What do you do if you really want to promote a brand new flight sim joystick? Bundle it at launch with a poor flight simulator of course - well ideally the game would actually be a gorgeous aerial thrill ride but sadly life just doesn’t usually work out that way.
The flight simulator is an odd beast; adored by many a PC fan but consistently underwhelming on a console - it is fair to say that the console generation haven’t really warmed to the genre but Mad Catz are aiming to change that with the introduction of a new dedicated peripheral, dubbed the Saitek AV8R. Damage Inc Pacific Squadron WWII is the first title to support this new joystick and even has it bundled within the collector’s edition of the game - events take place during World War II (the clue is in the title) and sees you recreating some of the great aerial battles in history. Does it do enough to justify the price tag? Is it playable without the joystick? Is it any good? No, yes and no.
The beginning of the game is harmless enough, you are presented with some funky loading screens along with wartime footage, admittedly talked over by a cheesy narrator but it’s all of an acceptable standard - no alarm bells are going off at this stage. The scene is neatly set up, as the new pilot on the block you are presented with a series of options, the core choice really being arcade or simulation. Make your choice and you immediately find that your camera options are limited based on the mode chosen; not the end of the world you may think but without any way of changing the camera during the missions themselves this feels needlessly limiting and an odd design choice. Anyway, that is just the beginning....
Immediately as the tutorial begins you realise that this potentially fun re-enactment of historic World War II battles is probably going to be a test of endurance rather than anything resembling fun. As you are walked through the controls whilst on the tarmac it is almost impossible not to spend at least ten minutes staring at the textures used for the runway, frankly in disbelief that the game is actually on the current generation of consoles. Graphically things do not improve from there, they don’t get worse but to be honest it would be some achievement if they did. The only saving grace graphically are the planes themselves, nicely created and high on detail they really are the only graphical element of the game that can escape being described as downright ugly. Add to this the consistently choppy framerate, garish texture work and below par presentation it really isn’t a looker - graphics whores beware.
The game is broken up into a series of fairly long winded missions starting at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour moving all the way through the subsequent attacks on Japan in 1945. At first the story is set up well if a little cheesy and ‘budget’ but sadly as the campaign unfolds the mission structure shows its face, grinding you down with its repetitiveness. There are problems from the very first mission; after you have gotten over the previously mentioned shock when first casting your eyes on the graphics you are treated to some very bland gameplay which fast becomes much more chore than joy. It’s a pretty ugly game but that could be forgiving if the flight sim within were fun and responsive, unfortunately it’s a disappointment.
There is one silver lining amongst it all - Warspeed is effectively a bullet time effect, allowing you to completely slow t...i...m...e and pick your shot perfectly at a fraction of the real time speed. This is an absolute godsend for anyone looking to complete this one from start to finish. The combat itself is at first engaging, particularly when you realise you shouldn't actually be shooting the planes themselves but a red dot which hovers above and/or in front of each enemy. As the missions get longer and you realise they lack variety it all gets very dull, very quickly - even with warspeed there are no Michael Bay ‘Pearl Harbour’ style adrenalin rushes to be found.
The auto lock on doesn’t help proceedings, although it really should! You will find yourself locking on to a target which appears to be next in line for the slaughter but due to the poor graphics after flying for a few seconds you realise it is actually miles away taking you away from your time sensitive objective. Frustration ensues and rears its ugly head again when using the waypoint system, it simply hinders rather than helps rendering it completely useless.
Using the flight stick certainly adds something to the game but you cannot help but feel that the lovingly crafted not to mention expensive joystick deserves a better game. It’s a cool peripheral, add to a fantastic flight game and a previously ignored group of console owners are queuing up to get a piece of action. It deserves better - the game also goes so far as to making things tougher by using the joystick. Some may disagree but the feel of control using the joypad is more solid and responsive - the joystick is sensitive and the game has a hard time adjusting to the rapid movement.
A multiplayer mode can be found if you look hard enough but the best advice really is to not do so. There are a handful of modes but given the extensive problems with the game adding in some server lag and the barren wasteland that is Damage Inc lobbies it is best left alone. for those brave enough to take a look you will find a range of classic modes which can be ‘enjoyed’ with up to seven other players. Dogfight (deathmatch), team dogfight (deathmatch), survivor (last man standing), team survivor and scratch one flattop which see’s two teams battle to sink battleships and aircraft carriers.
It almost feels unfair on the Saitek joystick as it clearly needed better software to help sell; that said someone somewhere decided to bundle it with Damage Inc therefore it is scored as a package. Sadly Damage Inc is a bit of a mess - awful graphics, poor controls and long dull missions continually erode any enjoyment you may have found within the game. A generally poor show.
Look at all the planes!