By Joseph Luster

It’s been a fairly long road for Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII, which started its life as War Wings: Hell Catz, but the latest in World War II dogfighting action is finally here. From the outset, things will feel pretty at home to anyone remotely familiar with arcade-centric flight games, but after putting some time into Damage Inc. with a standard controller, it becomes clear that this sortie was developed primarily with its key peripheral in mind. Enter: Mad Catz’s Saitek Pacific AV8R Flightstick. Owning one will likely determine how much fun you ultimately have with Trickstar Games’ high-flying wartime action game.

Damage Inc: Pacific Squadron WWII

Picking up after the tragic events of Pearl Harbor, Damage Inc. sees you and your brother suiting up for war, as you enter the Air Force and he joins the Marines. With the brutal impetus the Japanese attack provides, the United States is thrust into war, thus

kicking off a series of aerial missions that range from dogfighting with enemy aircraft, escorting bombers and protecting ground troops, taking out the opposition’s key installations, and more. It all adds up to 23 missions spread across 11 locations, from 1941 to 1945, finally building to an explosive finale with a mission taking place at the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Damage Inc. offers plenty of planes—32 in total—to unlock and upgrade throughout, and they don’t skimp on the points with which to do so. From the outset Trickstar was very vocal about their efforts toward historical accuracy with the aircraft, and it shows in the final product. The missions themselves enjoy a fairly steady increase in difficulty and, like most any other flight game, can get a bit overwhelming later on, especially when it comes to key escort objectives. I can’t think of the last time I played a flight game without an abundance of defensive sorties, so it kind of comes with the territory. As usual, though, they’re one of the least enjoyable aspects of the outing.

Visually this one is kind of a mixed bag. Folks who pick it up on PC might be able to squeeze a little more juice out of it, but one would be hard-pressed to tell Damage Inc. apart from any other dogfighter released in the last few years. The planes look pretty nice, but quite a few of the environments are just plain bland. Historical accuracy aside, it wouldn’t hurt some of the games in the genre to pull out a little something special stylistically, especially when the game engine isn’t anything particularly exceptional. For the most part players shouldn’t be bothered by the visuals, though, as it’s kind of tough to gripe about the quality of a building model when swooping toward it and unloading a volley of missiles at breakneck speed.

It all controls decently as is—for review we played it on Xbox 360—but, seeing as this is published by peripheral maker Mad Catz, the advantage their joystick provides is readily apparent. The aforementioned Flightstick comes packed with the special edition of Damage Inc., which also includes a custom decal kit, and the exclusive downloadable Reaper Corsair plane. While the equipment does feel a bit light overall, the Flightstick really shines in Simulation mode, offering the most precise control over the various aircraft. Despite the advantage the AV8R provides, it’s still only really recommended to true flight game enthusiasts. Those who just choose to casually dip their feet in the genre likely won’t appreciate the finer differences between playing with this and the standard setup. It’s just a nice touch offered to those who are more hardcore about the genre, and it also works with a bunch of other games, from Birds of Prey to Ace Combat 6. There are even more compatible titles on PC, though one would imagine dedicated PC flight sim fans might already have a superior stick on hand.

As far as Trickstar’s work goes, Damage Inc. is a marked improvement over J.A.S.F.: Jane’s Advanced Strike Fighters, but it isn’t without its flaws. Some aspects of the campaign can be frustrating no matter what controls are implemented, and the overall product lacks polish where it could have attempted to stand out more. PC gamers have a few more choice options on deck, but console-bound flight enthusiasts may want to give this one a spin, especially those in need of a flightstick bundle that won’t completely eradicate the bank.

Publisher: Mad Catz
Developer: Trickstar Games
System(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Available: Now

Hearts of Iron III: Their Finest Hour

The last Hearts of Iron III expansion we previewed in these pages was For the Motherland, and now we’re back for more. Hearts of Iron III: Their Finest Hour puts players back in the commander’s seat with new units, strategies, and game mode enhancements to assist in defeating all that stand in the way of victory. One of the key enhancements in Their Finest Hour comes in the form of covert operations, which are part of the expansion’s improved espionage system, allowing players to destroy the enemy from within.

A new battle plan mode lets you load historical plans, draw your own, and share it all in real-time with multiplayer allies. New units in Their Finest Hour include elite operatives—Ghurkas, Rangers, Imperial Guards, and more—for the armies of each major nation. Other improvements include a deeper naval invasion system, a lend-lease system that increases control over strategic warfare, a new combat tactics system that places more importance on leaders gaining and allocating traits, a faster-paced new mode for single and multiplayer, and two new battle scenarios: the Finnish Winter War and the Spanish Civil War.

By the time this issue hits stands, Hearts of Iron III: Their Finest Hour will be available to all as a Windows download. Those who are still knee-deep in Paradox Development Studio’s grand strategy title should find plenty more to extend that fun with in this expansion.

Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Development Studio
System(s): PC
Available: Now (Expansion)

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