This World War II Dogfighter Barely Feels Like a Mad Catz Game AnymoreS

When peripheral maker Mad Catz first announced it was going into the game publishing business, I laughed. When I got my first look last year at what was then called War Wings: Hell Catz, I laughed harder. Last week I got a chance to play the newly-renamed Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII, I'm not laughing nearly as hard.

I'm still laughing a little bit at the idea of a peripheral company launching a publishing arm, especially when the game, due out in late August, is available in a $99.99 Mad Catz flight stick bundle for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Selling hardware is still a factor (the game alone runs $49.99), but without a solid game that really doesn't matter.

And I'll be damned, this is a solid game.

Featuring more than 30 different realistically rendered World War II aircraft, Damage Inc. flies armchair pilots through more than 12 hours of single-player story missions, from Pearl Harbor on up to whatever it was that happened after Pearl Harbor. Ben Affleck has muddled the entire time period for me. Up to four players can take on the story via multiplayer co-op. They'll take-off from aircraft carriers, land on aircraft carriers, sit at the pause screen on aircraft carriers... there'll be a lot of aircraft carriers is what I'm trying to say.

I played through a little bit of the game using Mad Catz's signature stick, which is a bit too light for my tastes but gets the job done. It was a pleasant (if somewhat dizzying) experience. I switched between cockpit, first-person and exterior views effortlessly, utilizing a red dot in the middle of the screen to unleash machine gun fire at my targets. Having spent years playing games that rely too much on missiles, a solid flying machine gun is a wonderful thing.

The graphics have advanced in leaps and bounds since last year. It's not quite up to Ace Combat quality, but it's certainly attractive, a great deal more attractive then what Mad Catz tried to pass off last year. Planes are upgradable and fully customizable via points earned flying missions, just like in the real World War II. And if realism scares you, the game features both simulation and arcade controls for those pansies that can't fly a real plane, like me.

This World War II Dogfighter Barely Feels Like a Mad Catz Game AnymoreS

Damage Inc. also delivers on the multiplayer front, with five competitive game modes for up to eight players

In a console generation where quality flight combat games are few and far between, Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron WWII might have a real shot at success. Come August I might actually have a good reason to drag my flight stick out of the closet. Hori will be so pleased.