Yeah, but can it beat Airwolf?
Be one of the first to fly the U.S. Army's most sophisticated assault helicopter, the RAH-66 Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopter. Although it doesn't go into full production until 2006, the Army has commissioned a half dozen to be made in 2001 for testing and other preliminary work.
But if what I've seen in Novalogic's new chopper game Comanche 4 is any indication, then this is truly a craft to be proud of. The Comanche is quiet as a church mouse, faster than Speedy Gonzales and more heavily armed than the gun-toting mice from Max Payne.
Where a game like Max Payne is rich with intricate plot lines, Comanche4 is devoid of any story to connect your missions. Instead, the missions are splintered into six campaigns with five missions each, for a total of 30 missions.
Each campaign has a certain scene - desert, cityscapes, snow setting and so on. But this is all that connects the missions to one another. While this does make the game seem a bit disjointed, it also allows you to run the missions in any order within a given campaign. It's built just like the original Delta Force, another Novalogic title. Call me old-fashioned, but ultimately I prefer a cohesive plot of some sort to really polish off the gameplay.
And trust me, this game could use a little polish because the gameplay can get a little monotonous. You get to shoot at all kinds of enemies - infantry, armored ground units, other copters, airplanes, boats, UPCs, tanks and others. Unfortunately, all you really do is shoot at stuff.
In trying to make this game more accessible to casual gamers, Novalogic has left out a good deal of substance. It would have been nice if they added a bit more depth, like helicopter customization or some other game modes. The result is predictable gameplay that doesn't leave much reason to be replayed once the missions have been completed.
The missions themselves cover a range of objectives and will keep you on your toes. You'll be ordered to escort, covertly follow enemy aircraft, perform area defense, dog fight and more. But often the objectives will change suddenly, and before you know it, anti-aircraft guns, Hokums, Hinds and other deadly enemy ordinances have surrounded you...and their aim is anything but inaccurate. Better get used to those controls quick.
Luckily, learning to breathe is probably the only thing easier than Comanche's control. It reminds me of the intuitive gameplay we found in the popular Crimson Skies and the not-so-popular Echelon. It's a blessing for the financially deprived gamer, as there is absolutely no need for extra peripherals like flight sticks or gamepads. I have the awesome Saitek X36 and I used it exactly once, just long enough for me to realize I didn't want to waste time mapping all of the controls.
Anyone familiar with first-person shooters will quickly get the hang of flying low and strafing around trees, one-button targeting and using the mouse wheel (providing you have one) to cycle through weapons. The game offers three preset altitudes for your flying convenience, with the added option of full control via the Shift and Ctrl keys. These buttons allow you to manually control your altitude for more precision. You even get a "pop-up" button (Spacebar) that permits you to quickly pop up and lay down some sweet offense on any unsuspecting passersby. Release the pop-up to return to your previous altitude. The control is really intuitive and is responsible for much of the game's success.
A couple other interesting features include issuing commands to wingmen and the mechanics behind operating your landing gear and bay door. The former is incredibly simple. When you have wingmen you press the 7 key to bring down a list of six commands. They are few, but effective. Command them to defend or attack your target, follow and engage, follow only and a couple others. Very nice.
Make sure you raise your landing gear and close your bay doors when not in use, as it helps reduce your signature on radar by concealing one of the Comanche's main heat sources. That's at least what the manual states. Honestly, they seem to find me just fine whether my doors are open or not. Still, it's fun to hide on the ground out of sight and then suddenly pop up for an ambush while raising your landing gear and opening your bay doors to fire off a series of heat-seeking devilry.
Speaking of weapons, the Comanche is packing more heat than mid-June. When the bay doors are closed, the only weapon you'll see is the menacing three-barreled cannon known as the 20MM Turreted Gun System (TGS). This little monster is linked to the pilot's helmet and can swivel a full 240 degrees, enabling the TGS to hit anything the pilot can see from the cockpit.
The uninitiated may underestimate the Comanche until those bay doors drop, armed with air-to-air Stinger missiles, laser-guided Hellfire missiles and Hydra rockets. In addition to all that firepower, you can call in an artillery strike. Once you target a location, high-explosive artillery rains down like the sky is falling. It's a cool weapon, but lacks punch due to the game's limited graphics.
Indeed, this is one area that could use some retooling, as Comanche 4's aesthetic appeal is merely decent but not very impressive. Novalogic has dispensed with the voxel graphics thing and has upgraded to a fully polygonal engine. The result is obviously restricting. Some textures look like they have been bump-mapped, while others are flat and unflattering. The Comanche is modeled well, but the lack of detail stands out when pitted against other contemporary games. Ground enemies appear very tiny, even when you fly low to the ground. I should also mention that the game sometimes takes a framerate dip when there is a lot on screen.
At least you'll find some nice little details, like when the rush of air caused by the spinning blades visibly affects trees and water. The graphics work, but they just aren't going to turn any heads.
Once you get tired of the single player, which I guarantee you will, you can test your piloting ability on Novaworld, Novalogic's online network. You can choose from Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Co-op, which is just like the single player only with your buddies helping out. This helps the replay value.
But in the end, Comanche 4's ease of use and genuinely fun gameplay don't overcome its general shortcomings as a game. By making the game more accessible to general consumers, they also took out some of the much needed depth. What it does, it does fine, but it doesn't do too much.