Damage Inc. Pacific Squadron WWII -- Game Impressions
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 3rd Sep 2012
--== Damage Inc., Pacific Squadron World War II ==--
First impressions of this game were formed at the Mad Catz Booth at the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3 2012) and while those first impressions were positive over-all, they also serve as an object lesson in why the first impressions you form of a game under the pressure and time limits of events like E3 are often inadequate to find the heart of a title. We liked Damage Inc. at E3, but the impression that was formed during the ten minutes that we had to play it there was of a frenetic and fun piston-based warplane fight-fest shooter. It turns out that in addition to being all that, Damage Inc. is more -- way more -- because its very loose story in the campaign mode incorporates a large number of vintage newsreel images, some surprises in the form of historic events that you often inadvertence take part in, and with its variety of mission types, it does not end up feeling like playing the same level over and over, which is often a risk in this type of game.
Based on the strength of my second-first-impression of the game it really deserves mentioning before we get to the proper start of this piece, so here goes: Most console-based combat-flight-sim gamers who cut their teeth on the sub-genre did so with games like JASF and Over G (and other jet-based games) which while a very cool experience is also very different compared to Damage Inc. Actually the game play in Damage Inc. is a lot different from some of the other piston-based WWII sims I have played as well, though it certainly shares many of the common traits of the sub-genre. Specifically though the game play experience here is much more intimate than I was expecting.
At least part of the cause for this unexpected intimacy has to do with the fact that the planes are slower and the lack of "smart weapons" like computer or heat-guided fire-and-forget missiles that allow for and encourage a very impersonal style of play are absent here. Each of the enemy and their planes are bit the momentary distractions that they present in jet-based combat and in many of the other WWII themed shooters; rather than unleash a steam of lead so that you can instantly move on to the next momentary distraction, a pattern of play emerges that essentially forces the player not to distance themselves from the enemy! Rather than presenting as a flitting symbol with an imaginary flashing sign on it that blinks "Target - Shoot Me!" the enemy pilots are almost self-aware and pose a threat to the player, not just because they shoot at them but because they do so in a persistent and intentional manner...
While the enemy in Damage Inc. properly fills their designated role of nifty-looking moving target that you blow up with technicolor displays of high-explosive pyrotechnics mixed with aviation fuel, they go a small but very important step further in that they are created to demonstrate a level of commitment towards killing you that most games somehow lack. The enemy here -- while admittedly still NPC-based pilots -- are clearly written to present tenacity and the intent to kill. Because of that it is a common experience to be pursued by them.
The thing about that though is that you end up spending more time and effort in dealing with them, from taking much greater care in setting up your attacks (because by necessity the weapons of the era required you to be much closer in order to use them effectively) and when you do attack it is a much more specific and active feel of combat than simply lobbing a smart weapon at a distant enemy who may only be a blip on your radar because you fired your missile at them from 15 kilometers away! The process of setting up a deflection shot, or planning out a reverse Immelmann is more involved than waiting for your weapon system to chirp or your RIO to call out the location of the target. In simple terms this is a much more elegant type of air combat.
There is a measure of expectation for how combat will unfold in the game, so I can easily imagine the shocked surprise of the Japanese pilots as, packed tightly together in their travel formation when they topped the mountain and began to descend into the valley on one of the islands in the Midway chain, they found themselves looking into the business-end of a swarm of unguided rockets tipped with high-explosive warheads. Before they reached the combat area and their formation split up there was a cloud death in the form of rockets that had been fired in their general direction by some crazy pilot (me) of a P-38 Lighting -- which every simmer knows is the dual-engine pride of Lockheed's "Just How Strange Looking a Warplane Do You Think We Can Design" Division.
It was on of the most feared aircraft to appear in the skies of the combat zones in which it was used, and it made a definite impression on the enemy who had to face it and defend against its very lethal attacks! The Japanese nicknamed the P-38 "two planes, one pilot" (Ni hikoki, ichi pairotto) while the German pilots who faced it in combat called it "the fork-tailed devil" (der Gabelschwanz-Teufel). It was not uncommon for newer pilots who lacked veteran experience to turn tail and run when they encountered one, because the plane had a supernatural reputation among the Japanese pilots and ground troops, who found its incredibly quiet engines (the sound of the engines was heavily muffled by the fitting of turbo chargers to them to increase their speed which reaches more than 400MPH), and the incredibly bright flash that erupted form the nose whenever its pilot triggered all four of its MG's and its cannon at the same time gave it a natural association with the flying dragons of myth and legend.