Gunship? Just barely.

Revolution was brewing when Gunship took off back in 1986. Designed and created by Sid Meier and Andy Hollis, Gunship was an excellent AH-64 simulator that spawned an excellent sequel five years later, Gunship 2000. With MicroProse a shell of its former self and under the wing of a new parent company (Hasbro) that seems in a hurry to get out of the realistic sim business, does it still have the ability to create a first-rate, entertaining military simulation?


Inside the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

The first thing that jumps out and smacks you is the graphic excellence of this game. A lot of time has obviously been poured into its visual presentation – glass is reflective and transparent as you scan the battlefield. Pale lighting from the dawn is captured in all surfaces lending them a golden sheen. Dust clouds billow up from behind ground vehicles. Trees, while somewhat fake close up, are numerous and believable while cruising at high altitudes. Weapons effects are cool and turrets pop off tanks when exploding missiles rip through them. In short, Gunship! makes excellent use of available 3D technology.

Gunship! takes place in Eastern Europe as a resurgent, nationalistic Russia invades the new republics formed out of the old Soviet Union… and one has to wonder which voodoo tarot reader MicroProse had employed under its wing, since he wasn’t that far off. All five campaigns take place in this unstable political climate, an interesting concept but one that limits the variety in the missions and the differences between the campaigns.

You can fly four different choppers: two AH-64 Apache variants, the Eurocopter Tiger, and the Russian Mi-28 Havoc. All are different from each other in numerous ways, but all share in common extreme destructive capabilities. Cockpits are complete with complex weapons control systems, heads-up displays, and threat warning devices. There are 85 different weapons types and 114 enemy targets. You can fly in either arcade, ultra-realistic mode or somewhere in between. You can play one of 17 single missions, start one of five campaigns, or build your own missions with the mission builder.

So far so good, but there are no random missions and campaigns are strictly a series of pre-programmed engagements. In order to get to the next mission in a campaign, you must have been successful in the previous one, or repeat it until successful. This, as well as the fact that all missions are started with helos already airborne, harms the suspension of disbelief, a key characteristic of any great simulation. Helicopter damage is carried from mission to mission in a campaign, as are casualties among the crews. Crews develop from missions to missions and get fatigued if sent out too often. Loss of an experienced crew can be the difference in succeeding or failing in a campaign.

Control Issues

Flying in the realistic mode is similar to other modern simulations. Ground effect is evident when hovering under 25 feet, as collective must be reduced to descend below this level. Translational lift, the lift that comes from the forward motion of a rotary aircraft, is present but seems less pronounced than in other simulations. On the other hand, loss of lift when rolling and rotor torque effects is very pronounced. Stick control tends to error on the side of being oversensitive which can lead to weaving and difficulty in staying low to the ground. Special mention should be made of the poor keyboard command layout. When in the gunner’s seat, you can give orders to the pilot using the keyboard. The learning curve for making these keyboard commands second nature is very steep. Don’t dream on changing the controls to suit your own style of play either, because you can’t. This is beyond inconvenient, and although the default axis and buttons on my TM T-Flight HOTAS Joystick translate nicely ingame, the inability to configure any of them to suit my particular tastes is just plain dumb.

Long-range kills are always spectacular.Beyond that, changing waypoints is a real bother, as it takes eight keystrokes to work in and out of the various command menus that do this (why are they not automatic?). This should definitely be a one-step process. Force feedback joysticks are supported with a slight rumbling during flight and stronger vibrations when damage occurs or weapons are fired. Two multifunction displays are modeled in the cockpit and they can be set to a number of weapons, radar, and camera views. These displays cannot be interacted with or configured individually.

Gunship! is difficult to recommend without some reservations. On the one hand there is an attempt at realism (at the higher setting), attention to some details, graphics excellence, but on the other hand are the repetitive canned missions in campaign mode, some genuine control problems, mystifying design features and dumbed-down avionics. In the final analysis, while Gunship! is a great graphical achievement, it isn’t as fun to play as its ancient ancestors: Gunship and Gunship 2000.

System Requirements: 266MHz CPU, 32 MB RAM, 150 MB HDD, 2MB Video, Win 95/98

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