by James Sterrett
November 06, 2001
Reviewed Version: Pre-release Demo
Back in the Day
Quite a few of you probably remember the first Comanche
helicopter sim, back in the early 90s. Back then, voxels were revolutionary, and the sense of high-speed low-level flight the game produced was truly awe-inspiring. It was a lite sim, and it was a heck of a lot of fun, and it ran well on my 486DX/33 - back when graphics accelerators were mainframes.
Fast Forward to Present
A decade later, and Comanche 4
is soon to hit the shelves. The current demo won’t even run on my P3-500 with a 32Mb TNT2 card (although Novalogic says such pathetic machines will eventually be supported.) You need a GeForce or a Radeon to play, and, fortunately, my brother has a GeForce2 in his P3-933.
|The demo's only just begun, and already the FFARs are flying |
Some things haven’t changed in ten years. The graphics are generally gorgeous, and the game ran perfectly at 1280x1024 resolution. The screenshots have been crunched down to 640x480, and they still look good, and everything in the game looks even better when it’s in motion. The much-ballyhooed rotor wash effect looks nifty and the water effects and explosions are pretty cool. Butyou knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?you’ll never see the rotor wash effects unless you deliberately go looking for them in the third-person view: it's nifty but not really important. Moreover, there are important things that are odd about Comanche 4
, and also things that are plain not good.
|Rotor wash effects on land and creek |
The odd is the control scheme, which is a copy of a first-person shooter’s controls. This is the first flight sim I’ve ever met that plays better with keyboard and mouse than a joystick, and, in fact, the Readme file instructions assume you’ll be using a keyboard and mouse. Your cyclic controls are W/A/S/D, labeled “Forward, Backward, Strafe Left, Strafe Right”. Yaw is Q and E for turn left and right, while the collective can be set to Low, Medium, and High altitude via Z, X, and C. Want to do a pop-up? Hit the spacebar. This takes some getting used to, and it doesn't really produce the sense that you're flying a helicopter.
|The freighter under Hellfire attack |
On the other hand, the control scheme does make Comanche’s
movement controls extremely accessible to Quake
players and thus it offers an easy entry path for such players into the world of flight simulation. It threw me badly for a while, but the control scheme is not actually bad: it’s just different.
Overall, my main complaint about the controls is the targeting commands. The select target command either works on a “work through the available targets in no apparent order” method, or on a “closest to the target cursor in no apparent order” method. The problem is that neither of these lets you effectively lock and fire on a target during the short span of a popup (and you lose the target when you lose sight of it, which is realistic but bothersome in this context), or when you come around a turn and find the enemy almost in your face. Hopefully this will undergo some improvement in the final version of the game.
|Slammed by Hellfires, the freighter is now sinking |
The “not good” is the overall gameplay. The gameplay isn’t badjust uninspired. You fly around and kill various targets, ranging from infantry and jeeps to a freighter and then wave upon wave of gunboats and helicopters. Yet the action is strangely unengaging. The sense of flight, so powerful in the original Comanche
, got lost somewhere along the line, and it feels as if you are floating around in a weird version of Quake
instead of controlling an easy-to-fly helicopter. The sense of careful tactics, present in the original Comanche
, has turned into frenetic action. Instead of sneaking around hills to nail targets while thinking tactically, as soon as you’ve whacked one target another appears to demand your attention. This is good if you want a action-packed game, but it is not very reminiscent of helicopter combat as I understand it.
|The freighter sinking |
Hardcore flightsim fans will NOT like Comanche 4
. Casual and arcade flightsim fans will appreciate the ease of control and the lovely graphics. How much you like the gameplay will depend on how much you want to play an FPS
in flight-sim clothing. I leave the final word to my brother, a fan of both Quake
and the IL-2 Sturmovik
demo: "It’s fun, but I wouldn’t buy it."
- 512MB RAM
- 32Mb GeForce 2