The planes look great
We all know what happened during World War II, thanks to the dozens of shooters it has spawned. We've been through Berlin, Moscow and even the sands of Africa on foot and on tanks. Damage Inc. tries to bring a fresh feeling to WWII by concentrating in the air warfare of the Pacific theater. And according to this game, the war was won by a single pilot.
The story begins when the main character gets fed up with the depression and joins the US Navy with his brother. He gets stationed in Pearl Harbor and after a few training missions, the Japanese make their suprise attack. His brother gets killed in the attack and our character vows revenge on the Japanese. And that's about it. There are no grand feelings or epic moments in this game; just you, your plane and the boring voice of the Control (which remains the same even though the country you're in changes).
The game takes place between the years 1941 - 1945 and it has all the major battlegrounds of the Pacific theater of WWII. There are 10 different locations in total and they're all familiar to anyone who has ever played a WWII game; you have Pearl Harbor and Wake Island for example. The game spans 23 missions, each lasting around 10-30 minutes (depending on your skills with an airplane). Each mission has multiple primary objectives which have to be completed in order for the mission to be successful, as well as secondary objectives that grant you upgrade points to upgrade your planes. There are over 30 historically accurate airplanes in the game, including the famous P-51 Mustang and F6F Hellcat. The planes are categorized according to their armament and depending on the mission, the selectable planes may vary. All the planes have upgradable statistics that include Guns, Armor, Agility and Speed.
The mission objectives vary from destroying enemy planes, sinking cruisers, scouting and bombing ground targets. All planes have machine guns as their primary weapon and some also have secondary weapon like bombs, rockets or even torpedos. When using a bomber, there's a target reticle that shows where the bomb will hit. Dive-bombers have similar reticle but you'll also have to get enough speed and approach your target in the correct angle to be able to drop the bombs. This proved to be extremely hard (mostly because of the over-sensitive gamepad) and it took me almost 30 minutes to sink a single ship. On the easiest difficulty level there's a small red dot in front of the enemy planes so you'll easily see where you have to shoot to hit it.
There are two different control schemes, Arcade and Simulation. I haven't played a lot of flight simulators so I sticked with Arcade. The controls are great and you'll immediately learn how to fly a plane. Even my cheap gamepad worked great with the game. The only downside was that there aren't any options to change the deadzone or any other thing on your controller so playing with a controller tends to be a bit sensitive. Nonetheless, I enjoyed playing the game. There's also a Reflex Mode which can be activated that zooms the screen a bit and puts everything in slow motion. It felt like cheating so I didn't use it. The camera can be changed to a cockpit view or following the plane (which turned out to be the best way to play the game, at the cost of some realism). Sometimes during a mission that has you scouting targets, the camera follows the target while you fly over it. This is extremely annoying, especially since you can't see where you're heading while the camera is fixed to a key location. Needless to say, I crashed into the ocean a few times during these moments.
The graphics in the game are decent. The planes are made with great attention to detail but especially the ground textures look ugly. There are trees, buildings and other stuff on the ground also but these look very bland. Luckily you'll spend most of the time in the air, away from the ugly textures. The animations are extremely well made, every flap works just like in real life and especially shooting down enemy planes is a joy; the plane starts smoking and eventually it'll explode into pieces that fly through the air and there's even a small parachute when the pilot ejects. Absolutely brilliant.
The sounds on the other left me in turmoil; the planes themself sound excellent and authentic but that's the only good thing I can say. The music (were there any?) was barely noticeable and especially the voice actors were horrible. When the main character loses his brother and screams "Nooo" without any emotion, I almost cried. Not because I felt sad for him but rather that I felt sorry the actor. This game has the worst voice acting since Final Fantasy X.
The game features extensive multiplayer modes. You've got the basic deathmatch and team deathmatch modes (aptly named Dogfight and Team Dogfight), Survivor and Team Survivor (basically deathmatch but with limited lives) but also an interesting mode called Scratch One Flattop (SOF). In SOF, two teams battle to sink each others aircraft carriers. There are different roles for the players in this game mode, varying from fighters who give air support to bombers who try to sink the enemy ships. This proved to be the most played game mode and definitely the most enjoyable also. There are also cooperative missions available and the whole campaign can be played with a friend. A definitive plus in my books.
Technically the game is rather mediocre. There are no graphical settings available, you can only set the resolution, fullscreen mode and vsync. Same goes with the control settings; sure you can assign buttons but as I mentioned earlier, you can't adjust the deadzone or anything like that on your controller. This is ridiculous since the game is meant to be played with a flight stick. The Collector's Edition even comes boxed with a Saitek flight stick so it makes even less sense. Otherwise the game ran good with a capped FPS of 30 and it doesn't even require the latest hardware to run; a decent dual core with GeForce 7800/Radeon HD2600 is enough for it.
As much as I enjoyed the game, there was a game-stopping bug/script issue in the 9th mission. I did exactly what the objectives said but the game didn't progress. I was left adrift with my trusty upgraded dive-bomber with nothing to do. No enemy planes, no new objectives, nothing. I contacted the customer support and after I waited for a week, I got a generic response in the lines of "Are you still having the issue?". Outrageous. I doubt they even read my message.
At it's current state (and bearing in mind that the game was released in May) I really can't recommend this game for anyone. Awful storyline, extremely poor voice acting, no settings to speak of and the fact that the campaign can't be finished weigh a lot more than the enjoyable gameplay and the great online modes the game has. Once this hits the bargain bins (I wouldn't wait for a patch since the game has been on the market for 4 months already) I might recommend picking it up. But don't pay more than 5€ ($6/£4) for it.
Look, I found a lump!