Told you so. You sneered and you scoffed and you sniggered when I told you that the future of flight sims was going to lie in the casual gaming sector. But I have held fast to my beliefs and can now chortle with a thin layer of smug self-satisfaction as my prophecies are borne out. Call me the Nostradamus of the gaming world if you will.
What am I prattling on about? NovaLogic has eschewed traditional hardcore simulation controls in the fourth of the Comanche series and has substituted what are essentially Quake controls instead. The more familiar mouse and ASWD keys (pronounced "Aswad" in honour of the seminal '80s dub-Reggae musicians whom, I'm led to believe, were the first people ever to shoot someone in the face with a railgun) are used to fly from one waypoint to the next. Less simulation, more stimulation as someone with a college degree in Annoying Ad Blurb Speak might say before being stabbed in the shin for being a git.
Boom Boom Carnival
You know what to expect really from the Comanche series. Action-orientated helicopter high jinks with a bizarre dependence on a graphical technology that was all well and good seven years ago but has since been superseded by advances in 3D accelerator cards. And that's pretty much the deal here with Comanche 4, except without the voxels. NovaLogic has finally given in and gotten with the program. It's 3D TnL D3D AGP T&A. er, TTFN all the way. Or, for anyone that speaks English, it sure looks pretty.
The move away from voxels means that all sorts of graphical effects can be employed. The cream of the bees bollocks is some very realistic-looking rotor wash - dust and debris getting kicked up as you approach the ground, trees and grass blowing about as you hover above them and water spraying all over as you fly low over the waves.
So, with the simplified FPS-style controls and better-looking graphics, Comanche 4 is trying to lift the series from the awkward middle ground it's always found itself in (and been hindered by), and is saying: "Look, we're an arcade game. Plain and simple. You want simulation - you can piss off."
This is further evidenced by the mission structure. No dynamic campaigns or any of that nonsense. What you get here is Hollywood-styie action. Hell, NovaLogic might as well have signed the Airwolf licence and let us live out all our Jan-Michael Vincent/Emest Borgnine fantasies for a change (bar the one involving a baby oil delivery mission to Nude Island).
So far it's looking great, and we'll let you know exactly what we think of it next month, when we'll get our hands on the review code.
Download Comanche 4
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
NovaLogic's Comanche series of chopper sims have always concentrated more on the arcade side of the genre, with nice graphics, meaty weapons and lots of varied missions, but have less realism when it comes to the flight models and on-board systems compared to some. Comanche 4 seeks to combine the best of both worlds with completely revamped flight dynamics.
NovaLogic's Voxel Space 3D graphics engine, responsible for giving the earlier Comanche titles their impressive terrain graphics, has been enhanced as well, using 32-bit colour for smoother effects. As you'd expect from a completely new release, Comanche 4 has brand new recon, ground attack and air-to-air missions, and up to 32-players will be able to compete online over Nova World, NovaLogic's Internet gaming service.
With the added realism, it looks as if the Comanche series may finally be taken seriously by the hardened sim crowd. But for the rest of us, decent playability will do.
I Don't have the exact figures to hand, but Comanche 4 probably cost several million Yankee dollars to program, press onto shiny discs and send out to the world's retailers. And my message to NovaLogic is that you might as well have saved the money and spunked it on whores and pies.
I'm not saying that Comanche 4 is a shoddy game. As arcade-based helicopter shooters go it's as fine an example of the genre as anything we've seen in a long, long time. Well-structured missions. Tension oozing from every pre-scripted moment. Music that fills your breast with pride, your eyes with tears and your lower spleen with that strange pus that has your doctor so worried. No it's none of that which concerns. It's just the sheer, unequivocal pointlessness of it all that rankles so deeply.
Comanche 4 lasts for as long as you're playing it. That's all. You won't go to sleep dreaming of it. You won't be sat at the table formulating plans to get past tricky bits of each level. If a friend asks you what it's like, nine times out of ten you'll answer with the words, Ehh, it's alright. I spose. Bubblegum gaming, pure and simple.
"Griffon squad, this is Dallas control. You are cleared for immediate takeoff!"
It's been a long time and we've missed him. Finally, Griffin 2-6 is flying again! Anyone who enjoyed Novalogic's previous simulation of the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche helicopter will recognize the protagonist's radio call sign. Griffin 2-6 is as adventurous as ever in Comanche 4 and he's sporting one heck of a wax job on that chopper. This time around our high-tech helo pilot does not concern himself much with annoying details of flight model, weapons behavior, or aeronautics. Novalogic is no longer touting consultations with Army test pilots or giving special attention to helicopter physics or accentuating the inclusion of digitally sampled sound from the real Comanche as was previously done. It seems that anything smacking of realism or detail has been de-emphasized in the new Comanche 4. Even the RAH-66 model number is conspicuously absent from the box of this "Action shooter in the sky." Have you guessed where the emphasis gone? Every developer of combat flight software titles must make the inevitable choice between simulation and arcade game. Most successful products end up containing elements of both. With simple controls, a near crash proof flight model, and plenty of enemies, Comanche 4 makes every effort to draw the player into a worry-free action oriented environment.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
In the six campaigns, you fly to exotic areas of the world, not to vacation, but to blow up convoys, sink ships, rescue personnel, escort other flights, and even defend cities against attack drones. Comanche 4 only has four weapons, but four is all you need. Anyone who knows anything about the Comanche understands that guns, rockets, hellfires, and stingers are the standard loadout. Artillery strikes and limited control over the wingman also come into play as you advance through the campaign. A few of the missions seemed easy and others became nearly impossible to compete. No matter how well you balance your weapons or how skilled a flyer you are, in many missions, the difficulty is compounded by the fact that you must start from the very beginning each time and play through until victory is achieved. Only then can you advance to the next mission in the campaign. This can be frustrating. An in-game save feature would likely alleviate some of the redundancy. The campaigns reflect the times in that there is an abundance of antiterrorist operations. The bad guys all seem to be members of groups that contain the name "sword" (e.g. "Eternal Sword"). In one mission, you escort a government leader's limo through almost comically heavy fire as his convoy races around the city trying to escape to the airport. Enemy gunners fire from atop the huge buildings while tanks and helicopters appear around every corner. It reminded me of Interstate 75/82.
I used to like the challenge of balancing the thrust and collective to achieve speed and maneuverability in the old Comanche 3, which had an Easy and Advanced flight mode. This cannot be done with the simplified flight model of Comanche 4. Of course, the simplicity and safety save you many, many frustrating crashes. I have a friend who refuses to attempt any further flight games after describing his traumatic wipe outs with the old, more realistic Comanche 3. The most you will get with the new Comanche is a fender bender.
After flying Comanche 4 for a while, it became apparent that the most efficient weapon was always the stinger missile. Unlike real life, there were little or no distinct strengths of the various weapons over each other. Eventually, I got in the habit of simply loading the maximum 28 stingers for each mission, regardless of the mission requirements, especially since I discovered that the stingers could target ground vehicles better than the Hellfire! This idea was further born out during online play which always degenerated into stinger wars. Imagine the monotony of playing a shooter game with only one weapon. It wasn't long before boredom began stalking.
One word: Wow! You've never blown up a fuel tank like this before. If you get too close, a huge orange mushroom cloud of gas, flames, and vapor engulfs you. There are too many visual nuances to mention, but a favorite is the rotor wash effect in which water ripples and undulates below the copter's blades. Large and very detailed ships capsize and sink in the ocean. Actual human figures are visible directing flights, walking around bases, and of course, shooting at you. The superbly done graphics force me to jack up the rating on this title! Comanche 4 possesses possibly the best graphics of any flight combat sim to date.
The sounds, especially the weapons fire and explosions come through very well, especially when outputting through stereo speakers or headphones. I'm sure that every Comanche fan will recognize the character's voices for Griffin 2-6 and the female air traffic controller from the old Comanche 3. It's nice to hear a familiar voice. For some uncanny reason, the interface music is always hip in Novalogic games.
Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Coop missions are available to play on a LAN connection or over the Internet via Novalogic's Novaworld. My overall experience with Novaworld was positive for the most part. The occasional lag can make downing your opponent a difficult task. On a few occasions, I counted 6 successive stinger hits with no results. Just as in single play, the stinger missile dominates the battlefield although you may want to switch to guns when fighting at very close range. The Comanche uses stealth and terrain masking, so for the most part, you will want to fly low and below radar. Visit the FARPS (Forward Arming and Refueling Point) if you need to rearm and repair.
The mission editor is a new and welcome feature to the Comanche series. I toyed around with it and created a test mission. The interface is easy to use and most of the insertable objects are clearly labeled and previewable. Keep your eye on the clock: the investment of time required to make a quality level could be a day or longer. The irony is that since the game has been pushed so far in the arcade direction, the chances of an enthusiastic level building community springing up are doubtful. Nevertheless, the mission builder is much appreciated and will give fans a chance to carry their Comanche 4 experience a step further if they wish.
Comanche 4 is a fraggin' man's flight game. Where the previous installment of Comanche left debates about whether it should be considered a simulation, arcade game, or a hybrid of the two, Novalogic has now unapologetically placed Comanche 4 on the arcade game arena. On the outside, this high tech piece of airborne hardware conveys the presence of the real thing, but anyone other than a weekend warrior is going to notice that under the hood, things are a bit simplistic for an advanced chopper. If Comanche 4 is truly to be an arcade game, why not maximize the fun by adding futuristic weapons and enemies. Perhaps an airborne laser would add some variety. Despite the ultra clean graphics, the boredom factor lies in wait for experienced gamers. I played through most of the Comanche 4 campaign missions in a few days. But, those were a good few days.