Fly it like you stole it.
Surely flying a helicopter can’t be this easy. After I complete Apache Air Assault’s first few missions on noob "training" difficulty, I switch to "realistic" difficulty foolishly thinking the only change would be fighting against a tougher enemy. Within ten seconds of lifting off, I went right back toward the ground again in an “I don’t know what the eff I’m doing!” crash landing.
[image1]The flight physics is the main difference between "training" and "realistic" difficulty. "Training" offers more of an arcade-style flight simulation, while "realistic" offers a steeper learning curve. Your helicopter is more vulnerable for tilting forward and crashing and it’s especially a greater challenge to fly (correctly) when performing twists and turns. In a weird way, however, the harder the difficulty, the more fun it gets.
There are over 15 missions in single player where you fly an assortment of Apaches. Weapons include Hydra missiles (which are unguided), Hellfire missiles (which are guided), and air-to-air missiles. Since you have a limited supply of these weapons, it is wise to use them on specific targets, such as Hellfire missiles for structures and bunkers, and the Hydras for vehicles or ground troopers.
There is a more effective way of fighting ground units from the chopper with your 30mm cannon. You have the option to switch to two separate camera views: a black and white camera to fire the 30mm onto targeted enemy troops, and an infrared view to detect those camouflaged or cloaked infantry. If you exceed your ammo supply, you are dealt with a reload time: five or so seconds for Hydra missiles and three minutes for Hellfire and ATA missiles, which makes a world of difference as you are evading incoming enemy fire while trying to complete the objective at the same time.
[image2]If you fail to complete an objective, though, you restart the mission from the beginning, but if you die, you are given three chances to respawn, making the checkpoints to be somewhat useful. You might as well crash if you know you’re not going to complete the objective just so you won’t start over from the beginning of the mission.
Objectives consist of escorting, defending, and attacking, which provide a few lengthy missions, but most are short. There isn’t much of a storyline other than a brief description of what the mission entails at the loading screen, and you also have the option to pick a mission as long as it is unlocked, so you don’t need to complete them in order. You can’t, though, select a specific helicopter for a mission, so you’re stuck with what the game gives you. However, in Free Flight mode, which is essentially free roam, you can choose any chopper to pilot as well as any location to fly in and even pick what time of day. You also select the number of enemies to fight against and how many allies you want alongside you.
As you fly around, the world below you is bland, with a few exceptions. Trees fall over from the destruction of your missiles, buildings and cars explode into a ball of fire, and smoke trails from rockets whiz past you, but the terrain more or less looks the same. Buildings are boxes and trees remain still even though you are flying near them at blazing speeds. Expect to fly in some nifty machinery and witness passable battle scenes, but don’t expect to fly over breathtaking scenery.
[image3]Multiplayer solely consists of cooperative missions ranging from two to four players. One mission in particular calls for defending a base while waves of both aerial and ground enemies come in full force. Between defending the base and dodging missiles (with the help of flares), it’s one of the most challenging missions you play in online multiplayer. Although the cooperative missions are fun, it’s the only mode available. A versus match where teams can go against each other to capture a base or try to escort ally troops would be a nice addition, but it’s nonexistent here.
There is also local-only single-player co-op. One player flies the Apache while the other controls the gun and missiles. Even though this does promote teamwork, it would be more effective and engaging if each player had separate helicopters to control. Reason being is that it takes a lot of effort from both parties - too much effort - to the point of frustration. Pilots will find themselves hovering above the enemy to let their gunner take them out, and gunners will become agitated if they can’t destroy their targets due to an incompetent pilot.
Apache Air Assault is well-suited for any hardcore fan, as the realistic difficulty focuses on the physics of flying an Apache. Hopeful learners will need to be patient and adjust to "training" difficulty first, and even then it’s a challenge, but Free Flight mode provides an opportunity to set up customized missions that are great for practice. While the battles in single-player are gratifying, the storyline is not, making the game feel pointless at times. Playing through the campaign cooperatively and online multiplayer also aren't as fleshed out as they could have been. Apache Air Assault is an overall enjoyable flight simulator, but its lasting appeal is as short as your joystick.