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ONE Gamer issue 145
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Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers

Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers
11:10, 18th Feb 2013
We really, really wanted to like Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers. There's not much in the way of aerial combat games at the moment, even less in the classic WWII field (and perhaps it'll be that way for some time, given how well Ace Combat Assault Horizon turned the genre into a modern FPS in the sky). And to its credit, the game really does a decent job of dropping you into slick dogfights and tense bombing runs, and we can see the potential for good things. But after an hour or so of enjoying what's right about the action, the number of things wrong becomes abundantly clear.

To start with the positive, Pacific Carriers takes you out to the high seas, with the option to play out key battles from the war from the perspective of either the US or the Japanese Navy. Choosing a side doesn't change a great deal, other than the nature of your targets and whose turn it is to play attack or defence, but it does enable you to see the events and intentions from a fresh angle.

There are three key types of plane for you to jump into, with the nimble Fighters primed for those fast-paced dogfights, Bombers for dive-bombing ships for maximum damage and Torpedos for taking out submarines and carriers. Each handles notably differently and there's a decent feel to each craft, with each capable of doing the others' job to some degree (fighters can still bomb, bombers can trade bullets), and in terms of feeling authentic and being fun to fly, Pacific Carriers does a commendable job.

Taking the planes into action, the developers have also done a fair job in mixing things up a little. You've got your usual array of air and ground targets to take out, as well as Watchtower missions where you need to scout for dangers from the deck of your carrier. Though poorly explained and rather basic, they're a nice diversion from the rat-a-tat-tat action and also have the added bonus of enabling you to pick out castaway pilots who've been shot down in earlier missions.

By changing up the type of craft, we were quite enjoying the combination of taking out Japanese planes and using the various bombing techniques to destroy hangars, factories and sinking destroyers and enemy carriers. The controls are slick and there's a handy icon for 'leading' enemy planes into your trail of bullets - though hardened gamers can opt for simulation controls, which add rudder responsibilities to the triggers and remove most of the extra assists.

There's also a nice hot-swapping mechanic, which enables you to switch between planes in your squad on the fly. This is handy to save yourself if your plane is about to burst into flames or run out of ammo, as dying craft will retreat back to base (out of the game but saving the pilot) while those in good nick will top up on bombs and bullets. It's a good system that serves the game well, and things really should have been a lot more enjoyable for the long haul.

Sadly, however, it seems that there was precious little time (or budget) for polishing and playtesting, because Pacific Carriers soon gets torn apart by a succession of glitches and frustrations. When a section in the manual is still written in German (the European publisher is from Frankfurt), you know that things have been rushed to hit a retail date - and this really was just the tip of the iceberg.

The optional side-missions have briefings AFTER the plane select menu, meaning that you might have selected fighters for a mission geared towards a torpedo run - and you can only swap between pilots of the same squad, whereas missions involving all three plane types would have been perferable. The AI can be rubbish, with regular mid-air collisions wiping us out, while in one mission we stayed with one pilot while the other six in our squad promptly died, leaving us out of ammo and with no way to resupply or win the battle single-handed.

Failed missions still registered as a success (as if we were doomed to failure to avoid rewriting history, but no mention was ever given to this) and the bombing is woefully inconsistent, with the targeting system quite literally being hit and miss unless you are able to take a direct run at a stretched-out target. Ground targets can be poorly marked, and we even found numerous enemies firing at us that weren't marked on the HUD, only identifiable when up close or on the attack. None are game-breaking flaws, but they quickly add up.

There is some potential for added value in the multiplayer modes, with a nice Sink the Carrier option for two sides to balance tactics as they attack their enemy's carrier, while having to also defend their own. Plus there's an Instant Battle mode for 20-plane AI dogfights and a Survive! mode (think Cuba Gooding Jr in Pearl Harbor) that gets very boring, very quickly. But sadly, despite Pacific Carriers offering some solid aerial combat, it is still far from being an accomplished pilot.
There's a fair amount to like about Pacific Carriers, with some entertaining dogfighting mixed in nicely with tense bombing runs and a few other twists. Despite some rather basic production values, it does a decent job in bringing some intense battles to life and there's enough content on the disc to keep you airborne for some time. However, it's painfully flawed in so many ways that it simply feels unfinished, and the action can get tiring rather quickly. Air combat fans will have plenty to keep them happy, but those merely curious may want to consider a rental or maybe wait for the late January sales before dropping a payload of cash on this one.
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