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Get your whirlybird on

Helicopter flight sim on a console? Maybesortakinda.

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I’ve got a thing for helicopters—attack helicopters, in particular.* Maybe it’s a boy thing, but flying tanks are bitchin’. That’s why I got excited when I came across Apache Air Assault.

At first I was going to pass it up, figuring it was just another arcade shooter with the flight physics of a buffalo on a roller coaster, but I thought I’d give it a go. After all, one of the player reviews said “SOCOM with helicopters!”

At first, it was nerdrage. The damn thing flew like a buffalo on a rollercoaster. I had a snarling litany going in my head as I went through the training mission: “Please, if you’re going to make a video game predominantly about helicopters, how about you make the ‘helicopter’ part of the helicopter game not feel like some half-baked rails shooter level from a Call of Duty game?”

Ahem.

Apparently, the “training” setting is just that … for training. It limits your roll and pitch to a certain amount so you can’t fling your helicopter into a Spiraling Loop of Fiery Doom.

I switch from “Training” to the aptly named “Realistic” setting.

“Screw practice; let’s get killin’!” I think to myself and jump online.

Two seconds after the game starts, I fling my helicopter into a Spiraling Loop of Fiery Doom.

Whoops.

Maybe if I just try it a little this way … nope. SLOFD.

OK, I’ve got level flight going … to the bad guys! Let’s turn this thing and … oh frak. No loop that time, just fiery doom.

Okay then.

You know your simulator’s got street cred when it kills you half a dozen times inside five minutes.

Air Assault isn’t without its faults. Chief among them is the inability to remap the flight controls. Pitch and roll are controlled with one stick, yaw and collective are on the other stick. While you can swap the left and right sticks, you can’t change the fact that yaw and collective are always on one; pitch and roll on the other.

For me, this was like trying to write my name left handed, in a mirror, hanging upside down from the belly of a charging oliphant. Given enough time it started to make a little more sense, but true mastery is going to take some practice.

The hardcore flight sim crowd** will probably find this more enjoyable than the SOCOM/Medal of Honor kids do.

Graphics aren’t quite up to par with the current crop of PS3 titles, but the game is more focused on flight mechanics than eye candy anyway.

Multiplayer has a few different modes. Online you can play cooperatively with three other pilots through a variety of missions over a variety of terrain, but in the end it generally boils down to: fly to point A, kill the bad guys, fly to point B, wash, rinse, repeat.

Local co-op actually makes sense, given that the Apache has a pilot and a gunner. You both play on the same screen, however, which makes trying to fly the aircraft while the gunner is zoomed in a bit exciting.

“A little to the left … a little more to the … no not another SLOFD, dammit!”

All in all, Apache Air Assault is a niche title that will appeal to a small population of gamers and probably bore the rest after a while. If you know you like flying tanks, then this one’s right up your alley.

* Why else would I have sat through a movie that had Nicolas Cage driving around with panties on his head? Meganerd points if you know which movie I’m talking about.

** Once they’ve picked themselves up off the floor and wiped away the tears of laughter from the thought of playing a “sim” on a console, that is.

Contact Contributor Nicholas Walter via Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach at aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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