Mission variety adds spice to both Pacific Carriers and Dogfight 1942.
Fans of Pacific War air combat sims have plenty of options these days, as several titles are now available from Steam (steampowered.com), two of which are compared here. Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers ($30, airconflicts.net/home? lang_new=en) follows historical naval air battles between the United States and Japan. Dogfight 1942 ($15, dogfight1942.com/en) visits multiple fronts of World War II, but features plenty of Pacific action.
Pacific Carriers aspires to be many different games in one. Single-player campaigns allow virtual pilots to fly for the U.S. or Japan, with graphics that at times evoke the works of aviation artist William Phillips. A broad array of experiences are available: Flyable aircraft include the Grumman F4F Wildcat, Douglas SBD Dauntless and Grumman TBF Avenger, and players get the chance to dogfight, dive-bomb and torpedo bomb.
The implementation is interesting though flawed. It’s easy to stall an airplane, but flight models otherwise aren’t thoroughly authentic. Carrier landings don’t involve catching a wire, and the virtual cockpits aren’t as robust as those seen in cutting-edge sims like IL-2 Sturmovik. A few details are laughably off, such as conning towers placed on the port sides of the carriers.
I enjoyed some features, particularly the torpedo bombing, which proved to be a good way to learn how challenging the job was in real life. Despite a handy visual aid showing the bomber’s speed, altitude and attitude against the torpedo launch parameters, it’s still difficult to get a weapon in the water within range and properly aimed at a moving target.
Pacific Carriers also adds squadron personnel management to the mix. Pilots improve as they gain experience, and players can modify the assignments for a sortie based on the situation. I found the personnel factor weakly implemented, however, since the computer pilots showed no personality and experience perks had little noticeable effect.
Variety is really the big draw in Pacific Carriers. Some missions have players in lookout or anti-aircraft stations, for example, watching for incoming threats to the fleet. Unfortunately, the aforementioned issues and other problems, such as system crashes and poorly implemented joystick controls, hurt the game. The developers support the release and patch it rapidly, but for discriminating gamers it’s ultimately mediocre.
Variety takes a different form with Dogfight 1942, which lacks some of Pacific Carrier’s non-flying features and is less realistic but sports more aircraft varieties and theaters. Like Pacific, it’s an arcade game based on historical missions, but it isn’t spectacular or innovative. It seems more stable and has a cleaner but less artistic look.
Both games offer passable arcade-style fun, but even with its problems I would prefer to play Pacific Carriers, given its multitude of options and play types and its appealing visual ambiance.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.