by Leonard (Viking1) Hjalmarson
Your Comanche is ready to go on the pad. You gaze out the window toward the nearest hangar and notice that the wind sock is fluttering gently across your flight path. As you complete your pre-flight check, you hear the chatter of the other units preparing to go. Your wingman checks in with you to tell you he is set. You engage your turbines and hear them spool up, and as your rotors cut the air you hear that familiar egg-beater sound, though subdued by the intricacy of the five bladed rotor.
As you rise into the air from the tarmac you glance to the left and see your wingman rising with you. The buildings, vehicles, terrain and trees of the base begin to shrink as you pitch forward and gain momentum. Overhead the sky is studded with light cloud....
Your view is momentarily obscured as you rise into some light fog, and abruptly you find yourself looking down on an undulating sea of mist obscuring the ground below. At merely two hundred feet the vista has changed completely. As you set course for your target nearly eighty miles distant, you double check your nav systems, and a few miles later the fog clears and you go NOE for a stealth approach to the target....
Well, it was a long wait! Was it worth it?
Prior to Janes Longbow, I had not flown a chopper sim since Comanche Maximum Overkill. I don't know.. between some VERY involving jet sims and other stuff, I just never gave it much thought.
Then I had an opportunity to do some testing on the beta for Andy Hollis and crew, and the depth and dynamic feel of Longbow had me reconsidering this whole arena of simulation. True, Longbow itself didn't quite convert me. But when the Flash Point add-on began testing, I was hooked. Now here we are half a year later in a new version of the simulation that put Novalogic firmly on the map. Where are we now?
One of the first things you will notice on entering the sim is the highly detailed virtual environment. Okay, so far this could be Novalogics' F22 with rotors... But there is something more here. As I got a feel for the simulation I realized that with Comanche 3 Novalogic has indeed moved more in the direction of realism. Bravo!!
In their press release Novalogic are intent on pointing out that this sim has improved flight physics and improved weapons behaviors. This appears to indeed be the case, and even the new HUD and helmet mounted displays will tell you that Comanche 3 is be more than an arcade simulation. Not only is far more attention paid to systems and flight, the environment itself feels MUCH better.
According to Novalogic, their physics model has become so sophisticated that weapons and objects must now constantly calibrate their interaction with gravity and wind and man made forces! Wow, its great to see this level of realism finally making it to the PC.
There is something about watching the arc of the Hellfires as they home in on their targets. According to Novalogic, their physics model has become so sophisticated that weapons and objects must now constantly calibrate their interaction with gravity and wind and man made forces! Wow, its great to see this level of realism finally making it to the PC. This is becoming a common goal, and coming simulations from Eidos International, Parasoft and others are also setting their sites on more comprehensive physics modelling.
Nuff said! Lets get down to the nitty gritty.
The Thrustmaster config files included on the CD seem to have omitted an F22/TQS setup! To grab mine, go to C3 Config
Included in the box are the typical reg card, a manual, a nice cardboard key summary, and your CD. On the CD are a couple of nice easter eggs...an AF2 demo (not that great, I'm sure the final product will be far more impressive), and a virtual tour of the Comanche. Nice touch!
The manual is standard fare, well done and adequate. It includes information considered standard for a good sim: basic info on the chopper itself, its avionics and weapons, info on allied units and enemy units, basic methods of flight and engagement, and even some basic tactics.
I found installation to be painless UNTIL I did two things: attempt to calibrate my TQS throttle, and select STEREOSCOPIC under the graphics options. First, the TQS issue.
For some reason the throttle seems unusually sensitive, and it worked backwards! I know, the backwards arc is the way these things work in the real choppers, but since I didn't read the manual first, I thought I had encountered an install bug. It took me ten minutes to realize that there was a "reverse throttle" option in the CONTROL menu...Don't forget to turn on your "pedals" if you have em.. .if you don't, what are you doing flying a chopper? OTOH, if you have to choose between a throttle and pedals, get the throttle first!
Next, a GRAPHICS issue. DO NOT select STEREOSCOPIC unless you have the necessary hardware. This option will work with Forte VFX1 VR Headgear, and even gives depth perception. Once selected, I could not un-select this option and had to reinstall the sim. This option didn't work with the Simuleyes glasses I have, so I'm not sure what its for at this point.
Frame Rate and Graphics
Ok, ok... I confess! I have some wicked hardware! With my Matrox Millenium supporting hardware Vesa 2, and a PPro 180 with a wicked floating point unit, I can run ALL DETAIL ON and appreciate something around 16-18 fps. This is MUCH IMPROVED over the demo!! I have a friend with a P133 who can run with only the cloud detail adjusted and still get 12 fps. Novalogic has achieved a nice balance of realism and playability. Will this sim keep me interested in the long term as Janes Longbow has done? Hard to say, but it is FUN!
With the training missions and the first campaign under my belt, the ratings on the left are now firmly fixed. This sim has a lot going for it, but may not keep the hard core crowd involved for long. It is simply too easy to compare it with Janes Longbow and feel frustrated at the lack of control as flight leader. OTOH, if you are not a Janes addict and/or are interested in the multi-player options, read on!
When I first spooled up on the pad, I was surprised at how QUIET the rotors are, but based on industry information this is likely quite accurate. The five bladed rotor setup is apparently MUCH less noisy than the traditional four blade egg beaters. One hears the whine of the turbines, but not the "whop-whop" that usually accompanies the turbine.
Graphics are simply amazing. I wish they had included an 800x600 mode for fast machines. But even without this, Comanche 3 will set new standards, especially for damage modelling. For example, nix a tree and watch parts fly off, then watch it fall.
Graphics are simply amazing. I wish they had included an 800x600 mode for fast machines. But even without this, Comanche 3 will set new standards, especially for damage modelling. For example, nix a tree and watch parts fly off, then watch it fall. Or watch the artillery take out a building. First dust and chunks, then the whole thing gradually collapses. Wow! Object AI is very high, with tank turrets turning and gun barrels elevating. If you pan around the outside of your chopper you will see the pilots heads follow you. Plow into terra firma and watch them pitch forward. Nice!
With all detail on, the environment is truly wonderful. The snow covered trees in Alaska are simply beautiful. And surprise! Try landing on the water. This is the FIRST sim that actually allows you to sink into the drink! Wow, I was caught off guard by that one.
Unlike Comanche 2, pilots are no longer limited to NOE flight; now we can climb as as high as the real chopper to scan for nearby AWACS flights or just look around. This could become a tactical option since if you turn clouds on max detail they can act as cover for you in those tense situations. On the other hand, you will make a wonderful radar reflector up that high!
Smoke, fog, and clouds are nicely done, especially at max detail. What Novalogic has accomplished WITHOUT 3d hardware is amazing. Equally important, on my PPro 180 the frame rate did not die when multiple missiles were launched. There is some spiking of the voxels, especially when quickly cresting a hill. This is no big deal, really, and maybe Novalogic has some solution in the works.
Mission Replay and AI
The next feature that really impressed me was the mission playback. It is active all the time, and can really be instructive to watch. For example, I learned a LOT about wingman AI by watching some replays. The nice thing about this feature is that you can watch the replays from ANY camera angle, switching from your own machine to your wingmans machine, inside to outside views etc. And then, if you want to, you can even jump back INTO the action at any point. Cool!
Unfortunately, you can't save these replays. It would have been nice to have the option, even if it meant no sound. Neither can you fast forward to certain parts, that too would have been great for replaying those pesky missions where it takes great effort to make it to your final objective and then you get killed.
Watching the mission playback from my team mates seat, I noticed a few glitches. First, he sometimes attempts to kill locked targets through the hills, wasting cannon rounds. Second, he sometimes answers that he is engaging but does not. Third, he flies much higher than I do (with my vertical stab locked at 30 feet, for example). This not only makes him a better target, it also means that he could give away our presence. Finally, he often rushes in "where angels fear to tread" and gets blasted, or gets in my way!
Unfortunately, thats not quite all. When I flew the first CAP mission in the first campaign, I was instructed to avoid ground targets. My wingman, however, seems to delight in taking them on! This means that he falls behind me, and when I encountered the first pair of HINDS I tried to pass targets off to him. Though he responded it turned out he was too far behind me to be of any use. I was forced to engage alone.
As for cooperation, there is also no way to request information from your team meat or issue specific orders. You cannot tell him to "get thee behind me" or to "bug out" for example. I wish there was a way to request that he report his remaining loadout. Sending him in close with cannon because you thought he had Hellfires left will get him toasted rather quickly. And if you want him to save Hellfires for later targets then you better be flying fast, because he will use up his weapons picking off less critical targets on the way. You guessed it, there is no "Weapons Hold" mode.
What about enemy AI, you ask? I knew you would...! If I were to compare it to Janes Longbow I would rate it just a hair lower than the middle level. You don't have to be the fastest draw in the west to survive. They are aggressive, but sometimes seem to take a moment to either locate you or make up their minds. As in Comanche 2, the most difficult scenarios are not challenging because of tactical matters, but there is simply MORE OF....more enemies to deal with. On the other hand, if you don't fly low and take your time coming over those hills, you will be dead!
As in Comanche 2, you cannot select levels of enemy ability. Levels are preset according to mission and perhaps adjusted also by your choice of flight model: the training missions are relatively light, and the campaign missions are progressively more demanding, as they were in Comanche 2. As you make your way down the list and complete the first round of missions, you get to fly the final and most difficult mission.
Recently I spoke with one of the flight testers who worked for Novalogic, who happens to have experience in some unusual aircraft, including Apaches AND a Werewolf! Having also stepped inside the Sikorsky Comanche simulator, he believes that Novalogic has done it right. When you fly, remember that this is the first Fly By Wire chopper, and as a result it will FEEL very different than anything else out there. In fact the RAH-66 is the first machine to offer dual fly-by-wire controls without rudder pedals, and fantail (tail rotor) is handled from the same stick that controls the collective.
Novalogic has allowed a high degree of customization for the flight model, allowing novices easy entry to the sim. In reality, I found the full on realistic model easy to learn, and this is the main advantage of this new breed of FBW attack chopper. If you choose the Advanced model, you then have a host of other choices to make. You may:
- Limit the cyclic range
- Mix the Fantail with the cyclic
- Limit the collective to avoid overtorque
- Vertical stabilizer
- Hover hold
Get yourself some pedals and go for it, this is an easy chopper to master. See "gameplay" below for more discussion of the "feel" of the sim.
Gameplay: Mission Structure
The sim begins with a series of training missions complete with instructor. No, its not Janes Longbow, but its a step beyond some other sims in this area. These missions are organized in such a way as to familiarize you with avionics and weapons systems and strike modes one at a time. In the last training mission you have a chance to integrate these skills with use of your "team mate."
Once you complete the training missions, you can move into the four campaigns, consisting of a total of 32 missions. Do you smell a mission disk coming? Of course, and who knows, maybe even with some enhancements similar to those that came with the mission disk series following Comanche 2.
Three of the four campaigns are the low-level counterparts to those in F22 Lightning II. Operation: Gallant Venture has your squadron sent to the Black Sea port of Odessa as part of the peace-keeping effort. Operation: Frozen Friendship has your squadron sent to a lonely group of FOBs deep inside Siberia. Rebel insurgents have seized military bases north of Vladivostok. Operation: Firm Resolve takes place in Cuba with the death of Castro in 2003. Bitter fighting has broken out, and your squadron is fighting on the side of democracy. Operation: Desert Endeavour takes place in the middle east, with Iraqi forces having taken over Jordan and installed a puppet government in Amman. Your squadron is part of a coalition of American forces with Saudi Arabia. Each of the campaigns comes with its own unique challenges, and each has its own unique terrain.
The missions are progressively more difficult as you move down the column, until you get to the final mission, which is always living Hell! At first as I repeated one of the later missions I thought, "Ho-him, no randomness!" Although this is true, you will often encounter something that SEEMS like random action because of timing or because of your wingmans interaction and success or lack thereof. In other words, if you refly the mission and your wingman survives longer or bites it sooner, or if you fly faster than your support team, you will find the mission can be very different.
Each mission begins in the same way, with a briefing screen of a page or so, and then a map where you can click to move from waypoint to waypoint and get a look at the terrain you will be flying through. You can't adjust or add or delete waypoints, but the briefing is adequate.
Gameplay: The Forest and the Trees
Trees! What can I say? Having never flown a real chopper, I haven't had to contend with these things. One quickly learns that flying too close to a large wooden object is tough on rotors! Initially I was wishing Novalogic had left them out, but now that I have learned to treat them with respect, they really are a very nice addition to the atmosphere.
One quickly learns to make good use of the MFD map. You have a lot of choices here, including the ability to go full screen with your MFD. (Good idea to use HOVERHOLD while doing this!). Whether full screen or cockpit view, you can toggle map modes for detail and also zoom in and out. Standard view is quite large scale and you will overfly your map view in seconds at 80K, so normally you will zoom out a couple clicks.
In any case, the map is VERY useful, especially with your data link. You can see enemy forces long before they see you, and you can use the terrain data to your tactical advantage, staying low and using masking to conceal your approach. You will also use the map as part of your pop-up attack technique with TM (Targeting Mode) in HOLD. This way you can scan targets, duck behind cover, delete unwanted targets, then pop up and ripple fire your Hellfires, limiting your exposure to enemy fire.
One feature that this chopper has that would be nice to have in Longbow is the use of a vertical stabilizer. Each mission comes with a pre-set height considered strategically necessary, and your stab will keep you at this height when engaged ("K" key). You will want to limit your speed below 60K when using this in rough terrain. You can also input your current height for the V Stab feature whenever you like by using the "L" key. Or you may input a specific value by using ALT K.
What about the overall FEEL? Well, in initial campaign missions I felt a bit lonely. Yes, I had my team mate at my side, but he is somewhat unpredictable and I've been tempted to have him transferred to another unit...
What I mean by feeling alone is how I often feel in the non-dynamic environment. It seems I am never more than thirty seconds from the action. (This is one of the FEW drawbacks from the voxel space engine: terrain simply takes up a TON of space). In Janes Longbow one sometimes flies 20K just to get to the target. This kind of interaction with the environment helps me believe I am in a real war.
However, some of the scripted missions do come close to attaining a dynamic feel; the radio interaction certainly helps. And although the Apaches which will often accompany you on the difficult missions are as prone to disaster as your own team-mate, they do help with the sense of a real war around you. You will also encounter plenty of ground fire from small arms in some areas, and I've had my fantail knocked out more than once this way! When you lose your wingman, you will hear yourself call for backup. This adds to the sense of being there, increases the tension as you wait (not long enough) for them to arrive, and see them engage and mop up the opposition.
As for views, you will find a nice variety. Its a blast to watch the replay from the external chase view 3/4 back, and you can switch around during the replay to view current target, target to your chopper, wingman internal/external ad infinitum. Novalogic even left the HUD on screen in the external chase views so that you can fly from this view if you like. Believe it or not, with the V Stab feature this can be easily done. In the replay, you will see the target box on your lower left screen also. Nice!
Did you know that the Comanche has 1/600 the radar signature of the Apache? Its many angles are radar deflecting. Engines hide behind V shaped inlets. It also has only 1/5 the IR signature. To suppress hots spots, it has a complex exhaust system built into its tail boom. When I read the article in November Popular Science, suddenly I knew why Novalogic was so interested in this machine!
Comanche uses the latest in Stealth technology, from weapons pods that
hide away (like the F22, sound familiar?) to retractable gear and machine gun. Its five blade
rotor makes a "whir" rather than the "whop-whop" of a two or four blade rotor, and an advanced
airfoil and a shroud that houses the fantail allow for a "sneak mode" and eliminates the noisy
mixing of wakes from the main and tail rotors. This chopper is quiet: it can come twice as
close to its target before anyone is aware of its approach. Its also fast: try 200 mph top
Like the Apache, unmasking to scan the battlefield and memorize target positions and then remasking prior to weapon launch limit vulnerability. But unlike the Apache, IR sensors will be 40% more powerful. And the entire unmask and remask function are built into a sophisticated Autopilot, returning the Comanche to its original position despite winds or turbulence.
SoundAs in F22, C3 makes use of 16 bit dolby stereo surround sound. Voices and sounds are impressive throughout, but significantly, they don't only sound cool, they add to your overall SA. Yes, Virginia, when that tank explodes underneath you, the sound is centred. If your wingman takes a hit to your left, you hear the explosion on the left channel. If something explodes behind you, and if you have rear channel speakers, you'll hear the explosion behind you. Nicely done!
Missile launch sounds and gun sounds are also nicely modelled. Explosions are relatively loud or quiet depending on distance. There is nothing to complain about with regard to sound except possibly lack of wind noise. I know that this chopper is slippery, but I would expect at 150 K to hear some whistling from the wind.
Modem and Net Play
I am still waiting to try a connection, but I would guess that this is where this sim is going to shine. With wingman AI a bit iffy, you need a good human pilot at your side. When you call your buddy to engage, you know he is not going to be shooting his cannon at terra firma, or wasting Hellfires on non threatening targets.
Novalogic made an EXCELLENT choice to support two player mode from the same CD. Thats right! You can loan your buddy the CD to install for MP use, and then host the game from your CD while dialing up your bud for some serious fun. I'm glad to see this option included. Of course, if you want to REALLY get happening, you can network up to ten players from multiple CDs.
As for comms when connected, Novalogic has supplied ten chat macros that you can send just by pressing the "R" key. This is meant to save typing time, and you can also substitute your own macros by choosing the Define Chat Macros on the Connection Selection menu. Great idea!
There is nothing like flying with and against real people! The warbirds, airwarrior and kali crowd know very well that the real fun starts with the non canned AI of human software! I'm looking forward to connecting this sim, and will tag on a report as soon as I do so.
Other Hardware: Headsets!
Novalogic appears committed to providing as nearly immersive an experience as possible. Witness their use of surround sound. But even more impressive, for those who have them, are the Forte VR Headsets. With support for both stereoscopic vision AND headtracking, those with Forte headgear will be in seventh heaven.
With a headset on you have sound provided directly to your ears and a virtual environment that has moved to the next level of involvement. The immersive sensation of simply turning your head to see to your left or right is hard to convey. But let me put it this way: til you been there you ain't been there. Novalogic plans to support the VFX1 for Armored Fist II as well. Nice going!
In summary, if you aren't already addicted to Janes Longbow, you will enjoy Comanche 3. And if you have a friend who hasn't yet experienced the fun of the chopper sim, this is a great way to get them started. Even if you are a hard core simmer, the direct play option will have hours of fun for you in a highly detailed environment.
Its too bad that the replay feature is somewhat limited. Its also unfortunate that the single player doesn't have much control over his team mate. I wish we would have had a re-arm feature, since this would have helped compensate for the common loss of our team mate. It would also have been great to have the ability to call for backup, and not to be forced to rely on the programmed assistance call. AI is a bit weak, particularly for allied choppers who rush in without concern for cover.
As I mentioned above, there will be mission disks following this release. Who knows? We could see additional wingman control added, and perhaps some additional graphics features: even MORE terrain detail, and some new campaign areas. I'm sure Novalogic will keep our attention for a while with this one. Give the most advanced weapons platform in the sky a spin!
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Last Updated August 30th, 1997