Set for release later this week, Mad Catz’s debut as a software launch publisher has got a difficult road ahead of it. Not only is it an ever-increasing challenge to go up against the biggest names in the industry with an unknown quantity, but also the team has opted to back one of the most uncompromising genres around. Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII is a flight combat simulation videogame set during the most turbulent of air based skirmishes in human history, World War II.
The design of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII’s campaign is surprisingly elegant. A colourful cartoon style series of sketches and actual film footage sets the scene for a 1940’s adventure, telling the tale of both our hero and the US’ economy and political situation during the era. It’s a sophisticated standard that rarely delves into the gruesome truth of war, preferring to edge one the light-hearted heroics of your everyday American transformed when given a set of wings. It gives the feeling that it’s intending to impersonate the media of the time; a charming and ethical design that steps just short of becoming the best aspect of the videogame by itself.
Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII features a number of campaigns playable on three difficulty settings and in two gameplay modes: Arcade and Simulation. The Arcade mode is unquestionably the more accessible of the two, offering the player an external view and more lenient turning arcs. That being said, the release of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII is supported by the Pacific AV8R FlightStick, included within the limited edition package for an additional £30 GBP, a device which is designed specifically for use with the videogame. It’s clear that the controller as been built around the simulation mode of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII, resulting in a more complete and surprisingly more enjoyable experience all round, whether or not you normally jump straight into flight combat simulators like a fish to water.
There is some room to customise aspects of your flight experience between the Arcade and Simulation modes, but in truth the more important aspects of Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII’s design lay elsewhere. At all times the player is able to boost (dependant on a quickly recharging meter) and slow down time (infinite in supply). These two mechanics are the foundations upon which Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII’s combat is built, resulting in constant use of one or the other and often both. Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII doesn’t seem as keen to relay the actual feeling of controlling an airborne killing machine during WWII as it is to present an entertaining videogame experience.
The campaign gameplay mode is divided into a number of unique episodes, each containing a small selection of missions. Missions themselves can be lengthy affairs, offering in the region of ten-to-thirty minutes gameplay within each, resulting in a lengthy single-player experience. Additionally, Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII features online co-operative gameplay for two-to-four players and competitive matches for up to eight. It’s a shame the developers didn’t see fit to include a split-screen option, but the variety of gameplay modes available for competitive matches is more than respectable.
Aside from its story presentation, Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII’s visuals offer less detail than Ace Combat: Assault Horizon’s densely populated cities, but are still comfortable. As is often the case with flight simulation videogames, the distant mountain ranges and wooded lands look superior to the immediate foreground. Sound design is near flawless, working beautifully with the 1930’s design ethic.
Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII is a well presented videogame experience, delivering hours of entertainment as both a single-player and multiplayer title. It is a videogame that suffers in comparison to many bigger budget productions, but that shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a weakness: gamers who already own Ace Combat: Assault Horizon or Tom Clancy’s HAWX will still find plenty to sink their teeth into here, and newcomers to the genre will quickly get up-to-speed, despite the lack of a typically patronising tutorial system. Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII may not break down any new walls, but as the first step into new territory for Mad Catz, it deserves to be recognised as an investment worth making.