Downing enemy aircraft is a war of attrition fought against mildly schizophrenic targets and their insistence on incessantly trembling. Hovering your cross hairs over a small, dancing red dot makes up the bulk of Damage Inc.'s gameplay, yet feels like it could easily have been a mini-game from Mario Party. Or even worse, a rejected mini-game from Mario Party.
It makes sense that you would need to fire into your enemy's path to hit them, but focusing the player's attention solely on a marker in front of enemies creates a disconnect between action and end-goal, made worse by a slight delay from landing the final shot to enemies eventually exploding.
Having said that, there is something perversely enjoyable about taking out enemies. Though this comes more from the knowledge that you've succeeded against a system that tried its best to prevent you, than any genuine thrill. That's not to say there are no moments of unscripted excitement. A few dogfights come down to playing chicken before landing the final bullet at the last moment then flying triumphantly through the flames of the enemy's craft, while taking out ground troops and vehicles with a well-timed swooping flyby is as satisfying as it sounds. The problem is these moments of exhilaration, though great fun, are disappointingly irregular.
Most of the time, missions are spent hunting markers on the map and destroying them before they arrive at their destination. The only time you'll see the game over screen is when you fail to, for example, stop some bombers arriving at your base, or if you accidentally plunge into the sea. It's as if the Japanese forgot to pack their bullets, such is the rarity that you will get shot at, let alone actually downed by enemy fire.
Some missions mix things up by having you pilot a spy plane and indulge in a bit of reconnaissance. Variety is welcomed over the 23 missions that make up the solo campaign, but flying low and slow over a building isn't quite what Damage Inc. needs to spice things up.
Set-pieces are non-existent and though the back of the box promises recreations of famous battles from the Pacific Theatre, you’ll hardly notice the difference. The Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor conjures none of the panic and confusion that must have been felt by those involved and somehow manages to be even less intense than the opening of 2004’s Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault.
Bland graphics don’t help the cause. The planes and other vehicles look OK, but Damage Inc.’s world is a mess of dull, low-resolution textures. Despite this, slowdown is still evident and with the arrival of the game’s busier battles it becomes intrusive, making lining up shots even more frustrating than normal.
This frustration is taken to new heights when playing online with someone with a weak connection, as their plane skips along the sky, impossible to hit. Regardless of connection quality, most matches, whether team or solo, end with low score lines and dizzy players who are tired of chasing each other in endless loop the loops. An extra mode that sees you attack and defend ground targets is more interesting but still unlikely to hold players' attention for long. Online co-op, as always, is a welcome addition, but one that adds little to the overall experience and sometimes causes shockingly low framerates.
Dated menus, barely animated cut-scenes and wooden voice acting give the impression that Damage Inc. is a budget game; a feeling that endures thanks to the poor graphics, temperamental controls and boring online battles. Sadly, the price tag says otherwise. If you relish the prospect of flying over 30 authentically modeled WWII aircraft and don't mind paying a Hollywood price for a B-movie experience then by all means, get involved. For anyone else who's still keen - hold tight - Damage Inc. will likely be gracing a bargain bin near you soon.