THY OPPONENT, KNOW THYSELF
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, Comanche 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.
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.
FLY FAST, FLY LOW, FLY OFTEN
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
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.
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.
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.
MISSIONS & CAMPAIGNS
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
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
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!
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.
LOOKS GOOD FROM HERE
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
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!"
GAMEPLAY AND EXECUTION
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
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.
CONTROL TO DARKSTAR
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
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