Meet the AH-64 Apache’s lesser known would-be successor, the Comanche. You might remember this futuristic attack helicopter when it was still in its prototypical stages during the 80’s and 90’s, developed as part of the Army’s need for a high-tech recon and attack helicopter (hence the acronym, ‘RAH’). The program was cancelled in 2004 after some twenty years of research and testing that cost somewhere around the sum of $7 billion. No harm done.
Either way, NovaLogic has a long history of creating Comanche flight sims, one that’s as long as their patented Voxel engine itself, which fit these sims perfectly. The first Comanche game wowed us in 1992 when it first unveiled the power of Voxel Space, an engine capable of rendering 3D terrain like no poly-equivalent engine out there at the time (other NovaLogic games, like Delta Force, are also powered by this engine). Several expansion packs followed suit, then a sequel in 1995, then a third game in ’97, dubbed Comanche 3, then finally this Gold version. A lot of work has been put into this sim, even involving the development crew making a couple of visits to the Comanche testing grounds. The interactive end result blends realism and action together.
The original Comanche 3 had about thirty or so missions while this Gold release more than doubles that figure. Further more, the missions don’t progress in a linear manner, allowing you to jump to whichever assignment you see fit to attempt. This is both a blessing and a curse, letting players skip missions that they find too difficult at the cost of a meaningful campaign.
There’s barely any context as to what exactly is going on; we know little as to why a war is raging, what the stakes are or who exactly is the enemy. Were it not for their preset difficulties, ranging from easy to very hard, most of Comanche Gold’s mission can be arranged and played in any order. But at least they’re diverse, ranging from simple search-and-destroy missions to defending a moving freight train or leveling entire enemy installations. Like the rest of the game, the missions are a compromise between realism and action, like the way you always reach a hot zone in less than a minute or so.
The flight model comes in two packages – easy and advanced. You can learn the basics of flying the Comanche thanks to the interactive tutorial missions, while learning the advanced flight model requires you flip through the manual (also available on the CD as a PDF document). These two modes mildly work as a difficulty slider that you can change on the fly, as it were. There’s no save-game feature, so getting shot down translates to restarting the entire mission. The weapons are modeled after real-world counterparts and come in several varieties – the air-to-ground Hellfire missile, very useful against hitting armored ground targets, the air-to-air Stinger, dumbfire rockets and a 500-round nose cannon.
You can outfit your chopper however you see fit, with missile and rockets having a direct consequence on weight (and handling). Also used to emphasize the recon bit of this recon-attack helicopter is the ability to call artillery strikes, which is very useful when hitting armored columns or large installations. Note that, unlike their real-world counterparts, these weapons have had their effective range drastically reduced to add more grit to the combat, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The real Hellfire missile can hit a target several miles away.
The other addition that makes this Gold version better is the communication system. You periodically get wingmen tagging along and can issue generic orders (eg: attack ground targets, stay here, cover me, etc.) using the M key. Teamplay isn’t much of a factor here, as you’ll be the one doing most of the legwork.
You’re also best left ignoring the official minimum system requirements. One of the biggest issues people had when this game was released was running the thing at playable framerates. The game crawled under anything but high-end specs, and even testing the game under a much more ‘modern’ Pentium II presented slowdowns. The lack of support for 3D means this beast can only fly in software mode, resulting in less than crisp visuals. But it’s a fine action sim despite its technical issues, and one that chopper fans should find of some value.
System Requirements: Pentium 166 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, Windows 95/98