Complex chopper game not for fly-by-nighters

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 July, 1998, 12:00am

When Microsoft brought out its Flight Simulator years ago, it was a tremendous success (and still is, I believe). It really taught users about flight, and some flying schools encouraged students to play the game as it taught good flight instincts.

But flying an aeroplane is a breeze, so to speak, compared with the complexities of flying a helicopter.

Comanche Gold is a game from Novalogic, whose Comanche 3 was the best-selling helicopter simulation game last year.

The Gold version centres on the Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche helicopter. This is no pleasure craft, so the game gets right to it - get out there and kill them before they kill you.

Loading the CD-Rom is easy enough (it actually gets easier). You are then given the option of jumping into the game or looking at other products Novalogic has to offer.

Once you enter the game, everything looks all right until you realise that you actually must first read the flight manual.

I suppose I was rather hoping life would be made simple for me. (In fact, it was. The 'Easy Flight Model' option was already checked. I dare not think what the 'advanced' option would be like.) The game is focused on missions, the first being to 'Fort Rucker', which is mandatory.

Flying this beast is fun, but terribly difficult to get the hang of.

The game comes with an enormous cardboard cut-out that shows what almost every key on your keyboard does. It is truly mind-boggling. A joy stick and perhaps some foot pedals would make life a lot easier.

Ultimately, your goal is to do some virtual missions, with bad guys and even partners (there is an option for multi-player mode).

You must learn about the Comanche's weapons system and its advanced flying features. The attention to detail is extraordinary.

You will learn, for example, about 'Collective Control'. I thought this had something to do with the former Soviet Union, until the manual explained that the function of the collective was 'to produce lift by changing the pitch of the main rotor blades'.

Another buzzword in the helicopter word, IGE (in ground effect), refers to the tendency of a helicopter to want to stay up in the air when it comes to within about 20 metres of the ground. This is caused by the cushion of air the blades create.

IGE makes it possible to zip along just above the ground at great speed. When it comes time to land, however, you must compensate for it.

Just the act of flying takes a great deal of expertise. Once you actually start trying to undertake missions, you begin to get the idea of how difficult the whole thing is. You do have the advantage of your HMD (helmet-mounted display).

This creates little bits and bobs of information in white characters on the screen. Wherever you look, you can see the information because it is in the helmet.

The HMD has four levels of symbology, from 0-3. At 0 there is nothing, but each successive number adds more detail until, at level 3, gamers can see exactly what a true Comanche pilot would see.

This is not a game for fly-by-nighters, so to speak. It requires much time and effort to develop any level of skill. I cannot imagine what it must be like to actually get to be good at flying one of these things, mainly because I never had enough time to do it.

Comanche Gold is for anyone who wants to experience the thrill of helicopter flight and battle simulation. One should not forget, however, the truly instructional nature of the game. Helicopter flight is a wonder that employs the laws of physics in an unusual way.

If you are not too happy about your children playing a violent game, perhaps you could give them some lessons in how the physical world works.

PROS AND CONS Product: Comanche Gold from Novalogic Price: $269 Platform: Windows 95/98 Pros: Life-like helicopter simulation game Cons: Helicopters are a bitch to fly