Jane's Combat Simulations: Longbow 2
If Fast Jet Sim Nuts Are Nerdy, Take it from me, helo pilots go the whole nine yards into propellerheadiness. Learning Longbow 2 in realistic mode is a labour of love. Without exception, we, the simulation equivalent of the aliens from Mars Attacks, dribble and scream with delight as translational lift kicks in, and chuckle appreciatively as we flare from 135 knots to a hover without popping over 35ft. Handing over a Priority Fire Zone to our wingman gives a feeling as intense as when Anna Friel snogged another chick in Brookside.
Quake deathmatch fans, this is where you hop off the bus. This is a game for real men, with real acne, real bad breath and a desire to wander around bars wearing white uniforms.
Maybe that's a bit over the top
Actually, with the arcade flight model in four-way network deathmatch, Quake fans might enjoy it, especially dogfighting in the mountains of Azerbaijan. Longbow 2 has something for everyone, though if you're not interested in flying you may find playing with the external views on the ground boring.
The word on the street a few months back was that Longbow 2 was merely a small hop beyond Longbow Gold, the updated version of the original Longbow complete with mission disk and native Windows 95 support. Much of it hasn't changed, but what has makes it a completely different game. As Doom to Quake, so Longbow to Longbow 2.
With 3Dfx installed, Longbow 2 is utterly stunning. The objects have eight times the detail of the original, while the terrain has easily improved four-fold. The lighting and translucency effects of 3Dfx have been used to the full: at times when you have an external view active you think you're watching a rendered scene. No joke. With the exception of Turok, I've never seen such immersive graphics. The beauty of it is that, unlike most flight sims, you can make the most of the external camera views. Because you can hover (and do so during the most exciting bits of a mission) you can switch to an external view and launch 16 missiles at once. Try it at night or dawn/dusk, and a pitch-black screen is punctured by the flash of the missiles shooting off the rail, leaving a translucent trail of exhaust gasses. Simply gobsmacking.
The other major benefit of 3Dfx is the terrain filtering: at low levels the pixels aren't blocky, though the land looks a bit like it's had a paint box smeared over it - but still preferable to a counterpane. It's just a shame that there aren't any trees.
The frame rate is good (tested on a non-MMX P2OO with 32Mb RAM and a 3Dfx card), except in the training mode where regardless of the video card fitted it runs at about three frames a second at best - presumably because the CPU is tied up analysing your behaviour and chucking out commands context sensitively.
This is a major step forward from Longbow, which was basically a set of semi-randomly generated missions linked loosely as a campaign. Longbow 2 has a dynamic campaign along a war-front where each mission affects the next. You lead a flight of 16 pilots spread over four different base camps. Each mission is in fact four related sub-missions. For example, you might be making an armoured push in the north; flights one and two will be tasked with close air support for the advance, while in the south flights three and four carry out a deep strike against a command and control centre and a reconnaissance mission in preparation for a push in the south at a later date. You, as leader, can edit all the mission orders for each flight, adding and changing waypoints and instructions. Occasionally, two flights have interdependent missions: for example, flight three may be tasked with clearing air defences ahead of a troop insertion by a Blackhawk in flight four.
With limited supplies activated you have to conserve missiles and helicopters: if you don't you'll soon find yourself without radar Longbows and MW Hellfires. Though you can opt to turn this feature off, the first missions are extremely frustrating if you choose total realism as all the pilots under your wing are rated at zero per cent until experienced in combat; I found myself reflying several missions that my flight had completed successfully simply because the other three flights had been decimated. Since their success is beyond your control (save editing their flight plan) it's frustrating. It would be more enjoyable - and more realistic -to have a few experienced pilots in your squad from day one, as once they hit 50 per cent (which they do after a couple of missions) their chances of survival are much higher.
In terms of gameplay. Longbow 2 is similar to the original. The Al has only been tweaked, so the enemy's still a bit on the dumb side - don't Hokum pilots know that Longbows hide behind ridges? The enhancements come in the avionics suite (even more accurate and controllable) and the fact that you now have four helos to fly: the radar and non-radar Longbows, Kiowa Warriors and Blackhawks. Most of the time you fly the first two, but it's a challenge flying nap-of-the-earth (Propellerheodspeak for 'low'- Ed) in the others as they don't have a head-up display with the altitude in front of you. Oh, and the new virtual cockpit views are excellent, where your head stays locked onto the target as you fly by.
There's a greater sense of involvement in the gameplay, but this comes from the graphics. At one point in the game I was hovering behind a ridge when a tank I was supporting shot into view from behind me and piled over the ridge, billowing dust in its wake. Fantastic, but there's still no sense of being in the bustle of a busy base of ops like in Dl's Hind.
Longbow 2 is superb. Challenging, beautiful, exciting and fun - if you're 3Dfx'd up. It'll run without, but it's no way near as enjoyable. The in-game visuals are so good with 3Dfx, you wish the deeply average rendered intro had used the game engine instead. It's still not perfect: we want trees, better enemy Al, more personalised missions and characters. But it's as good as any flight sim gets, helicopter or otherwise.
Download Jane's Combat Simulations: Longbow 2
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Every now and then a game comes along that becomes the standard by which the whole genre is judged, and in the world of helicopter sims, Longbow 2 is it. The sequel to what was previously arguably the best helicopter sim out there, Longbow 2 is a complete redesign, with new graphics, extra choppers to fly and completely updated Al.
At the risk of sounding a bit repetitive, you can't overrate the importance of good graphics in a flight sim, especially one with helicopters. While it's great for that feeling of immersion if the scenery looks nice in a fixed-wing sim, it doesn't really affect the quality of the gameplay. This is definitely not the case where helicopters are concerned though, as the action takes place at much lower altitudes, where using the terrain effectively can mean the difference between life and death.
The graphics in Longbow 2 are some of the best around, with plenty of detailed, rolling hills. There aren't as many ground objects as in Team Apache, but the actual terrain is far more comprehensive.
Scenery aside, the rest of Longbow's graphics are excellent, although you'll need a relatively fast PC and a 3Dfx card to enjoy them to the full. One of the most spectacular aspects is the view at night. Obviously, most of the time it's black, but when the shit hits the fan everything is lit up superbly by rockets and explosions.
It may sound rather obvious, but one of the jobs of a flight sim is to simulate flight. While this means different things to different people, to many it means that they want the sim to mimic the real thing as closely as possible. Longbow 2 is probably one of the most authentic sims of any kind, and it comes with a suitably fat manual to prove it. There's a plethora of different radar modes, long-range cameras and weapons systems to get used to, as well as a very tricky flight model to get to grips with.
Obviously, jumping in at the deep end can be a tad tricky, and Longbow gives you the option to turn the realism settings down. Apart from making the thing easier to fly, you can make enemies less accomplished at wasting you, and there's a set of controls to simplify targeting and firing weapons. There are also lots of training missions with an instructor who shouts at you if you get it wrong.
One of the things that makes a great sim is a decent mission structure, and Longbow's is second to none. An excellent mission planner gives you total control over things like waypoints and payloads, and a fully dynamic campaign for those with a longer attention span.
Overall, Longbow is the best of the bunch, and the only negatives are the hardware requirements and lack of ground objects - not that you have time to sightsee anyway. While the concept of an Apache sim is hardly original, in terms of realism Longbow beats the others hands down.
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