COMANCHE 4      
 reviewed by Neal "Pappy" St


I readily admit, I am a long-time fan of NovaLogic's "Art of War" series of simulations and games. I expended a good deal of my life playing Armored Fist 2 & 3, Coman
che 3, F-22 Lightning 3, and Wolfpack (that's quite a while ago for you folks who just got into PC games in the last 5 years). There are several reason why I get excited when I read NovaLogic is about to release a new game; the quality is good, the support is good, the commitment to the title is great, the gameplay is really great, they offer a multiplay environment that has been around a log while--NovaWorld (unlike Jane's Combat Net), and their titles always offer a wonderful fun factor. They do not pretend to be the most cutting edge of simulations but the level of fidelity gets the job done. NovaLogic knows what they are doing--they are in the business of selling military-oriented games that appeal to a mass audience.

Which brings us to their latest offering, Comanche 4. When the buzz began to get out around E3 that NL might be producing a new helogame, needless to say a familiar grin creased my face. A new Comanche would be just what I need this winter.

NovaLogic made it clear as development of Comanche 4 was nearing completion  that it was slanted to mass market appeal, that is, Comanche 4 would be more of a helogame than a helosim. It was dubbed "Action Shooter in the Sky" and has been designed to allow quick access to the pilot's seat. Comanche 2 and 3 were efforts to reach the level of simulation that would please the hardcore sim crowd; these were met with mixed criticism. NL knows that for every simulation player who takes avionics minutiae such as reversed collective seriously there are 500 casual gamers who don't know an EFAMS from a FARP and just want to fly through fast-paced mission and "blow stuff up". NL is banking that they can sell more copies of an action helogame than a simulation that would delight even the grumpiest grognard. As I said before, I'm pretty sure NovaLogic knows what they are doing.




C4 comes with a slim printed manual, about 35 pages. It won't impress the "serious" simmers but it won't intimidate that first-time flight sim player either. It covers all the basics nicely. Also included is an F-key overlay and a foldout keyboard guide (remember those?). The realism options include settings to determine AI skill, flight model, input devices (joystick/mouse-keyboard), and targeting mode. NL actually include more avionics options than I was expecting.

After I installed Comanche 4, I concocted a plan to evaluate it in on two levels; action game and helo simulation. After configuring the options (the install program will detect your graphics card and system specs and make your graphic settings for you) I set the joystick aside and started a Single mission using the WASD keys and mouse.

The learning curve is minimal, but I am an experienced helosim player so to get an effective evaluation, I need to loan this to one of my office co-workers and get his take. There is set of voice-over training missions for the uninitiated to get up to speed. With the simplest flight model setting and mouse-keyboard control, Comanche 4 is fairly simple to master. Using the default altitude settings of Low-Medium-High, a pilot can skim along without worrying about running into objects (for the most part). When he does encounter sharp rises or trees in his path, he can prod the space bar for pop-up control. An experienced player won't like this method, I didn't care for it either. The mouse allows the helicopter to spin around way too fast and using the space bar to add altitude when needed means employing a measured amount of tapping. If this is your first helogame and you don't have a joystick in your inventory, you might be inclined to think nothing of it. I preferred using the F4 "Free Look View" setting which liberates the mouse for viewing and the A-D keys to turn the craft, which they did with more measured physics. I read someone's opinion that Comanche 4 plays like Descent (Interplay). I have to agree, using the mouse-keyboard does offer a similar gameplay feel to the old space action game. Don't read that as bad.

After a week of playing "arcade style" I plugged in my Sidewinder and ramped all the avionics features to full tilt. I turned off "Slip Control", "Limited Cyclic Range", and "Mixed Fantail with Cyclic", making flying harder but more realistic. Playing with a stick produces a feel similar to a mix between Gunship! and Enemy Engaged. Turns and altitude changes are more deliberate. The cockpit is somewhat simplified but the radar/threat indicator keeps you informed of the region around you. There are the usual monitoring readouts, including the AGL and ASL altimeters, torque indicator, HITG indicator, Rise/Fall indicator, and groundspeed indicator. The overall feel of Comanche 4 is in line with other recent  simulations with the notable exception that the inertia of a 12,000 helicopter seemed to be missing. In C4 you can throw the Comanche around like nobody's business. One last thing: does it model autorotation? Who knows? In C4 missions it is kill or be killed, there's no time for engineless landings!

I found a few effects I was not expecting, such as rotor wash or IGE (In Ground Effect) impacting the helicopter's stability at low altitudes or when flying next to canyon walls. The IGE does lend a hand in maintaining steady low altitudes.

The Comanche bears all the weapons that make it a lethal platform--20mm cannon, stinger missiles, Hydra rockets, and Hellfire missiles in varying degrees of loadout (not configurable in advance but if a FARP is available you can reload). You can also call out artillery strikes in some missions. Gauging the change in stealth factor afforded by flying with bay doors open/closed and with/without EFAMS is tough to do. The manual states there is a difference; I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.


There are six campaigns to explore, each with 5 missions. Each mission is loosely connected to the others by the region in which it occurs. A situation arises, you are called into action. Unlike Gunship!, missions in Comanche 4 begin on the ground. The missions are tightly scripted and challenging. The radio traffic is the same each time you play a mission, which will be a lot if you attempt to complete it--the Comanche 4 environment is packed with unfriendlies. They don't have the same capabilities as the Comanche but there are lots of them. Some missions include Griffon 2-7, your wingman, who does an adequate job of taking on adversaries. All missions feature multiple waypoints to an objective but you can take different routes and bushwhack some AI units from behind. Not all AI units will take this laying down, however, so it pays to be on your guard.

It is worth noting that Comanche 4 has some of the most engaging, interesting, and diverse missions of any simulation I've played. I really enjoyed completing one to see what was next on the Mission Impossible agenda. Yes, they are scripted but they are well-scripted. The missions vary from supporting amphibious attack operations, rescuing a yacht under attack by drug runners, shadowing a Cessna on its way to a drop, backing up Delta force during hostage rescues, attacking armored columns, and locating and destroying nerve gas plants. I would have preferred a few all-out battle scenarios where you are part of a battalion attacking in a Desert Storm environment, but I will add that I have only completed two campaigns and halfway through a third so it's possible this type of scenario may be awaiting me.

If you play with the enemy skill level set high, you will replay each mission several times. I can say this: I did not mind replaying them, even though I knew where most units were located. I actually enjoyed it--some of the missions were in my thoughts during the day at work! When was the last time a computer game scenario had that kind of staying power over your imagination!

To augment the replayability of the existing campaigns, a whopper of a mission editor is included. It allows you to set triggers and goals but lacks random start boxes and POI (probability of inclusion) functions. When you exhaust the stock campaigns, there should be new player-crafted campaigns available.

Multiplay is offered via NovaWorld and supports Free For All (Deathmatch), Co-op, and Score-based games with up to 16 players. Unfortunately, NovaWorld for Comanche 4 has been unavailable during the three weeks I have been play-testing C4, so that element will need to be evaluated at a later date.


Previous NovaLogic sims used Voxel technology to render terrain and platforms. In its heyday the technology produced good visuals, especially with regards to mountains and valleys. Comanche 4 makes a break from voxels and consists of a 
3D polygonal environment that is, in a word, stunning. If you have a high end system, you won't find better flight sim graphics anywhere. Explosions are breathtaking--debris and stuff whizzing by, billowing smoke, shaded fireballs. Most everything in the C4 world reacts to the player's presence, be it rotor wash shaking trees or producing circular patters on water, to buildings, drums, crates, docks, jeeps, soldiers, and platforms which can be destroyed by ordnance. Fired your 20mm gun through a grove of palm trees and the leaves will ignite and burn. The buildings, trees, valleys and mountains are all rendered well and afford cover for the player. Direct a couple Hellfires into a ship and it will produce an oil slick, burn, and upend, sinking stern first. There are many a naval sim that wishes it could handle this as well. Better than just about any game before it, Comanche 4 really sets you in a world that is visually appealing and realistic.

The sound effects are acceptable. I didn't care for the "Sprooonng!" sound I got when my rotor trimmed a patch of trees or I ran into the ground but most everything else was satisfactory. C4 includes quite few Easter egg sounds--take a break out in the desert and you can hear coyotes wailing in the distance (I know, you cannot really hear this with the engine running but it was fun) and if you visit a garage, you can hear the mechanic operating an air impact. Cool touches! Voice traffic is exceptional, much better than the usual fare. If you go rogue and pop a few rounds into one of your ground crew, the flight controller will say, "All right, moron! There's not gonna be enough of you left for a court martial--all units, open fire on Griffon 2-6!"


When you bill your game as an "Action Shooter", the player expects a lot of action, naturally. Comanche 4 delivers action in abundance. Each mission is taut with hostiles ranging from riflemen, snowmobiles with stingers, AA, T-80 tanks, MIGs, Hokums, and Hinds. At the highest level of enemy skill settings, your opponents will challenge you in every way--tactics, execution, and capabilities. In some situations you will need to fly fast and furious; in others, you will need to utilize sound tactics and take full advantage of the ground cover--pop up and shoot, then relocate. The only shortcoming is that with scripted missions, the placement doesn't vary. If the enemy units could be programmed for random placements and varying degrees of inclusion probability the dynamic nature of C4 missions would be greatly boosted. As it stands, supplemental missions will be key to longevity.

You can perform mission day or night but all the stock missions I player took place in daylight hours. I think the dev team didn't want you to miss out on the stellar graphics. I missed the Thermal Imaging capability all modern US military platforms have, it wasn't modeled in C4.


NovaLogic attempted to please both elements of the computer game market, the action segment and the more dedicated helosim jockey. I would say Comanche 4 succeeds in combining the elements of a fast paced action game with the measured reality of a simulation without compromising either category to extreme. A lot of focus has been directed at making the missions very compelling and I believe they accomplished this as well. Comanche 4 stuns and delights the senses with superb graphics and engaging gameplay.

    HeloSim's Rating - 8.5 out of 10


Specs: Win 98/ME/2000/XP, Minimum - . Pentium II 450 equivalent with 100 MHz bus (2x AGP),  Recommended - Pentium III 700 equivalent with 133 MHz bus (4x AGP),  DirectX™ 8.0 or greater required (included on CD),  3D video card with 16MB RAM required,  32 MB recommended, 4X or faster CD-ROM drive, 128 MB RAM, 250 MB Hard Drive space, Windows® compatible mouse, joysticks, throttle and rudder pedals

Supported 3D Cards Include: NVidia TNT2, GeForce, GeForce2, GeForce3, ATI Radeon 32 DDR, ATI Radeon 64 DDR, ATI Radeon 8500, Voodoo 3 & 5.

Internet Play: Up to 16 simultaneous players via NovaWorld (Internet service provider required)
LAN Play: Up to 16 simultaneous players via IP or IPX LAN