV8R a full review when and if we branch out into tech, but suffice to say that it's a neat investment if you enjoy playing flight sims on consoles.
However, selling a console flight stick is another matter. Mad Catz are keenly aware that the aerial combat genre is woefully under-supported on both the Xbox 360 and PS3, with only the occasional Ace Combat, Sturmovik or surprisingly competent City Interactive title to tide us over. The AV8R is a hard sell without new games to back it up, so the peripheral manufacturer decided to do the logical thing: creating demand by publishing a new flight sim of their very own.
Damage Inc. is the result: a multiplatform flight sim that charts the entire Pacific campaign of World War II, casting players as an ace pilot caught up in the conflict. Can Mad Catz' first published game prove to be more than just a hastily developed pack-in?
Broadly speaking, yes. Throughout a seriously meaty campaign, you'll fly a selection of upgradeable warplanes in key battles of the Pacific campaign. You'll dogfight against enormous swarms of zeroes, participate in defending Pearl Harbour and the Battle Of Midway, and generally bring the rain as hard as possible. In a couple of concessions to the more action-oriented console audience, you can activate a slow-motion mode for precise aiming, boost with a limited Warspeed reserve and regenerate secondary weapon ammunition, but a scaled-back HUD and cockpit modes add a sense of authenticity. Enemy AI proves to be fit for task, especially as far as the occasional enemy ace is concerned, and the whole thing caters to game-starved genre fans looking for something else to shoot (and carriers to land on).
I'm not entirely sure why you can't change the camera mode mid-game, mind.
Damage Inc. works well on gamepads and offers the usual choice between arcade-style handling and authentic controls. The latter is infinitely superior if you're experienced with the genre, since the ability to manually roll and yaw will make the difference in some of the more hectic dogfights (both in terms of evading enemy fire and staying on an enemy's six). If you buy it with the AV8R, you'll naturally want to enjoy your new flight stick to full advantage. Aircraft handling is solid and weighty in the main, though an odd physics engine can sometimes lead to some bizarre spectacles as enemy planes bounce off each other mid-flight.
Damage Inc's missions are certainly varied, presenting you with enormous dogfights, defensive missions and all-out assaults on ground or naval targets, but the mission structure sometimes leaves much to be desired. Put simply: there's a lot of padding. An inordinate number of defensive objectives come out of the woodwork at the most inopportune moments, often failing you instantly if, say, a bomber manages to reach its target (let alone destroy it). Considerate checkpoints remove much of the sting from failing these objectives, but you'll often catch yourself wishing that a mission would "just end already" after yet another wave of bombers turns up.
It's gratifying that Damage Inc. includes online cooperative play and competitive dogfights at launch. Playing the campaign is much more fun with a wingman, but experience really shines in multiplayer, which is surprisingly well-featured and contains a bevy of modes. The most entertaining of which pits two teams against each other in a battle for naval domination, with each team having to defend an aircraft character while assaulting their enemies' counterpart, providing a unique and dynamic cooperative twist.
Rather than offering a throwaway storyline, Damage Inc. sets out to chronicle the Pacific campaign in a surprising amount of detail from the eyes of an all-American pilot. Not only do several of the levels draw upon real events (including Pearl Harbour and Midway), but level-complete cutscenes use animation and film footage to completely fill in the backstory, often giving shocking casualty statistics or descriptions of events that don't even feature in the campaign.
It's an oddly authentic angle for a game that doesn't prioritise historical accuracy during gameplay (sorry, how am I targeting these enemies and having objectives relayed to my HUD in a WW2 era warplane exactly?), and whether or not you like it will be down to how interested you are in the finer points of the conflict. Otherwise, the voice acting is of reasonable quality and the throwaway banter between pilot and tower is serviceable enough.
Sadly, Damage Inc falls down in two key areas, and falls down hard: presentation and performance. Low-resolution textures and unambitious environmental detail leads to a fairly dull and drab visual experience, even by WW2 flight sim standards. Worse, the performance is unbelievably choppy on consoles during more involved missions, making it difficult to stay on target as you fight the frame rate more than the Japanese air force. All in-engine cutscenes bizarrely require a loading screen that usually cuts off dialogue mid-flow, and I've encountered a fair few glitches that forced a mission restart. We may never know if Mad Catz were forced to rush out the game before it was ready, but the console versions desperately needed more polish, resulting in a product that feels rough and unfinished.
I've heard that a patch corrected some of these issues, but they're still definitely present in the Xbox 360 and PS3 builds several weeks after launch.
- The Pacific AV8R is a decent entry-level console flight stick
- Lengthy campaign delivers some fun missions, enjoyable multiplayer
- Impressive array of upgradeable aircraft
- Wings clipped by technical issues
- Drab and choppy visuals
- Overly padded mission structure
- Better peripherals available on PC
The Short Version: Damage Inc. does its job of providing something fun to play on the Pacific AV8R, and does so with more involvement and style than we were expecting. A solid singleplayer campaign, surprisingly full-fat multiplayer offering and numerous planes help to elevate it above more than just a bare-bones pack-in. However, some more polish and development time would have worked wonders to iron out a few persistent technical kinks.
The AV8R swings it, providing a solid entry-level flight stick. Damage Inc's collector's edition should be firmly on your radar if you already own a few console flight sims and enjoy the genre, though only die-hard genre fans need apply.