On March, 8, 1965 the first troops of the US Marine Corps landed on the territory of Southern Vietnam. It was the beginning of a new confrontation between Saigon government and The Liberation Army of Vietnam. During this war the American troops were using not only new weapons, but new battlefield postures as well. One of the most noticeable changes was the extensive use of military helicopters both for transportation and fire support in landing zones.
Well, it sounds like a big opportunity to provide a helicopter simulator. However, there have been plenty of lessons to learn about Vietnam. The project was announced at E3 2006, and was to be released in Q4 2006, or Q1 2007. So far the release date is April 09, 2007 so it isn’t too far into the future. I got a copy and I have been playing it for the last week. So far I have to say the lessons have not been learned.
[System Specs: Dell E1705 Inspiron laptop: T2400 Duo 1.83GHz, 1GB Ram, X1400 256MB PCI-e display adapter, Sigma hi-def audio]
The graphics were very promising from the start. The insides of your “Huey” appear to be quite genuine and all the gauges are fairly crisp and actually to behave as real gauges would. I’m no pilot, but the altimeter, altitude speed, artificial horizon, compasses, etc all seemed to do what they are supposed to. You can look around the cabin and see your co-pilot, and a gunner on either side of the chopper.
The pilots themselves look really detailed with round helmets and smooth facial features. The uniform is a tad blocky and lacks dynamics, but the hands move the stick in real time as the constantly adjust the collective. The gatling guns mounted to the huey’s flanks are modeled in a simple but realistic manner. They don’t shine or billow smoke after spitting 2000 rounds per minute, but they’re more than just a few pipes strapped together. The paint jobs on the Helos are authentic from the era and differentiate from Army and Marine versions.
When my ride was hit, the tail poured out a short trail of smoke, but details like bullet holes and broken glass were missing. When you flew through smoke from mortars, or grenades marking landing zones, there were no angelic vortices displayed as the rotor sliced its way through the battle. If you were close enough to the ground you might notice that the trees swayed independently from the downforce, but the trees themselves are rather blocky and non-descript.
Flying over the jungle shows the largest of the graphical flaws. The pop-up factor was terrible. Even at 1000 feet in the air, whole swathes of trees would disappear and be redrawn line-by-line in front of my eyes. Hovering high above the foliage would reveal some of the lines that represented the grid, and light-green lego-like blocks would sprinkle the darker-green trees below. Water in the rivers was just a blue patch amongst the green trees and brown dirt alongside the roads with no sense of motion or life. Your guns create the flying debris akin to The Matrix‘s gunboat scene, but do not damage trees or send wildlife running for cover, and the missiles have a nice smoke-trail effect and crash to the ground with a small yellow burst; however, they leave superficial damage effects at best. I blew away a bridge and rather than a large collapsing structure splashing its last goodbye to the world it simply turned into ashes.
The screenshots from the game are taken right out of it, but the game often looks like a slideshow of pretty pictures and leaves a lot to the imagination to build a story from it.
There are 4 tracks provided with the game, and an option to select a folder of your choice for the game to play that music. However, at no time do I recall hearing any music. What I did hear was the storyline developing as pilots chattered back and forth amongst HQ and field commanders to give directions or details of the mission objectives. The voice acting sounds like it was done by 4 different people total and none of them were professionals. The lack of profanity is probably well intended, but the mood doesn’t quite catch on with its absence.
The engine and rotor-blades overhead seemed a little muted. After all the hueys are open on both sides so I expected them to be a little louder. This may have been intentional to allow the radio to be a little crisper. The manned guns, M-60s, did not have the distinctive rattle of the hammer slamming each round that we get from other games like Battlefield from EA. The napalm explosion sounds like a man blowing into the microphone. There are several .WAV files representing bullets bouncing off several different surfaces like metal and concrete, but they’re never picked out during the game. Someone went through a lot of trouble to produce these sounds and they’re practically wasted.
While the radio chatter is low on quality, the glaring omission is chatter inside the cockpit. Your co-pilot, while you have one, is silent as a lamb. The two gunners behind you just keep their mouths shut and hold the trigger down. A couple nervous jokes before the fight, or some shouting regarding ammo or targets would seem appropriate, but were not thought about or not feasible at the time.
The controls are extrordinarily simple. For all of the hell everyone says they go through learning how to keep a helicopter in the air, this one seems to be child’s play. Small adjustments to my Sidewinder2 Force Feedback joystick were not even registered. If I wanted to make a turn I had to practically throw my body into the stick to see it happen. I could whip the yaw back and forth and never lose control. Clearly someone put a lot of computer assistance into the controls; probably to prevent the aforementioned madness.
There aren’t many buttons in the game. Frankly I really only needed to know one of the; the A button for Auto-pilot. I could not even get off the ground without it. Sure, it says to press i for ignition, and the blades start turning, but it seemed the war would have been over by the time I got up to speed to lift off the dirt. A quick tap for the auto-pilot got me off the ground in mere seconds, and another tap got me back into the chair and in control. The hat on my joystick let my eyes wander anywhere I wanted to in terms of true limitations of the human neck, but there was no quick way to get my eyes back to front so the freedom was somewhat dangerous.
What ticked me off was the lack of Force Feedback. The option was there, but it was always disabled. I verified that my joystick’s FF still works, but the game never picked up on it, or doesn’t allow for such things. It would be better if they’d just hide the option rather than a drop down that taunts you from the sideline. From a standpoint that the game touts itself as a simulator for all levels, the hardcore heli-sim player will not see the true-to-life control or power of the UH-1. But, for the rest of us, at least it isn’t too easy to end up in your own 6 foot hole.
The game is relatively short. There are 10 missions total, and each takes about 30-60 minutes to get through. The only option was singleplayer, and there are no quick missions or custom options to explore. These 10 missions are based on an actual storyline from the war so there is something for the history buffs, but you can’t skip around the story and play your favorites even after you’ve completed the story.
The settings for easy vs. the settings for hard made no difference in gameplay. I didn’t face tougher enemies even higher numbers of them. My “slick” never took a single shot of damage even as I lingered dangerously over the battlefields. I was always a gunship, so there was no landing in a hot LZ to pick up wounded or anything. I just had to buzz over the drop and shoot things. Shooting was a piece of cake because the guns might as well have been lasers. There was no spray or accuracy issues so long as the pilot stayed steady. The sights were way off, but once you gauged where the bullets would go you never had to worry about varied trajectories.
Once you finished the mission, you didn’t have to worry about the flight back, landing, or facing enemy aircraft of any sort. It was just take off, follow the yellow-brick road to the LZ, cover the pick up or drop off, and it was over. It was pretty simple; hardly representative of the Vietnam war.
Even for a budget title, it will sell for about $30, the graphics are a throw-back to the last century. The Huey’s cabin is well captured, but too much time was spent making pretty the part you’ll spend the least amount of time looking at. That seems to be a common theme. The trees will sway if you’re low enough to witness such a thing, but you spend so little time that low AND that close to a jungle grove the effect is wasted. Other issues include me spending a couple hours trying to get the game to start with both CPU cores enabled; I had to give up on that idea. There were still typos in the menu! (It’s number of shots, guys, not number of shoots.)
The story-line is strictly linear, and you can’t skip around or play one particular part. The lack of multi-player and quick-flight missions make this pretty much a one-and-done title. There is still some time for these issues to be corrected, and for its sake I hope they are.