Mad Catz has been making some major moves in the gaming industry over the past couple of years. The company, which has been known mostly for their contributions to accessories and peripherals in the industry, has recently made the move to the publishing side of things. Their first console release, Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge, was genuinely well received when it was released last year (our review can be found here).
This Fall, they will bring their next release to both consoles and PC’s. Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII. Recently, I had a chance to spend a little bit of time with a preview build of the game and think that fans of the flight sim genre are in for a treat come the end of this month.
The game plays out in the Pacific theater of war during World War II. Players embark on a series of missions spanning numerous years during the historic conflict. The game will follow a streamlined timeline of the war, focusing on the aerial campaigns that took place throughout the Pacific. The developer has worked tirelessly with historians to craft historically accurate recreations of the locations and battles presented in the game. This accuracy is used to set the stage for the events but gives players the ability to make the battles “your own” by giving you access to use a variety of fighter planes and dive bombers for use in each of the scenarios.
There are close to 70 variations of 32 unique aircraft present in the game, each with the ability to be upgraded and altered as the campaign progresses. As you move through the events that occurred between 1941 and 1945, you will gain the ability to improve your planes’ armor, agility, and firepower. This applies to planes on both sides of the war, including the P-51 Mustang, F6F Hellcat, and the Japanese Zero.
The development team has done an awesome job at walking the line between arcade and simulation gameplay. Players will have the option of
choosing which form of gameplay they was to utilize on each of the missions. The differences lie mainly in the control mechanics used for the planes. The arcade mode makes things a lot simpler and allows pretty much a pick-up-and-play style experience. Switching to the sim mode gives you more precise control over your aircraft and is meant to work perfectly in conjunction with the official controller for the game, the Saitek AV8R Flight Stick.
The AV8R Flight Stick is being manufactured specifically for use with this game, though it will be compatible with other games in the flight sim genre both available and coming in the future. The game will work with all Saitek Flight Sticks but this one is designed to mimic the controls of WWII era combat aircraft. Being based on older planes, the AV8R is simpler than modern control sticks. The device features a single control stick on a small base featuring 3 buttons, a trigger, and a POV analog stick as well as a front-mounted throttle. The back face of the stick, which faces the user, is decorated with functional toggle switches, a hat-stick directional pad, the standard Xbox home button and the connection for your Xbox Live headset. The stick itself is removable which makes it easy to store it when not in use.
The stick also includes a set of feet that can be installed and removed with ease depending on how you would like to use it. The default option, sans the plastic feet, is meant for use on a table top. There are a couple of small, rubber nubs on the bottom which keep it stationary during usage. Once the feet are installed, the base of the stick will conform to your thigh, allowing you to comfortably use it on your lap.
Performance wise, the stick is extremely responsive both with Damage Inc. and other flight sims. The soft rubber finish used in its design is very comfortable and ensures that your hand remains comfortable during extended gameplay sessions. I never found myself getting sweaty or cramped hands even after an hour of consecutive gameplay; the stick was also quick to snap back into a centered position once pressure was removed. It is very easy to see that this is a solid product that will benefit more than just this game and it could be the most affordable, quality stick available for these platforms.
The preview build that I spent time with was set during a mission roughly a third into the game titled “Attack on Taroa”. This mission, which starts on the runway of a carrier stationed in the Pacific, takes place shortly after the events of the battle of Wake Island. You are given the lead in a squadron of planes being launched from your carrier and charged with paving the way for a retaliatory bombing run on the Japanese.
There are a series of tasks that you are given on this mission, each one setting the stage for the subsequent objectives. For example, the first objective has you taking out a radar on a remote island. Once you have completed that task, you will then be charged with handling a squadron of jets being scrambled at a nearby airport. It is here that you begin seeing some of the flexibility in the mission system; if you fail to destroy all of the jets before they take off, you will then have to engage them in a dogfight in the air. However, you can avoid this confrontation by taking them out before they leave the ground with some well coordinated bombing runs. Once the fighters have been handled, you will be moving on to taking out a variety of anti-air gun installations. Unlike the previous objective, this one doesn’t give you the luxury of alternate means of completion; if you fail to take out the gun installations before your bombers arrive, you will fail your mission completely.
Damage Inc. isn’t all gunplay though. Although I didn’t experience them in the gameplay session that I played, the developer has revealed reconnaissance and non-combat missions for the game. One such that I am aware of will have players cutting off their engines and making silent passes near targets to obtain photographic evidence. This should prove to be a nice break in the monotony of war.
I found the gameplay in the areas I played through to be action packed and extremely fun. The planes felt awesome both in terms of their physical control and their weapons. Switching between the various ammunition loads was simple and the included reflex mode made it easy to slow things down and zero in on your target. Reflex mode is an ability players have in the game which slows down time for you to pinpoint your targets and react in the heat of battle; sure, it is unrealistic but it adds a level of intensity to the battle that couldn’t be accomplished in a straightforward simulation.
The only detriment to the experience that existed is in the visual department. The game may use accurate and detailed locales and aircraft, but the visual style that is used to present them is far from being on par with most modern games. To put it bluntly, the game “looks” dated, but fortunately the rock solid gameplay and mission design will help gamers look past the issue. Looks aren’t everything and this game proves it as much as any other; on the other side of things, the audio was very well done. I played the game using a pair of headsets that supported full 7.1 surround sound. The planes sounded awesome zooming by and the gun fire sounded accurate and intimidating.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to experience the one area that I think the game will truly excel in: multiplayer. When the full version is released, Damage Inc. will support a wide variety of multiplayer options including both cooperative and competitive modes. Four player cooperative will be supported for those who want to play with friends while those who prefer to shoot their friends out of the sky will have a couple of other options. Mad Catz has promised the inclusion of numerous game types for players to engage in online including classic dogfighting, team dogfights, survivor, team survivor, and “scratch one flattop”. Most of these modes are self-explanatory but scratch one probably requires a bit of explanation. In this mode, two separate teams will do battle to protect their individual aircraft carriers in the Pacific. The first team to sink the other one’s carrier wins; think of it as an aerial version of territories.
In just a few short weeks, gamers everywhere will be able to experience the world of Damage Inc. for themselves. The game will be available for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on August 28, 2012. The game will ship both as a standard game release and a part of the Collector’s Edition which includes the Saitek AV8R Flight Stick.