Flight simulators are a rare beast in the modern era of gaming. All but the most hardcore of games that emulate aviation make concessions to the player. Perhaps the pilot can turn the plane on a six pence in opposition to what physics in the real world allow? Or perhaps the hull can take an huge hail of bullets and missiles before capitulating? So when I saw that I’d be reviewing a bona fide helicopter simulation game, I was intrigued. A little nervous too. I’m by no means an anorak when it comes to flighted vehicles so the thought of having to learn a ridiculous 55 button control scheme or, even worse, buy a standalone joystick (!) was not an appealing thought.
Fortunately, the Hind’s tutorial mission does a good job of going through the necessary details and, one anomaly where I forgot to deploy my landing gear aside, by the time mission 2 rolled around I felt ready to kill some stuff! Unfortunately though, your tutorial can be the best in the business, but if you rather unbelievably map the slow down action to be the same as the aim up control then you’re in a bit of trouble. Time and time again I wanted to come to a dead stop right above a hapless tank and bring my missiles to bear only to find that I was stationary and pointed at a 40 degree angle into the sky. Not good. Perhaps there is a reason for this related to the way a real helicopter controls? I have absolutely no idea. You do learn to work around it with a bit of practice but I stress on the work around part – it never becomes a good design choice.
The Campaign itself “spans” over 15 or so missions including a couple of stops in the middle to tell you how a new weapon controls. It’s weirdly basic. A little bit of writing explains the objective of your next mission in a PlayStation 1 style text box and then you’re thrown into the sortie. The presentation doesn’t improve from there. A Russian voice explains your objective with English subtitles. At least I think it’s Russian. You’re never actually told. The HIND is a Russian helicopter so I’m making an assumption. Mission area descriptions are things like “Middle East, 1980.” Does that mean we’re supposed to be playing in an approximation of the Russian conflict in Afghanistan? I have absolutely no idea. Do you sense a theme? Early on, orders range from go here and kill this to go slightly further away and kill that. It does branch out slightly in later missions as you have to protect downed allies or similar but overall the Campaign is dreadfully thin.
Other modes fair slightly better. Instant Action chucks you straight into an already existing scenario. Kill a specific number of attacking helicopter’s or take out an enemy controlled town at night. There’s no pretense of a story in this mode and often you spawn meters from your first objective. The action is much more immediate and the experience improves for it.
The same applies for multiplayer. With real people as your opponents the challenge is far greater than anything the single player portion of the game can offer. When you can get a game that is. Launch day allowed me a total of one match to choose from which there were initially 6 out of a possible 10 players on the server. This quickly reduced to 4 players, one of which messaged to ask if I would sit there and let myself get killed 10 times so he could unlock the the related achievement. I’m not completely convinced in my own mind that I should be criticising Air Missions for it’s lack of day one players but, as multiplayer is part of the paid for package it’s relevant that players may not be able get full value out of the game even on release day.
Part of my research before siting down to write this review included a trip over to the Steam store page for a glance at what PC players had to say. Looks great, one player remarked. Well, that’s not my experience of Air Missions: Hind. There’s the occasional nice effect to be seen and backgrounds look okay, notably once you get out of the desert and into some greener terrain. But there’s some pretty horrific looking textures as well. I’m talking about the sort of graphics you might find on the Xbox 360. Some of the effects even fall below what I would expect from a 360 title. You can almost count the pixels in the explosions!
Sound effects don’t fare much better. I recorded a section of the gameplay on Xbox DVR because I realised that at one point I had been strafing the same bridge for the best part of 10 minutes and the AA gunfire trying to bring me down sounded more like a car backfiring on repeat than a storm of huge helicopter eating bullets. The only music I could find was on the main menu and this was the same, admittedly dramatic sounding, track played on repeat.
There is at least a reasonable amount of content to be got through. Instant Action has different missions to the Campaign, there are test flights and multiplayer can be played in a deathmatch style or cooperatively. It’s not a dreadful package purely in terms of the hours you’ll get out of it.