This is from the January 1998 PC Zone.
I’ve sorted through the remainder of my magazines, and picked up everything that had an obvious article on something I’ve covered in this blog up to the end of 2000 which is where I’ll probably stop. The indexes in PC Zone at this time were fairly awful so I’ve probably missed a few but I’ve got a reasonable pile to be going on with. I should be finishing off the next Wing Commander book tommorow, thought I’d have read it by now but lets just say it hasn’t been holding my attention.
This is a preview of Longbow 2 from the October 1997 PC Zone.
I’ve spent a good few hours ploughing my way through Longbow 2’s campaigns today. Most of the missions have similar structures to those I’ve mentioned earlier with reconnaissance and attack objectives, although you do occasionally get something a little different thrown in. The first of these was supporting ground troops who are advancing to a set position.
This is basically an escort mission where I have to keep my forces alive. The tanks look quite nice and throw up a plume of dust as they advance. You even get to see them fighting it out with the opposition if you let them get close enough.
This turned out to be the final mission of the first campaign.
There is a brief cutscene showing a Longbow, entirely unnecessarily slicing off the tail wing of a downed enemy chopper.
Then it’s straight back to base and time to pick another campaign. The second campaign is rather boringly set in exactly the same map and scenario, except I’m up against Russian equipment this time.
I do get a mission sort I’ve not flown before and this is probably the only mission I fly in the Blackhawk in all 3 campaigns. I have to fly behind enemy lines and drop off a surveillance squad.
A number of missions later and this campaign is also over. From my point of view it made little difference being up against different equipment. I expect I would have noticed a difference in expert mode and it would have been harder but it was basically more of the same in easy. The final cutscene is almost identical although with a different helicopter and it’s slightly extended.
That just leaves campaign number 3. This is where CD #2 comes in and it actually has an introductory cutscene showing a news report which states that Azerbaijan is being invaded by the Iranians. We, of course, have to go in and kick them out again.
This final campaign comes with a new menu screen and a new set of textures. Several sets in fact as it often pauses to decompress a new lot at the start of a mission.
The textures are certainly greener and overall an improvement on what I’ve seen before, although still horribly lacking in detail close up. The main difference is the terrain is nowhere near as flat and there are mountains all over the place. This makes flying a lot more challenging, even in easy. In expert mode, I have little doubt that this campaign would require some serious skill and strategy.
The other main difference is that it seems to be much darker at night, forcing me to use my infra-red. The game definitely looks better like this with the darker graphics masking the lack of detail.
The campaign missions are the same sort of thing for the most part. I do get a couple of missions like the one above where I have to laser a target so that a bomber can come in and destroy it. There are also some patrol missions where I just have to protect an area for a given amount of time. It’s all variations on a theme really but it probably represents everything you would have to do as a pilot in a real conflict.
Near the end of the campaign, there is a news report saying that we are close to capturing the strategically critical town of Stephanakert.
And a couple of missions after that the final cutscene to end the game where we capture the town and the Iranians surrender.
Longbow 2 seems to me to be a game that deserves to have a lot of time spent on it, by someone who is more interested in flying helicopters than I am. I honestly think you could spend months mastering this if you were prepared to put the effort in and I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what it has to offer. I’m impressed with the overall realism of the simulation in every aspect. If I was to be critical, I think the biggest flaw I can see is that I never got a feel of how the overall battle was going. There were text briefings giving the status of certain enemy units but I’d just like to have seen the overall objectives more clearly. I felt like I was blindly flying missions with no idea of whether the end was in sight or not. I expect a pilot would be little wiser in a real war so it’s not a big deal.
The graphics in the game grew on me a little once I got to the final campaign. For it’s day I’m sure they were about as good as it got. It’s an impressive game all round, but not one that holds much appeal for me which is unfortunate since I still have another simulation to play in F-15. At least a jet fighter sim will be a little different. After playing Longbow 1, this did feel like more of the same.
Next up, it’s going to be a game that almost slipped through the net: Transland.
Right from the start of Longbow 2, anyone who played the first game should be immediately familiar with it. The base appears near enough identical to the original and serves as the main menu. There are the same options available from here for training, instant action, single missions and the campaign mode. For the purposes of “completing” this game I’ll be concentrating on playing through the 3 campaigns.
Before I do that, I have a go at the remaining training missions. First off I try out the second new helicopter which is the Kiowa. This is a reconnaissance helicopter but it does have a reasonable amount of firepower being able to carry a couple of missiles + rockets. While on the mission, I take the opportunity to fly in close to a building to have a look at the graphics. The detail on the tent here isn’t too bad even this close up but the ground textures feel extremely blurred. I suppose this game probably ran on a first generation 3dfx so it’s perhaps unfair to be too critical but I’m not sure the ground doesn’t look worse than in Longbow 1. I know other people have praised the graphics in the game so I perhaps needed to play it at the time to appreciate it. I can’t help but feel that I’d rather have less object detail and more on the ground since you never really get too close to anything if you are flying properly.
I then move onto the Longbow training. I struggle no end to get into a hover in this, not being helped by my forgetting to calibrate my joystick before I start. You forget about having to do this every time after getting used to using modern joysticks for a while. Flying the helicopter itself is much the same but the systems are extremely complex. The instructor takes over flight and then precedes to talk at me for 15 minutes non stop explaining the systems with so many acronyms my mind switches off after the first few minutes. I do gather that this is a brief introduction and he will be going into the weapons systems in “excruciating detail” in the next lesson. Suffice to say, I skip the next lesson for the moment when the torment finally ends.
The town we fly over in the mission is about as detailed as the scenery gets. The buildings look ok but the ground is flat and blurred and I don’t get a feeling of realism from it. The helicopter itself handles as I would imagine a helicopter should but the ground only starts to look any good if you put on some height, and that is something you will never do when flying combat missions.
With the training mission complete, I head back to the campaign I started the other night. The scenario is something to do with us repelling a hostile invasion of a fictional country. There doesn’t appear to be any attempt at story here and there are no cutscenes or anything to introduce the campaign. The three campaigns, no doubt take place on different landscapes but the main difference appears to be the hardware you are facing. In this first campaign we are up against US technology.
There are a load of options from this campaign screen, and I gather I could change the mission around if I felt inclined to do so. While I’m out on my mission, other wings are also going after their objectives so there is a whole battefield represented in the game. This battlefield changes for the next mission depending on what you do and how the other wings get on and the campaign will therefore be different every time.
This is my first night mission, flying a Longbow. For the sake of getting a couple of decent screenshots, I’m up at height and the light effects and ground look excellent from this position. I can’t help but feel that this engine would be much better suited to a jet simulator where I’m further off the ground. There is a definite beauty in watching my missiles light up the landscape from a distance
There is a satisfying plume of smoke left from destroyed targets. Destroying the targets is extremely simple in easy mode and can be done at some distance with little risk. The main issue is avoiding SAM’s on the way to the target. Ignoring the waypoints and flying around the edge of the battlefield seems to be the best approach. The flight dynamics are definitely different to those I trained with and are fairly laughable in this mode. No matter how steeply I bank and turn, my height is fixed unless I change collective and it certainly takes all the skill out of piloting the helicopter. The alternative if training was anything to go by is constantly adjusting collective in a useless attempt to maintain the same height. You really need a throttle control if you are going to play it this way as the + and – keys just aren’t sufficient.
There is an awful lot of speech in this game while you are in the air and I’m constantly hearing what the other teams are up to or where my co-pilot has spotted targets. This is all extremely well done and sounds very natural, especially after my recent playthrough of Super Wing Commander. The game certainly can generate a good atmosphere and I can see why it is so popular with flight sim fans.
I play a few missions through. They are mainly to go out and destroy some targets, although the briefing for my final mission is to escort ground forces which sounds a little more interesting. I’ll be playing that one next and will attempt to carry on and play through each of the campaigns today if time allows. I’ve no idea what to expect from each campaign but I’m assuming they will be fairly brief given that with the difficulty options I’ve set, my side has the advantage.
I get the distinct feeling that I’ve seen more or less everything this game has to offer already. I may struggle to find much else to say about it in the next post if this is the case, but I still haven’t used the games second CD so there must at least be some different landscapes to fly around. I would very much have liked a story driven campaign but I can see why they would go for this dynamic mode instead and it would certainly give the game longevity. From my point of view, I’m not really after longevity and am playing this purely because after playing 60+ Origin games, I’m not going to skip the last 2. Playing this in easy mode, I’m certainly not going to be able to offer anything in the way of a serious review. I’ve seen this described as the best helicopter sim ever made on numerous occasions, and other than graphically I can’t think what else there would be to improve on from what I’ve seen. I’m clearly not the target audience but I’m still enjoying playing this as more of an arcade game. If you like your sims, I don’t think you could go wrong trying this if it wasn’t so ludicrously difficult to get running on anything other than it’s target hardware and operating system.
This is going to be a short (and mostly off topic) post as I spent nearly all of the time I had yesterday getting my Windows 98 PC up and running correctly. The single biggest problem with this was getting files onto it. It has a network card but I don’t remember the model so I haven’t been able to locate drivers for it. This means no Internet and no network drives. I’m so used to just plugging in a memory stick and having it work, that it’s something of a shock to go back to needing drivers for those also. In the end I managed to find a generic USB storage driver and transferred it across on a CD-R (since the drive also can’t read DVD-R’s). This driver failed to work with everything except my PSP so I’m having to use that to transfer files across which isn’t entirely convenient but it works.
My Thrustmaster joystick is one of the old 15-pin variety so I didn’t need to find drivers at least. It offers a lot more movement resistance than I’m used to. It’s the standard Thrustmaster arrangement with the 4 buttons + POV hat and screams 90’s quality despite the £3.50 price tag. It was still new and unused and came with a free copy of Tomb Raider of all things. Why you would give a copy of Tomb Raider with a flight sim joystick is anyone’s guess although it’s actually one of the games I’d quite like to play now I have a DOS PC with Glide so it works out well for me.
3dfx drivers are still readily available and there appears to be something of a 3dfx fan club out there all these years after their demise. The motherboard in my PC was made by MSI and they actually still have the Win 98 drivers for it on their website which is excellent customer support. I wish other companies would take a note from this. Creative Labs spring to mind here as I can never find their drivers when I want them.
Finding drivers for the Voodoo 3 went smoothly enough only for Longbow 2 to still crash the moment I started trying to fly. My first thought was that it was a problem with my 3dfx drivers so I tried installing a couple of other games like Prophecy and Starlancer and they both worked perfectly. It’s good news with Starlancer anyway as my last attempts to play it didn’t get very far.
It turns out that Longbow 2 is so unfriendly to modern PC’s that it didn’t even like the PC I’d built. Specifically, it won’t run if you have much more than 256 MB of RAM (I have 512), at least in Windows 98. There is however a fix for this if you add:-
to the file CA.ini. A big thank you to the definitive Longbow installation guide at http://digitality.comyr.com/speichts/lb2/index.html for this one.
After that one change everything is working near enough perfectly. By way of testing it out, I replayed the basic flight training + the Blackhawk training. The shifting texture problem that I mentioned with the Glide wrapper was not anywhere near as evident using the real hardware. In fact there was a hard to describe difference with the graphics in general. They appeared more blurred which possibly helps with the lower textures rather than detracting. Better or worse, it does go to show that emulation is never quite the same as the real thing.
I went on to play the first of the campaign missions. There were 3 campaigns to choose from and I could give a maximum length to each and adjust each sides advantage. Suffice to say, I’m making things as easy as possible for myself. As soon as I took off, I realised I didn’t really know what I was doing as I was put into a helicopter that I’d not done the training for. Thankfully, it was a reconnaissance mission and I just had to fly to a waypoint which I managed easily enough. In fact, the helicopter felt a lot easier to control than in training. I’m not sure at this point if that was because of the easy difficulty or just because it was a different helicopter.
Since everything appears to be running well, the last thing I did was install Hypersnap so I can get some screenshots. I was surprised to see it has Windows 98 support but it will come in very handy from here on. After all the messing about getting this game up and running, I’ll finally get to have a good session on it today and start writing it up properly in the next post.