While it’s more than understandable that some people may harbor massive throbbing power fantasies about piloting airborne, heavily-armored death machines (there’s a dick joke in there somewhere), realistic flight simulators are truly awkward beasts to behold in today’s gaming world. Not many other game genres can deliberately focus on creating the most complex control interface possible or design an obnoxiously overcrowded HUD and still be considered fun. Touted as the “all helicopter combat game you’ve been waiting for,” Gaijin Entertainment’s Apache: Air Assault has just hit retailer shelves. So, how does the flight sim fare?
The first thing we need to touch on is the issue of control. Apache has two different difficulty modes to start: Training and Realistic. Realistic employs all of the subtle nuances that affect an attack helicopter during flight like wind resistance, current speed, position of the aircraft, alignment of the stars, etc. This basically means that your Apache handles like a dead elephant filled with wet cement; however, we can’t really knock the game for this. Flying a whirly bird is supposed to be difficult. What we will knock is the lack of any competent tutorials to help you understand the intricacies of flying an Apache. If you choose to play the game the way it’s meant to be played, get ready to spend some quality time with trial and error because the learning curve is steep and the game does very little to soften that particular blow. On the other hand, you can eschew all of the control issues for a more arcade-y feel with the much more forgiving Training difficulty if you’re a pretty pink fairy princess.
The game basically has no story or characters to speak of. Sure, each mission is prefaced by a giant wall of text that details the who, what, where and why of all the tiny little specs you’re shooting at, but you quantum leap into the roles of a couple different Apache pilot teams (all of whom you never get to actually see) conducting missions around the globe, so the overall narrative of the game is a veritable clusterf**k. The radio chatter is also incredibly sparse throughout missions. In the end, all you come away with is that there are terrorists, or pirates or pirate-terrorists and it’s your job to KILL THEY DEAD.
About 80% of the mission structure is “fly to this area and kill everything” with the other 20% relying on escort missions and defending ally NPCs that exhibit the self-preservation instincts of mentally challenged termites. Not that any of these objectives are really conveyed well (if at all). In the back of your mind, you know that the tiny little voices on the radio are trying to communicate something important, but you can’t hear any of that over the massive artillery you’re unloading along with the worthless action soundtrack that you’ve heard 20 freaking times because the game only has four freaking songs that all sound like a homogenized mishmash of every Call of Duty and Medal of Honor theme released to date. Completing each mission awards decals, paint jobs and different combat choppers that you can check out in Apache’s Hanger mode. Once you’ve pimped out your favorite helicopter, you can even take still shots and save the pictures if you’re a complete weirdo.
The game also has a local co-op function for the campaign where one player mans the guns and the other pilots the chopper, but this game mode’s design veers more towards destroying friendships than actually being fun. Both players share a single screen, which means that your friend gets to move the aiming reticule around while shouting at you to stop flying like such an asshole. Online multiplayer is a step in the right direction as each player gets his or her own Apache to tackle a set of cooperative missions, but that just means you aren’t going to be the only one nose-diving into a mountainside now.
Graphically, each helicopter shows a fair level of detail and the sprawling vistas can paint a pretty picture… from a distance. Once you look a little closer, the environments are ugly as sin and humans look like they’re made of cardboard. Nothing about this game looks like it belongs on a next-gen system.
It’s hard to recommend this game to anyone but the most hardcore of flight simulator fans. As in, you have to be unreasonably hardcore. As in, you have Apache-themed bedspread and keep a picture of a Boeing AH-64A in your wallet that you stare at longingly throughout the day.
Nov 30, 2010