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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Hasbro

Ups: Beautiful graphics, four choppers to choose from

Downs: Clumsy interface, not very realistic, bad AI, seems unfinished

System Reqs: P 266, 32 MB RAM, SVGA video card with 2MB VRAM

When I first saw what would become Gunship! (then titled Gunship III) at last year’s E3, I put it on my list of most-anticipated games. Given its pedigree—Gunship and Gunship II are still the quintessential chopper sims to many gamers, and Longbow be damned—and the fact that it looked, even at that early period of its development, utterly stunning—well, I expected it to be the best-playing, best-looking attack helicopter sim yet. And it sure is the best-looking.

I’ll gush over the graphics later, but suffice to say that their absolute sumptuousness can’t cover for Gunship!’s multitude of gameplay sins. A clunky interface, bad AI, and lots of little annoyances make Gunship! one of  biggest disappointments of the year. A little more time, a little more streamlining, and this could have been an astonishing sim. But it has the feel of a game rushed out the door. 

But first, the good things. Gunship does allow you to pilot four different attack helicopters—the US and UK versions of the Apache, the German Eurocopter Tiger, and the Russian Mi-28 Hind. It’s a nice spread, and the variety extends to ground units, too—with 114 different vehicle types, from the Bradley to FROG launchers, you’ll revel in the many different targets presented. And all of this looks amazing. There’s no doubt that Gunship! has more eye-candy than any sim since Falcon 4.0; in a word, it looks amazing. Even better, it played very smoothly even at high res on my PIII 450 with 128 megs of RAM and a Ultra TNT2. But even though the vehicles and aircraft are gorgeous, the most impressive thing about Gunship!’s graphics is its terrain rendering. This is where a lot of chopper sims have had problem. It’s of utmost importance for attack helis to take advantage of any small piece of terrain—be it a fold in the ground, a small copse of woods, or an isolated barn. Most helicopter sims just haven’t had the graphics engine to create a realistic battlefield enviroment, and they have suffered for it. But Gunship!’s terrain is extremely realistic. Woods are particularly impressive. They’re not just big blocks of green—they’re made of lovingly-detailed individual trees, and offer plenty of handy clearings for pop-up attacks. The ground also looks great; you’ll find lots of ridgelines and folds in the ground in which to seek cover. If everything worked as well as the graphics engine, Gunship! would be a five-star game. But it just doesn’t.

First of all, the game’s premise is just a little lame. It assumes that Russia somehow stages an miraculous economic recovery, and, rearmed and revitalized, decides to invade Western Europe. That is soooo 80’s. I mean, c’mon—after Desert Storm and Kosovo and Mogadishu you’d think that game designers could come up with a better premise than Soviet Bear threatens Western Civilization, but there you have it.

But this is the least of the game’s problems. Because for all it’s beauty, the game takes far too much effort to play. And this isn’t because it’s a state-of-the-art ultrarealistic sim; in fact, Gunship comes pretty close to being an arcade sim—it’s clearly aimed at a popular audience. No, Gunship is difficult to play because it has one of the most awkward interfaces this side of your VHS.  Though the game’s cockpit commands are pretty sleek, once you decide to do something other than fly around and blow stuff up, problems start to creep in. First of all, giving commands to your wingmen is extremely awkward, and nowhere more so than when giving waypoint commands. It takes a bunch of keystrokes to order your mates to a waypoint, and even then you’re often not quite sure if you’ve ordered them to the right one. What should be a very simple operation thus becomes a very annoying exercise. It doesn’t help any that your wingmates tend to be pretty passive; sometimes they’re so useless that you might as well be fighting on your own. I also had a lot of problems whenever I’d check my map view. It didn’t matter if I had my helicopter autohovering in a secluded area; if I spent more than five seconds perusing my tactical map, I’d return to find my chopper auguring in or moving out of cover.  In a game where you’re constantly called upon to check map updates, this is again a very frustrating thing.

The game also has a documentation problem. While it has a few very sharp tutorials, they only offer about the bare minimum you need to get your bird in the air—which isn’t nearly enough to play the game, especially since the scenarios are tough. It takes a lot of finesse to win either the campaign or stand-alone scenarios, and neophytes will often find themselves losing merely because the tutorials are incomplete and the manual not very helpful and they therefore have no idea what they’re doing. As I said earlier, this is clearly a game that was meant to appeal to a broad audience. I’m afraid many of them will be turned off by the game’s lack of useful instructions.

A few other problems: There are no snap views, and changing views thus takes longer than it should. Guns—both yours and your enemy’s--are generally overpowered and fantastically accurate. You can fly as the gunner and give orders to the pilot via keystrokes, but he doesn’t follow them very well, or sometimes at all. The flight model is probably a little relaxed; I’ve never flown a helicopter, so I wouldn’t really know, but it seems a lot more forgiving than Longbow’s.

All five of the campaigns are extremely challenging, and there are just a handful of stand-alone missions, but Gunship! also allows you to design your own. Multiplayer is also included, but only on the Zone, and I’ve had a hard time finding anyone to play.

So here’s the bottom line—if you just want to fly around and watch pretty explosions in a beautiful environment, you’ll like Gunship!. For all my reservations about the game, it can be a lot of fun if you don’t expect it to be too much. But if you do have certain expectations, for instance that Gunship! will offer realistic campaigns and battlefield tactics, you’ll be disappointed.

--Rick Fehrenbacher