Day 184 – AH-64D Longbow

It’s been a while coming but I’ve finally made a start on Longbow. I’m not a fan of full on flight sims and the truth is I don’t especially want to play this game (or its add-on for that matter). I go into a game looking for entertainment in some form above all else, whereas a sim takes the opposite approach and attempts to be realistic. It’s also debatable how much of an Origin game it is. Origin staff are involved but it’s credited to Origin Skunkworks, which was an offshoot of the company, and eventually under another name would go on to produce numerous Janes games. The project was headed by Andy Hollis who I understand was responsible for several previous flightsims including Gunship 2000. I may not want to play it but for the sake of completeness I’ll give it a go. It may be slow going though.

The intro shows the sort of thing you would expect where a tank column is blown up by a load of Longbows. It’s impressive enough for the time but entirely superfluous.

It then fades into a naval base which is also going to serve as the interface for getting around the various sections of the game.

I head straight for the tutorial section. I don’t have the manual for this game so I’m going to need this. I’m led to believe it came with a 2200 page manual – there is no way I’d have read all that anyway but I can’t help but think that bits of it could be useful.

The tutorial is split into 8 sections, the first of which involves watching a load of videos produced by the manufacturers of the Longbow. The first of these is called “Warrior on the Move”. It’s a cheesy sales pitch if I’ve ever seen one with the sort of sweeping music combining string sections and electric guitar that puts me in mind of children’s cartoons when I was kid for some reason. It’s also full of really poor video effects and narration that could only impress the sort of person who buys Guns N Ammo magazine. I’ve never heard so many words (half of them fictional) ending in ability used in one sentence before. It’s hard to believe that a company that spent so much on producing the helicopter would produce something that looks this cheap.

The video quality here isn’t great – it looks kind of like bad VHS with some strange wobbles in the image. This could be deliberate I guess but this seems unlikely.

I do learn something from watching this garbage on the bright side, such as the armament available on the Apache which consists of small unguided folding fin rockets, hellfire missiles, a couple of air to air stinger missiles + a chain gun.

The style settles down a bit in the second video. This one is about the modernized versions of the Apache helicopter. the AH-64C and AH-64D called the Longbow. These have more advanced missiles and controls as well as a radar mounted on the top of the blades in the case of the AH-64D. This video concentrates on an introduction to the control system used on the helicopters which I’ll be using myself later on. This control system is fairly complex and allows for transferring information between helicopters.

“Apache Owns the Night” is a mercifully short video that covers exactly what you would expect from the title. Suffice to say, the Apache has a night-vision system which I’ll be using later.

Lifting the Fog of War is a bit more interesting and shows how the Apache can use the radar on top of its blades to pop up behind a hill – kind of like a periscope, scan the targets, then fire from behind cover without ever exposing itself.

The final video here can be used to watch any of the scenes I’ve opened in the game which is just the intro so far. It’s about an hour since I started the game at this point and all I’ve done is watch videos. I’ve got something of a feel for the helicopter now at least.

Next stage of the tutorial is a walk-around the craft. Bits of it are highlighted while my instructor tells me what they are and what they do. I’m bombarded with acronyms throughout the whole of this training section and its a bit much to try to take it all in but they are repeated enough times that some of it sinks in by the end.

For my next lesson, I’ll actually get to fly a bit. It’s high time I got to do something but this isn’t going to be too exciting as I’m just going to be hovering. The graphics look decent once I’ve switched to SVGA, definitely a step up from WC4’s ground missions. I’m talked through the mission by my instructor who takes and releases the controls depending on the situation. Hovering more or less involves setting my torque to 70% – more and I go up, less I go down. It’s easy enough at least in this sim. He introduces all the controls while I’m here and I’m assaulted with more acronyms for another 10 minutes.

Over the next 6 lessons, I’m gradually introduced to the Longbow. I start out by flying around, observing how my screens work and track targets and threats and only get allowed to shoot a few stationary targets down in the last couple of missions. I also get to try out the trick with the radar, popping it up from behind a ridge, scanning my targets, sectioning off the battle zone into 2 quadrants and assigning one to my wingman while I cover the other.

These sort of sneaking tactics is interesting. I can fire off my hellfires in two modes – direct and indirect. Direct is lock and fire as you would expect, indirect means I can fire from behind a ridge and the missile loops into the air and counts down. The idea is I pop back up again at the last minute and make radar contact and the missile sees this and heads straight for the target. This sort of tactical warfare has potential and gives me some hope I may like this game after all.

The graphics are certainly decent enough. Sure the ground terrain is a bit dull but the explosions look good from a distance (which is all I should ever see if I do my job). The chain gun is great fun. It locks on a target then switches to a new one as soon as you fire. You can take out a dozen soft targets in seconds with this thing and it does all the work for me.

I’ve been playing the game for about well over 3 hours by this point and while I haven’t flown a proper mission, I can control my helicopter pretty well, take off, land, kill things and I’ve got a vague idea how my two MFD’s work. I’d be lying if I said I was ready for a combat mission but thats as far as the training goes.

I have to create a pilot before I can go any further. I have to choose from a list of predefined callsigns for some reason.

I then head for a historical mission. I get a choice of gulf war missions. I pick the first one and I get a map of the layout + a briefing which I don’t notice at the time and end up flying into the mission not knowing what I’m doing.

To further confuse things, I’m not even flying the same helicopter I was trained in. This only has the one screen and doesn’t seem to have the nice map of nav points I was using in the Longbow.

It’s also night time and I’ve not had any training on night flight. I do find the key to switch to night vision but get shot down in no time.

I have a quick look at the campaign mode at this point. I get a news broadcast to introduce the scene which is a war between Poland and the Ukraine. The mission introductions are the same sort of thing – it might have been nice to get at least speech for the mission briefings. These briefings don’t appear to give me much feel for what is going on. I don’t attempt to fly the mission at this point anyway – I’ll try to complete at least one historical mission before I attempt the real thing. I can’t help but feel that we could have done with a combat training mission as well as I don’t feel prepared for combat at all. There are a series of standalone missions which I haven’t looked at – I’m thinking now maybe one of those would prove to be a bit easier so I’ll head there next.

To be fair, I’ve not had a bad time playing this so far. If I was into my helicopter sims, I would probably be loving Longbow as it seems to have a lot going for it. It’s well made and authentic from what I’ve seen, but I’ve only just reached the real meat of the game and it will live or die by how much fun the missions themselves are.

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