As an aficionado of the air combat genre, I’ve sunk entire summers into staunch simulations such as IL-2 Sturmovik and DCS A-10C Warthog, as well as weeks on less fastidious fare like Heroes Over Europe or Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII. Beyond the elation of flight and the intensity of a controller clenching dogfight, the genre often indulges an appreciation of military history, placing players in the midst of critical conflicts around the globe. So when peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz announced their inaugural foray into game publishing with War Wings: Hell Catz, I was undeniably anxious to hop into the cockpit.
Rebranded as Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII, the title purports to offer the holy grail of simulated combat, blending what the company hails as a “historically accurate, painstaking recreation of World War II aerial maneuvers” with arcade-like handling and an abundant amount of explosive spectacle. In execution, Damage Inc. marginally delivers on the later, while nearly completely shirking any semblance of verisimilitude.
The game commences with an opening cinematic which offers a succinct explanation for America’s involvement in War World II. Told through cut-out animation, the sequence introduces players to two young brothers, who endure the toils of great depression before joining the military to fight an escalating threat in the Pacific theatre. While some might be able to overlook the blundered subtitles, historians will likely be dismayed by some of the game’s glaring inaccuracies, such as when the protagonist mentions the “Air Force”- a branch of the military which wouldn’t be exist by that moniker for another six years.
Yet, compared to the disregard for authenticity exhibited by the game’s subsequent stages, this is a negligible blemish. After a training mission set on Oahu’s Ford Island, players are thrust into a recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Although history showed the U.S. downed 29 Japanese aircraft that morning (with 8 or 9 shot down through dogfights) I single-handedly eliminated over 90 planes. In should be noted that this devastation of Japan’s air offensive occurred on the fourth attempt- three previous missions were abruptly ended for allowing a single torpedo bomber to sink an American ship. Ignore the two waves of enemies as articulated by historical books, in Damage Inc. enemies attack with the unrelenting persistence of Space Invaders.
Understandably, short of allowing gamers to take the role of the Japanese, converting a completely devastating attack into a gratifying game level is nigh impossible. But, if developer Trickstar Games is going to play fast and loose with the facts, why not offer players a ‘what if’ scenario where Americans had more time to prepare for the assault and had a chance at repelling the incursion. This kind of revisionist history worked in both Sniper Elite and Inglourious Basterds, two divergent mediums which both derived pleasure from seeing der Führer’s face shot into hamburger.
But let’s say a player has no interest in historical authenticity, and only yearns to convert enemy aircraft into cascading fireballs of cathartic relief. Will they find merit in Pacific Squadron WWII? Likely not. Regardless of which of the three challenge levels players select, air-to-air lacks nuance. Obliging gamers to follow a threat indicator, release a stream of machine gun fire toward another marker which compensates for target lead then repeat, many of the title’s 23 stages drift into tedium. Overall, your missions are both uninspired (with a high frequency of wearying defensive and photo-recon tasks) and too repetitive, as if the developer was padding the game’s playtime.
One assignment which is quite enjoyable is the title’s bombing runs, which tasks players with bombarding and torpedoing targets. More challenging and engaging that Damage Inc’s dogfights, assaulting ground and sea-based opponents requires a vigilant management of flight speed and angle. Likewise, the game’s adaptation of boss battles, where ace squadrons vie for air supremacy, offer a reprieve from the more mundane missions.
Beyond the game’s single-player campaign, Damage Inc. also exhibits a competitive component flaunting the obligatory multiplayer match types. Although bringing down bogeys in the game’s Dogfight, Team Dogfight, Survivor, and Team Survivor variants can be diverting if enough online participants could be found, the title’s Scratch One Flatop was the title’s true highpoint. Pitting players with protecting their team’s aircraft carrier while struggling to scuttle the opposing team’s ship delivers a pleasing fluidity where players shift from offensive attacks to defensive security.
Regretfully, Damage Inc’s moniker also describes its visuals. Although the game’s collection of 32 upgradeable aircraft are explosions are proficiently rendered, the title’s graphic brilliance ends there. Environments are filled with two dimensional trees, while clouds show an unnatural pixilation. The game’s framerate is the real deal killer, with Damage persistently sputtering along, occasionally freezing for a full second in the middle of flight. Woefully, the irregular refresh rate is more than cosmetic, with the title’s jerkiness affecting your ability to accurately engage enemies. As such, players are obliged to use the title’s slow-motion feature to offset the graphical instability, but even that feature introduces an unsightly blur effect.
Gamers willing to purchase the collector’s edition of Pacific Squadron WWII will find the Saitek Pacific AV8R flight stick in the oversized box- a peripheral which supplies some of the combat authenticity missing from the game. With a full sized rubberized stick, analog throttle controls, toggle switches and POV hat, the peripheral offers an agreeable recreation of cockpit controls for a wide range of eras. Beyond Damage Inc, the stick performed flawlessly in a number of other air combat titles- allowing Immelmanns and chandelles in Birds of Steel and HAWX. Although the USB-powered stick is a bit on the light side, with the included plastic supporting pieces, the peripheral balanced seamlessly on a thigh.
Even the most sanguine air combat adherent will have to strain to find Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII’s virtues. Neither faithful simulation nor sinuous but simple arcade romp, the game is a curious collision, exhibiting the worst of both genres. Ideally, Mad Catz would have found a better title to show off the qualities of their superior flight slick, as Damage Inc. fails to measure up to any of its console peers.