Review: Apache Air Assault (Sony Playstation 3)

Apache Air Assault
Developer: Gaijin
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Flight Sim
Released: 11/16/10

There are few things more pleasurable to me in videogames than being able to take control of an AH-64 Apache and blowing the crap out of unsuspecting targets. I found this to be true in games like Gunship, Jane’s Apache Longbow, and even EA’s Strike series. Some of those games were simulations and some of them were arcade games, but they all showed me that I really should have been an Apache pilot. Hell I even suffered through Nic Cage and Sean Young in Firebirds just so I could see them on screen. Anyway, it’s been a little while now since we’ve had a good helicopter sim game. Battlefield Bad Company 2 has a few maps online where you can take command of one and do some damage, but good luck getting to the thing before the thirty or so people who are waiting for it ahead of you. So then along comes Apache Air Assault. Lets strap on our helmets and see where this thrill ride goes.

Story:

The game follows the experiences of three helicopter crews in three different warzones across the globe. Each of them is dealing with an insurgency of some kind, and all of them seem to tie together the further into the game you get. One campaign is set in Africa and deals with Pirates who are too well armed and organized, another deals with a drug cartel in South America that is too well armed and organized, and the final campaign is in one of those generic “-stans”, where revolutionaries are too well… well, you get the picture. There isn’t a whole lot of story telling in the game, just enough for you to strap on your wings and get blasting.

Graphics:

The game looks very good, especially in motion. It’s not as good looking as the previously released Gaijin Entertainment game IL-2 was, but it’s still excellent. As there are three separate campaigns, all intermingled, you will see missions over deserts, mountains and deep in the jungle. Trees are all over the place and are something to be wary of, as you’ll be down amongst them. The game also takes place at different times of day and in diverse weather conditions. In the non campaign missions which you get to play, you can set the weather yourself, and just try to fly without using the FLIR when flying at night during a snowstorm. Intense is the word.

The helicopters which are included in the game are extremely well detailed, right down to the warning signs and flight controls in the cockpit. You can modify the Heads Up Display to display in just about any colour you seek, and let me tell you that is no small benefit. I personally went with a White HUD and never once had an issue trying to see what my heading or airspeed was.

Even on the ground vehicles, the developers put enough detail in so that the tanks aren’t just rectangles and squares. Hell they even modeled in infantry, but good luck seeing them without magnification.

Audio:

The music is probably the weakest aspect of the game. There are maybe two themes that play throughout its entirety, the intro song and the victory after a hard battle song. If you’ve ever watched a Michael Bay, movie you’ll recognize these two themes immediately. They aren’t even that bad, but they are played constantly, over and over.

The voice actors are pretty good. As there are three separate helicopter crews, you will hear an American crew, a British crew and a mixed mercenary crew consisting of one American and one Brit. They talk amongst themselves when moving the story along, but otherwise they repeat themselves a lot, often out of context for what they are supposed to be talking about. Hearing about the enemy targeting you when there is nothing to be seen or even an enemy on the map makes you scratch your head.

Sound effects are excellent. The thump thump thump of your rotor blades is much more distinct if you play the game in the third person camera view, but even when you are inside the cockpit you can hear all kinds of alarms and beeps trying to inform you that you should kiss your behind goodbye. Oh, and watch out if you happen to be flying low over a forested area. Hearing the whoosh of leaves as you pass over a tree is a thrilling experience at 170 MPH and 60 feet in the air.

Gameplay/Controls:

There are an abundance of control options in Apache Air Assault. Firstly, you have the Trainee controls which are there for you to learn the basics of flying a helicopter. Then, when you’re feeling confident enough, you can graduate to Realistic flight controls, which force you to deal with things like momentum as the helicopter flies less like an airplane. You can also dust off your flight stick and use it too. Lastly, the game recognizes the Sixxaxis in your Dual Shock 3 or Sixxaxis controller, and will allow you to control either your movement, which is just crazy, or allow you to look around your cockpit in free look and control where you target your gun. This last feature I found really handy, as it mimics in some ways the way the real gun on an Apache is controlled. I’m personally hoping they patch the game to include support for head tracking with the Playstation Eye, but even if they don’t do that, the developers have gone far above and beyond the call for control options in my mind.

In terms of gameplay modes you have the campaign, and then you have Squad Operations and Freeplay. Squad Operations is the online portion of the game, but any of the missions here can be played single player. Freeplay puts you on the many maps that were developed for the campaign and allows you to manipulate the circumstances you find yourself in on said map. You can go in with 7 wingmen for example, or you can go in on your own. You can go in the dead of night during a snowstorm, or you can go in at midday with nary a cloud in the sky. And Freeplay is the only location in the game where you can choose your helicopter model and what its weapons load out will be. That’s actually a little bit disappointing. I would like to have the option of choosing my own weapons loadout in the campaign mode, as sometimes 16 Hellfire missiles is just more effective at taking out enemies than 38 Rockets and 8 Hellfire.

In addition to the online portion, the game can also be played by two people on the same system. In this mode the pilot controls only the helicopter while the gunner controls all of the weapons. This is a neat idea, but it will require some teamwork and communication between the two players, as the gunner cannot control the view on screen. So, for instance, you might want to target an enemy with your guns off to the side, but you can’t hit them until the pilot swings the helicopter around. It’s a real shame co-op could not be played online. I know from playing Battlefield Bad Company 2 the joys of sharing a heli with a buddy over the internet.

Balance:

The game eases you into things to start off and then really hammers you the deeper into the game you get. If you aren’t flying low and fast, you’re likely getting killed repeatedly by surface to air and air to air missiles. Even fast and low isn’t a complete safety net, as you have to constantly be watchful of enemy helicopters and UAVS. Especially those UAVs, which can be a huge pain in the butt in later missions.

The difficulty levels are Trainee, Realistic and Veteran. Each option gives you a different level of immersion into the game world, and alters the balance of the game accordingly. Trainee lets you fly with training wheels on, while Realistic gives you a more difficult experience while still keeping the arcade like qualities. Veteran, which is unlocked when you complete the Realistic campaign, flies the same as Realistic but takes away the unlimited ammunition and extra lives. This really ups the challenge and forces you to think about how you are going to attack your targets. Does that jeep really warrant you lobbing a barrage of rockets at it, or could you take it out with the chain gun? How about that SAM site, don’t you wish you had ignored that tank column you blasted with your missiles earlier in the level?

Sometimes the difficulty is brought on unintentionally by the game. The targeting system offers no way to specify what kinds of targets you want to go after next, so if you are going into a target rich environment and want to take out the Anti Aircraft vehicles first you have to manually cycle through every target on the screen. Some weapons, like the useless Stinger Missiles, only target airborne targets, making it simple to find those with the targeting radar, but I shouldn’t have to switch weapon systems just to quickly target something I want to kill.

Replayability:

Many of the missions in Squad ops are highly entertaining with multiple people playing but brutally hard when its just you. Four Apaches are always better than one. The three separate game play modes plus the online capability and the local co-op really does make this a game that you can play over and over again. Even more missions would be nice. DLC please?

Ye be warned however: you do have to like flying the Apache. You do get to fly the Hind in some of the levels, and as a UAV also, but otherwise it’s all Apaches in here. No Cobras, no Havocs, no Comanches, no Lynxs or Giselles. It does say Apache Air Assault on the cover after all.

Originality:

There is nothing else like it on the current consoles, how’s that for original? Flight sims are a rarity as it is, but the flight sim that is more sim than arcade these days is next to mythical. Yes, the game feels very much like prior games Gunship and Jane’s Apache Longbow, but there is no shame in that. The fact that a console is able to pull off that level of complexity is awesome.

Addictiveness:

Well, this review was supposed to be finished two days ago and I couldn’t pull myself away long enough to write the thing, what does that tell you? The game goes from being entertaining to very addictive when you can find some people online you want to play with. That isn’t always easy, as the game hasn’t sold in numbers approaching Black Ops, so you might have to settle for solo play on occasion, but when you do find a game and some players, the hours can just fly by.

Appeal Factor:

Honestly the game isn’t for everyone. You have to enjoy flying around at high speeds close to the ground, shooting missiles at tanks and such. You also have to understand some helicopter basics if you really want to hit the ground running instead of just hitting the ground with a thud.

If, however, you dig flight sims and miss being able to lay waste to legions of tanks from your cockpit, this is certainly the game for you.

Miscellaneous:

Like Fallout 3 before it, Apache Air Assault seems to have a small problem while you are connected to the Playstation Network. Anytime your friends sign on while you are playing the game will freeze for a moment, and then resume like nothing had happened.

I also mentioned earlier that the Stinger Anti Aircraft missiles your helicopter is armed with are useless. I wasn’t kidding. You almost have to be point blank with an opponent so the missile can’t be fooled by countermeasures into veering too far away from your target. It’s often more effective to just get above your opponent and then rain Hydra rockets down on them for a quick kill.

The Scores

Story: Above Average
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Gameplay/Controls: Incredible
Balance: Very Good
Replayability: Great
Originality: Incredible
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Good

Final Score: Very Good Game

Short Attention Span Summary:

Apache Air Assault is a highly entertaining game if you happen to enjoy flight sims. It’s easily my flight sim game of the year, and a very pleasant surprise. Still, the game fits into a bit of a niche, and it does have a few flaws.