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Apache: Air Assault – first look

Apache: Air Assault takes the formula of IL-2 Sturmovik and applies it to choppers: focus on what makes the machines awesome down to a pornographic level, and then provide a wide range of options that allow both kick-back arcade arm-chair flyboys and super detail-oriented sim freaks to get their whup-whup-whup fix.Spanning sixteen missions in its solo campaign, Apache will provide a big, sprawling landscape that virtual pilots can then systematically clear cut with missiles, rockets, and machine gun fire.

Above: "FUUUU, what used to be the Amazon rainforest!"

The storyline follows three different Apache crews all over the world, lacing the proceedings with typical Tom Clancy-ish vague, pseudo-political malarkey which of course is just window dressing designed to give players an excuse to go psychotic in a hovering death machine. We really don’t know anything about the story yet, so it could be awesome, but how many will pay attention when there are two legged “foot mobiles” scurrying around just asking to be turned into pink mist by bullets the size of cigars?

Every option has been arrayed at your finger tips in Apache so you can experience it how you want. There’s a training mode, which is really easy mode with all the more complicated factors automated for you. There’s the Realistic mode, which is a lot tougher but actually isn’t truly realistic when you consider the Veteran mode, which limits your ammo to what a real Apache could carry and gives you only one life with which to complete a mission. We have to admit that sounds tempting even if it could be horribly difficult, if only for the immersion factor and tension of flying like a real chopper pilot.

Above: And continuing with our environmental theme, imagine what will happen to the sea life when this oil rig goes up in a big orange ball?

As in real Apache helicopters, here there is a gunner and a pilot, and when you’re playing solo you can control each independently and even jump with a press of a button from one seat in the cockpit to the other. Cockpit too restrictive? Jump outside for a third-person cam. You can also click on the auto-hover mode and swap to a satellite cam, which gives a handy top-down perspective for figuring out who’re you’re going to hamburger next.

While there is no versus multiplayer component, there is substantial cooperative content. First, the solo missions can be played in local two-player co-op with one player as the pilot and one as the gunner. It takes some careful play for the pilot to get positioning for the gunner and to hold the chopper steady. We saw some of it in action and it definitely is a fresh take on standard co-op, making the player feel like part of a real two-man team.

Above: For some reason we're hearing the opening music of Predator in our heads

There is also an online, four-player co-op campaign that has thirteen unique missions, completely separate from the single-player campaign. We haven’t gotten to see that yet, although we can picture less organized players turning their efforts into a hilarious version of sky bumper cars as they scramble to take out the same ground targets. And finally, there’s also a Free Flight mode where you can customize your own sandbox, choosing the enemies and weather and then just going for ultra-destruction.

What we saw of the game wasn’t super good-looking, but then it makes sense considering all of the buildings, trees, vehicles and troops the engine has to render along with some serious draw distances. Besides, simulation enthusiasts don’t care about perfect graphics – they want realistic physics and details, and Apache seems to be bursting with them. And how many helicopter games are even out there for consoles? The good news is, if you’re jonesing for some rotary blade action, it looks like Apache: Air Assault won’t have to be something you settle for. We’ll know for sure when the game comes out on November 16.

Above: Seriously, look at how many buildings there are

Oct 18, 2010

My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.