A game review by Bobulous.
A game by Razorworks. A realistic combat helicopter simulation featuring the latest in US-produced and Russian-produced warfare technology.
Full price is £29.99, but I got it for £15.00 at Electronics Boutique in Camden by taking advantage of a promotion that offered the game half-price if you bought it with a Microsoft Sidewinder Precision Pro.
No problems at all.
First, a warning: I'm normally a 3D action-shooter game fan, so my review of this game is set against almost zero knowledge of the serious simulation genre. So any hardcore simulation veterans might disagree entirely with my opinion. Therefore, this review is for frag-heads who also understand that realism is good sometimes.
That out of the way, I'll make it clear now that I'm glad I've expanded my range of gaming experience. This game is great fun, and it actually means something to get good at the game and wonder if you could do the same in the real world. Not a feeling you could easily apply to a bit of Unreal Tournament, unless you can really picture yourself leaping from the roof of one skyscraper to another, carrying ten different weapons and once while taking rockets to the head. There is a type of satisfaction you can only get from pitting yourself against realism.
I'd never been in control of a realistic helicopter model before, but this didn't stop me throwing myself straight into the game (using the Free Flight mode), stopping only briefly to look up in the Keyboard Guide where the start button was at. The first flight I made, I didn't have the joystick configured, so I didn't have any fluid control over the rotor power (a fairly important factor in how much speed and lift your helicopter has), nor could I find the control for the tail rotor (which, basically, allows you to rotate). Needless to say, no one was surprised when communications from that flight abruptly ended.
But, after reading the Ground School section of the manual, configuring the joystick and taking in the (many) controls, I was soon able to move about free as a bird. A seriously lost, confused, bird who would be rejected for a flying licence, but a bird nonetheless. With some practice, I could land the helicopter. A bit more practice and I could land the thing where it was supposed to land. A bit more reading and I worked out that combat helicopters come with weapons, and soon I could use the targetting system on realistic mode. Quickly, I was able to enter Skirmish mode and complete missions successfully, and, finally, I was ready to start a Campaign as a valuable combat pilot. All in all, the transformation from "what the Hell is a tail rotor?" to "damn, I'm caught in a vortex ring! I better slide out of it to regain lift" took about five hours of reading, experimenting and practicing in Skirmish missions. All of which was an enjoyable experience. Simulation veterans will probably get into the game in under an hour, checking where the specific controls are and then getting a feel for the appearance and handling of each helicopter.
So, into battle. Once you've any ability at all in handling the helicopter and using the weapons system, you'll want to enter Skirmish mode or Campaign mode. Skirmish mode is basically a very small Campaign, suitable for practice and, as they have less objects involved, for low-bandwidth Internet games. Starting either mode will present you with a choice: Blue force or Red force. Blue force is made up of US war technology, and you get to fly the Comanche; Red force consists of Russian-made helicopters, planes, tanks, and ships and you get to fly the Hokum. That decision made, you're presented with the Campaign & Mission Planning screen, showing the positions of all your force's units, and the positions of all enemy forces known to be in the area. At the left you're shown the missions that need to be assigned. You're free to accept any available mission, and these include things like air patrols, ground strikes and anti-ship strikes. The Campaign Screen is very informative and as quick and simple to use as you like. For the very impatient, there's an auto-select button that chooses a mission and helicopter gunship for you. Mission accepted and confirmed, you can alter the payload of weapons and check the mission briefing. Then it's time to get into the cockpit.
The graphics in the game are very nice. At all times in-flight, you can look around inside the cockpit, even see your own legs (something you can't do in any decent first-person shooter yet) or turn to look at the co-pilot or up at the rotors blades blurring above you. And there are several external views to enjoy. You'll probably spend most time looking at the in-helmet display (in the Comanche) or the head-up display (in the Hokum), though, checking your speed, altitude and climb-rate. The multi-function displays are also essential for working out where you've got to get to and what enemy are about.
Having never been in a helicopter before, this is going to sound stupid . . . but the flight model feels realistic. At all times in-flight you can appreciate the complexity of the physics involved (though a lot of these features can be disabled to make practice easier). To fly low-level, like a good combat gunship pilot should, takes a lot of practice and concentration, a real feel for the behaviour and of the helicopter and how it responds to your control. I can just about manage my own unique brand of low-level flying, though it all goes horribly wrong when I engage the enemy or when a range of mountains faces me. As soon as I hear "incoming missile, nine o' clock", all thoughts about stealth go out the window and I end up soaring thousands of metres into the air, attracting the attention of every SAM site in the area. But, for the more skilled pilot, stealth is an important consideration. Flying low, keeping the radar off, retracting the landing gear, all help a lot, and the Comanche goes further, offering the ability to stow weapons inside the body of the craft, so that there's less radar reflection. Hills and trees offer cover that allows pop-up attacks, and Hellfire missiles offer a LOAL mode that permits firing from behind cover. Night-vision allows flying missions in the dark. Combine all this with speed and manoeuvrability, and a good gunship pilot can be a devastating force in a campaign.
When playing a campaign, your actions and success rate greatly affect the outcome. If you succeed, you reduce the enemy's forces and allow your force's ground units to advance. If you fail, you cost your force the loss of a very valuable (in strategic terms) combat helicopter, and allow the enemy to continue holding power over the part of the map you were asked to deal with. It's all very rewarding when it's going right. You even get promotions of rank and medals to add to your profile (which also includes your weapon efficiency statistics, flying time, success rate and the number of kills you've achieved).
All together, the number of options and the amount of control you have is heavily impressive. People who like to make things difficult for themselves can also take over the role of the co-pilot gunner, doing the task of identifying targets themselves using the target display screen and the recognition guide in the manual. You can also wrest control of the missile countermeasures from him, launching chaff and flares yourself, but I prefer to leave the computer to play the role of my co-pilot while I concentrate on flying badly and dodging all the missiles I'm attracting. Making it to your target area while dealing with SAMs and enemy helicopters is thrilling stuff, and easily as much fun as a wild deathmatch.
The gameplay and phsyics are superb. Playing campaigns is rewarding because of the importance of your role and the effect you have on the big picture.
Sound effects are good. Graphics are very nice, but a couple of things bug me, such as the transition from a warm sunset to a mid-day setting, which happens in a snap rather than changing gradually.
A complex game but one that people new to simulations should have no problem getting started with. Exciting enough to entertain fans of deathmatch. An excellent game with no serious flaws.