Jane's Combat Simulations: AH-64D Longbow
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If You Wanted To Know Just What I that rather sexy-looking piece of I hardware was that's bolted onto the front of the AH64-D Longbow, where do you reckon you would look? In the Encyclopaedia Britannica perhaps? I Delia Smith's Almanac of Killer Pastrief! Or Jane's All The World's Aircraft? Sorry, I'm gonna have to hurry you here. Yes, that's right - you'd look in Jane's, t So who, or what, exactly is Jane's?
I Well, to cut a long story short, Jane's is the world authority on just about everything military, from hand guns to personnel carriers, bazookas to battleships. It all began way back at the end of the last century (1898 to be exact) when a certain Fred Jane of Portsmouth published All The World's Fighting Ships - a rather comprehensive tome packed with the technical low I down on just about every naval vessel in the world, accompanied by Fred's I own hand-drawn illustrations. Come the turn of the century, Mr Jane had I already expanded his range to include I airships and aircraft as well as military I vehicles, and the whole thing has I grown ever since.
Nowadays, Jane's is regarded as the military hardware bible, and publishes over 40 titles, including the esteemed Jane's Defence Weekly and International Defence Review, which are read the world over by Generals, Defence Ministers, squaddies and Israeli Fundamentalists alike. In fact, because it's so detailed and researched Jane's even have an office in the Pentagon, and regularly advise governments on military tactics and hardware development.
If somehow you got a transfer from real life to a Bond movie and ended up back at Q,'s pad (a fiendish blackmail plot, perhaps), you would surely find that he has every issue of Jane's either piled under the bed or stacked up in the loo, and he'd read them every day. And thus, because he'd looked it all up in Jane's All The World's Aircraft, Q, would tell you that the AH64-D was armed with a McDonnell Douglas M230A-1 chain-driven 30mm cannon.
The perfect partnership?
But then so are the chaps at Origin. They've already proved themselves masters of the flight combat sim (there's the fabulous Wings Of Glory and Pacific Strike just for starters, and the spectacular Wing Commander series for which they developed the super fast 'RealSpace' engine) and now they want to take the whole thing to the next level by incorporating even more authentic and accurate data, realistic scenarios and true to life tactics - which means teaming up with Jane's. Oh, and it also means poaching some chap called Andy Hollis from MicroProse to work on the first in the Jane's Combat Simulations series. This is based on the AH64-D Longbow attack helicopter and, not surprisingly, called AH64-D Longbow.
But it's not the first time that the Apache range of helicopters has been the subject of a game; there's the recent Apache Longbow from Digital Integration, the not-so-recent Comanche: Maximum Overkill from Novalogic (which featured an experimental helicopter based on the Apache), and of course MicroProse's very own Gunship, which started the ball rolling a few years back.
So do we really need another Apache helicopter combat sim? Andy Hollis, game producer, certainly thinks so: "The thing that really made Gunship so exciting was all the new technology it used. The Apache was cool because it had great new things like tads (Target Acquisition and Designation Sight) and pnvs (Pilot Night Vision Sensor) which allowed it to track and scan targets and enabled the pilot to see in the dark. The Longbow is a new variant that uses even more sophisticated technology, so it's still all very exciting."
Just in case you don't have a copy of Jane's handy, I'd better explain that the new Apache Longbow has a mast-mounted radar dome that sits above the rotor blades so the helicopter can stay low, popping up briefly (and thereby exposing itself) to scan for targets. It then dives back down into cover again, the data is analysed, the pilot accesses the threat and then pops up and takes out the targets. A bit sneaky, you might think, but very effective - and all's fair in love and war.
Over hill and dale
Of course, none of all this fancy stuff would be of much use if the terrain was essentially flat (as it was in Gunship), so Origin have developed a unique meshlike terrain generating thingamy that can throw texture-mapped polygons around and look very realistic at the same time. Take a peek at the grabs to see what all the fuss is about.
At the moment, of course, it's the Chuggerama hillocks out there, but remember sports fans, "it hasn't been optimised yet" and already looks a lot nicer than the bristle-like Voxel Space Technology utilised by Novalogic in Comanche and at the same time it's more accurate than the 'tiling' system used by di in Apache Longbow. Every texture map is completely different and based on actual data from the us Government Geological Survey, and the developers are confident that their system will look better and play smoother than anyone else's.
Origin are also confident that the gaming structure of AH64-D will leave their competitors gagging. There are four different ways to play: a tutorial system, featuring on-board speech from your friendly co-pilot, which should help you play the game without wading through a weighty manual; a campaign of missions (set in the Balkans a few years from now); historical one-off missions (Operation 'Desert Storm', the Panama/Noriaga scenario, 'Just Cause'), or a completely random selection from the mission builder. Your progress is monitored by tv news stations, and when you return to base you watch news bulletins to see what's happening with the conflict(s) and what the next course of action will be likely to be. To make it all seem as real as possible, Origin have included 'real-life' video footage from the Gulf War, as well as other suitably macho war bits from other conflicts, and if previous efforts from Origin have anything to go by, the overall standard of presentation should be nothing short of gobsmacking.
The other one...
While Origin are busy with AH64-D, Electronic Arts are beavering away on ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighters), yet another flight combat sim that will combine the gaming expertise of the people who brought you LHX, Chuck Yeager, US Navy Fighters and Marine Fighters with the knowledge and expertise of the boffs from Jane's.
ATF features six experimental planes, next-generation fighters that are currently being tested and won't see active service until well into the next century. Although it's still at a very early stage of development, the team have managed to produce an advanced version of the game engine used in US Navy Fighters that doubles the resolution of the terrain without any real loss of speed, and adds new effects such as planes that break up as well as explode. It's not as structured as AH64-D, concentrating instead on the simulation elements of flying six never-seen-before combat aircraft: finding out which plane is best for the job while assessing their strengths and weaknesses - a sort of experimental 'suck it and see' type experience. That said, there are three campaigns, each with over 30 different missions, ranging from bombing, escort, air-to-air combat, patrol and scramble scenarios, as well as the 'must have' mission builder which will allow you to plan out some pretty serious conflict storylines.
There's also a database that includes information on every aircraft featured in the game (this is where Jane's comes in again) and an eight-way network that should run quite happily on a 9600 baud modem, a feature that was lacking in both US Navy Fighters and Marine Fighters. Let's hope it's as good.
Download Jane's Combat Simulations: AH-64D Longbow
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP