There is something special about hovering at 1000 feet and guiding a high explosive hellfire missile from 2 kilometers away onto an unsuspecting bad guy. Apache: Air Assault has heaps of these “that was freakin’ sweet” moments. It’s a shame there are a few unnecessary shortcomings that take you out of what is otherwise an engaging helicopter sim ‘lite’.
The game boasts a 17 mission campaign, same-screen co-op, multiplayer co-op and free-flight missions. All of which are spread across Africa, Central America and Eastern Europe. The campaign’s story is non-existent with all of 2-3 cut scenes — even with reading the mission briefings I didn’t really care about what was happening. Anyway… the fun comes from flying the actual choppers. Same-screen campaign co-op has one player piloting and the second as gunner. Unfortunately this falls over a bit as you have to share the camera, which is a disappointment, the mode really cries out for true split-screen.
The co-op multiplayer element is deep, it’s just a shame that there aren’t the players out there to fill lobbies. I found some games and even with the language barrier they were great fun. One mode I played had me in an Apache and my co-op ‘buddie’ in a small drone. He had to locate and designate targets so I could ‘lock on’ and destroy them with Hellfires. Very cool.
Free flight lets you choose a mission and set all the elements including enemies, allies, their A.I level, weather, time of day, weapons etc… Overall the game modes have huge replayability and the post-mission cinematic replay lets you re-watch your slick flying.
The skill required to fly the choppers is the main difficulty governor. Training mode being easy like any arcade flight game, my 5 year-old could fly a chopper around no problem. Realistic mode is the game’s ‘hard’ difficulty level. You have 3 ‘lives’ and general flight controls like pitch and yaw, but also rotor torque, engine power and weapons to manage. Veteran mode is unlocked once finishing the campaign. This has the same flight controls as realistic but you have no spare lives, and no weapon reloads unless you land at a re-loading station. It’s brutally hard but great fun for the tactically minded.
I really enjoyed Realistic mode once I got a handle on my whirly bird. It was so satisfying dropping low down in a gorge and popping up at the last minute to do a strafing run of rockets across some helpless baddies. You carry a mix of weapons; the fire-and-forget hellfire laser guided missile, rockets that fire straight ahead, air to air when required, and the the mighty 30mm cannon with explosive rounds. The realistic flight mode combined with the detail in the weapons systems are what sold me on this game. Switching to TADS , it’s like the black & white heat imaging you see on the TV. It allows you to zoom in and pick off targets. You can even guide a hellfire onto targets by keeping the cross hairs on where you want an impact.
The game stumbles a bit when you consider the lack of mission variation and the enemies. Generally the mission is “fly here, blow up bad guys” with the right weapon. The difficulty ramps up but only by putting more and more enemies in the mission.
It’s not what I wanted in a Apache ’sim’ but I was just pleased to see a title hit the market in this genre. I have read a few non-fiction books on Apaches and it seems unrealistic to be taking on a battalion of tanks protected by anti-air and 4 Russian Hinds. This is unfortunately one of the final missions and it was “very” hard.
Still, one mission seemed a bit truer to the fiction; it had me doing low-level recon, then attacking small enemy vehicles with an ally Apache. They were shot down and I had to protect them until a pick-up — very Black Hawk Down and a lot of fun.
Graphics are a mixed bag, however Russian developer Gaijin have gone the whole hog in making helicopter replicas of their real world counter parts. The inside cock-pit view is brilliant (my preferred flying view) with little things like having your pilot’s arms and legs moving as you control the chopper. Or detail when the sun hits the canopy, seeing tiny scratches in the perspex, and the continually moving underbelly-cannon looking for targets. Lots of tiny touches that pay dividends, however you need to hold down on the D-Pad to allow free-look to see a lot of this stuff. I hate to say it but many gamers might never see or appreciate this detail.
The details on the other side of the coin are the landscapes and enemies. The mountains and valleys certainly don’t compare to a Red Dead Redemption sunset, but still serve their purpose of giving you terrain to fly past at speed, whilst feeling like winged death. In free-look, the shanty towns look fantastic whipping past the canopy at 100 feet, and trees collapsing after explosions — they just don’t look that flash up-close. The enemies are fine at a distance, but when you switch to your gun camera the limited details and animation show. It’s still very satisfying to lay down some rounds from the 30mm and see carnage, but for anyone who has watched YouTube the images feel a bit PG rated.
The audio is okay, with the radio chatter being the best part, there are some rare sound bugs that there is a patch ‘pending’ for. Overall the audio adds to the experience but certainly doesn’t revolutionise the genre. I reckon the music is straight out of Firebirds, so I went straight to a custom rock soundtrack on my 360 and it was a vast improvement.
Thankfully there is a sizable Demo on XBL and PSN which gives you a solid idea of what this title offers, so give it a go. I really like this game, but I should qualify that by adding that I am a bit of a fan of this (terribly bloody limited) genre. I should also say that at the time of writing it’s not due for release in NZ till later in 2011. So I imported it from the UK via Zavvi.co.uk for $40NZD and that makes it a bargain!
The core flying is brilliant, the weapons are great and little touches like ‘zoom’ on the left trigger (AKA third-person shooter controls) are a nice touch. The graphics do the job but the missions are only there to give you an excuse to use the choppers to rain carnage. It was released as a ‘budget’ title from Activision and I was just thankful to see a next-gen entry into this niche genre. If you are not a flight sim fan you probably won’t be able to forgive its short falls, but if you are a sim pilot, I say grab it. Then someone who speaks English can play the great co-op with me!