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Apache: Air Assault
Score: 78%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Gaijin Entertainment
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Flight/ Simulation/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
Quick survey! How many people were waiting with bated breath for the next new breakthrough of helicopter combat simulators? Anybody? That's what I was afraid of. Even though no one really asked for it, Gaijin Entertainment has developed one the most surprisingly fun, yet flawed, games this year. Apache: Air Assault may have a limited appeal, but the team at Gaijin Entertainment proves they are good at what they do (namely flight simulation games) and made a game accessible enough for those players that don't own fancy flight sticks, but will still please the hardcore.

All of the flying death machines in Apache: Air Assault are licensed by Boeing with remarkable detail. From every meter and gauge in the cockpit to the personalized decals and paint schemes on each chopper, the remarkable sights are sure to please enthusiasts. Even the locations and terrain are re-mapped with satellite photography to give the world-wide missions ultra realism, from the mountains of the Middle East to the plains of Africa. Apache: Air Assault is simply a visually stunning game running at a very smooth framerate. Just don't get too close to the ground because the illusion might be ruined.

Since the action is frantic and tense through most missions, the score is appropriately epic as if it were right out of an action movie. Hearing a booming orchestral score play over the surround sound as you pilot your way through a mountain chasm is an experience I won't soon forget. The chatter on the headsets conveys a sense of urgency, while the constant whir of the helicopter blades reminds you that realism is the name of the game and handling these machines isn't an easy task. One wrong move and it all comes crashing down, literally!

In case it isn't obvious from these screenshots, or the title of the game, Apache: Air Assault is a game about flying helicopters. DEADLY helicopters! The premise is that you play the role of a pilot in various worldwide locales ranging from private military units, national security, or any other organization big enough to warrant employing lethal attack helicopters to handle the dirty work. While the lack of variety can be forgiven considering there is only so much that can be done with a helicopter, Apache provides good fun for anyone looking for something a bit different in their games.

After a few warm-up levels, you are tasked with a variety of mission objectives including escorts, rescues, infiltrations, reconnaissance, or full-on assault. Each mission is broken into multiple objectives with a few checkpoints scattered throughout. You are also only given a handful of continues to complete the missions before you must restart. For anyone that has ever played any of the Jungle Strike or Desert Strike games of the early 90's, the mission structure will feel very similar. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that Apache: Air Assault is a modern take on the beloved "Strike" franchise of the past.

The missions can be tackled with a friend in local co-op, but the implementation feels off. Two players will share the same screen as one player acts as the pilot, while the other mans the guns. While the controls certainly take some adjustments (more on that in a minute) the real issue with co-op is that if the two players are not on the same skill level, the less skilled player will most likely have a miserable time. Couple that with sometimes confusing controls or HUD (heads up display) and two good friends can be at each other's throats over a single wrong turn.

I struggled with the idea of whether I should even mention online. Every attempt I made to join an online game or host a match ended in a timed out session. Either there is virtually no one playing Apache online or no one bought it. Either way, it is sad because this game is well worth the attention. You are able to make up for lost online time with a free flight mode where you can set up your own mission objectives. You control everything from the weather effects, the number of enemies, ally objectives, amount of ammo, etc. It would be nice to be able to share certain configurations with friends for bragging rights or go all the way with a mission editor, but it is a good place to learn the ropes because Apache is not above letting you fend for yourself.

Although Apache: Air Assault boasts about its realism and meticulous control scheme, a beginner mode is available for those of us who can't tell the difference between pitch and yaw. The "Training" difficulty does a great job of managing certain controls for you so you can focus on the objective or trying your hardest not to end up face-first into a cliff. The gradual difficulty curve for "Training" is great at taking it slow, but still being fun. The only improvement I wanted to see was a way to teach the player about the finer points of flying a helicopter. For total novices (like myself), the skill set of flying a helicopter is not immediately obvious. There is no way to know what is or isn't possible in the simulation and the whole experience could have benefited from a walkthrough or more extensive tutorial.

Once you work your way up to "Realism," the proverbial training wheels are off. Maintaining altitude, rotation, weapons lock, and weather conditions are now primary concerns over simple mission parameters. If that sounds intimidating, it should be. Apache: Air Assault doesn't mess around. For the truly dedicated, you can use a flight stick, although it will take a lot of effort to configure properly, but it might be worth it. The feeling of expertly navigating a dangerous area and eliminating all hostile targets is deeply rewarding and adding something as hardcore as a flight stick seems like it would only heighten the feeling.

Game Mechanics:
The rules of engagement for Apache: Air Assault are as follows: (1) Don't crash. (2) Eliminate all enemies with advanced weapon systems. (3) Don't crash.

If it seems like I am repeating one of those steps, I am. You see, the hardest part of Apache is being able to juggle multiple things at once. The problem that most untrained helicopter pilots will have is that it is way too easy to forget about a silly little thing like altitude amidst a barrage of air-to-air missiles. Preservation instincts kick in and the only immediate goal is to get out of the line of fire which more often than not leads to an unfortunate reunion of a million dollar aircraft and the priceless terrain.

Not that any of the intimidating realism should scare people off. Apache: Air Assault is very good about easing its way into intense situations. The only issue is how quickly will you be able to pick it up

It's refreshing to see a game that knows exactly what it wants to do and executes. Hardcore flight sim enthusiasts will love it and anyone with a passing interest will not be disappointed. Apache: Air Assault provides good fun with few frills and this will be the closest many of us get to actually piloting an attack helicopter and that experience alone is worth it. Surprisingly fun, incredibly deep, and insanely detailed, Apache may be flying under the radar, but if you go along with it, you will enjoy one hell of a ride.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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