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HIND
by Neil Mouneimne
 

Hind is a very big change from the helicopter sims we've been exposed to over the past year or so. Not only is it a simulation of a Soviet helicopter, it also is a simulation of a helicopter that is large, heavy, and decidedly low-tech.

In a day where we are getting accustomed to mast-mounted radar, glass cockpit design, and digital flight control systems, the Hind is a completely different beast. Not one MFD exists in the entire helicopter. Instead the cockpit is a large array of primitive analog instruments and sliding ruler map display. It's so old-fashioned it's positively quaint.

Nearly the same can be said of the game itself. The graphics engine is virtually identical to that of the original Apache by Digital Integration. It doesn't support any kind of 3d hardware acceleration. Graphics options can only be selected by a slider switch.

Special effects are rather weak by today's standards. The texture mapping runs so slowly that players will almost always leave it turned off. Worse yet, unlike A-10 Cuba, the game doesn't support ground clutter, making it very difficult to eyeball your altitude in undulating or flat terrain. That's never a good thing in a helicopter game.

Collision boxes with buildings are obnoxiously huge. It's basically impossible to land in an urban area even if you are an accomplished pilot. Crashing is incredibly lame as well. You descend to the ground and try to set it down, when all of a sudden everything stops and a box pops up that says "End Mission Y/N?" You don't know whether you're down safe or if you've crunched it while trying to land at your home base. If you do crash land you have the same "End Mission" box which will either boot you back to the menu or show a weak bitmap of you blowing up. Crash landing damage should be much more graduated and could be visually a little nicer.

Targeting is not exactly intuitive. With the large variety and number of targets available in a helo sim, paging through all the available targets is cumbersome, and if you overshoot your selection it can be downright catastrophic. To help in this the game provides the "Silicon WSO" who prioritizes target lists. Even with the Silicon WSO the game doesn't always select the target you want and getting to it can be tricky. Comanche 3 is a little better in how it handles target prioritization when you need it.

Viewing is a little quirky. First of all, Hind uses what is called a "rigid" camera. This means that whatever view you are in, the camera views the helicopter in a very fixed manner, as if it was mounted on a rigid boom. While this is understandable inside a bitmapped cockpit, in external views it tends to insulate the viewer from the various nuances of the flight model.

By comparison, A-10 Cuba uses a flexible camera in external views, as if the camera was mounted in a plane flying formation with the A-10 so you can see every bump and flutter the plane makes as it flies and so get a better idea of the flight model. The flyby views are always drop-cams that are inevitably behind the helo and thus aren't useful for viewing more than a second when in forward flight (they're not very dramatic for that matter, which is a shame).

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The game has a padlock, but it only works for the gunner's seat and it only pans left and right, moving the targeting display vertically instead of panning up and down. While primitive, it is worth pointing out that this is the first real attempt at implementing a padlock view in a helicopter game, so iMagic and DI should at least receive considerable credit for that.

One problem with the padlock and gun tracking is that the moment you kill your target the view shifts instantaneously to the next target without pause or tracking across to the next target - just an instantaneous blink. It's very distracting when that happens.

Another thing that we're really missing in Hind is the distinct lack of a dynamic campaign system. Considering that Hind is a descendent of Tornado it really seems strange that Hind uses restrictive scripted missions when Tornado had such an effective dynamic campaign.

The sound is not too shabby at all. While it's not exactly an aural festival, it does the job very well without getting annoying. The rotor sounds right for a five-bladed helo. The turret gun sounds a little shallow, but seems decent. Explosions are muffled, but they do the job. The Bitching Betty in the Hind sim sounds pretty funky, though - you have to wonder if a real Hind would have one in the first place.

Other than that, it gets better. The doors have a wonderfully authentic whirr. The WSO speaks with an accent but doesn't sound badly dubbed and his voice doesn't get overly annoying. The launch sounds for the various weapons are extremely convincing. Finally, the music in the menu screens was an absolutely perfect selection. It is doubtful that any other piece of music could do a better job of setting the mood to fly the beast. Overall the sound effects had room for improvement, but the company chose wisely in doing fewer sound effects effectively than loading up on sounds that may be poor.

The flight model is, in a word - incredible. Hind has the very best flight model out of all the helicopter sims released to date. No other game gives you the feeling of just how difficult it is to learn to fly a helicopter, especially trying to stay on top of the "greased ball" when hovering. Most every account pilots make of learning how to fly a helicopter repeat the same things again and again: controls are sluggish and unresponsive, you have to plan your control inputs several seconds ahead, coordinating tailrotor pedals and collective controls is very difficult to do properly, the helicopter wants to slip off of it's ground effect cushion in a hover.

Not only are these aspects modeled well, it all feels right intuitively. It takes quite a bit of stomach to be able to get on top of the flight model, but mastering it is a very rewarding experience.

For those who are a bit put off by difficult flight models, there are two easier models available, a "Stable" model which does not require careful tailrotor/collective coordination - very good for folks who don't have rudders handy, and an "Arcade" or easy model that is reasonably easy for players used to arcadish flight-sims - still difficult for non-sim players but very accessible for folks with any sim experience. I wouldn't go so far as to say the flight model is perfect, something still doesn't feel quite right, but it still is the best available to date.

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