|When I first saw what would become Gunship! (then titled Gunship
III) at last years E3, I put it on my list of most-anticipated games. Given its
pedigreeGunship and Gunship II are still the quintessential chopper sims to many
gamers, and Longbow be damnedand the fact that it looked, even at that early period
of its development, utterly stunningwell, I expected it to be the best-playing,
best-looking attack helicopter sim yet. And it sure is the best-looking.
Ill gush over the graphics later, but suffice to say that their absolute sumptuousness cant 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 helicoptersthe US and UK versions of the Apache, the German Eurocopter Tiger, and the Russian Mi-28 Hind. Its a nice spread, and the variety extends to ground units, toowith 114 different vehicle types, from the Bradley to FROG launchers, youll revel in the many different targets presented. And all of this looks amazing. Theres 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. Its of utmost importance for attack helis to take advantage of any small piece of terrainbe it a fold in the ground, a small copse of woods, or an isolated barn. Most helicopter sims just havent 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. Theyre not just big blocks of greentheyre made of lovingly-detailed individual trees, and offer plenty of handy clearings for pop-up attacks. The ground also looks great; youll 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 doesnt.
First of all, the games 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 80s. I mean, cmonafter Desert Storm and Kosovo and Mogadishu youd 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 games problems. Because for all its beauty, the game takes far too much effort to play. And this isnt because its a state-of-the-art ultrarealistic sim; in fact, Gunship comes pretty close to being an arcade simits 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 games 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 youre often not quite sure if youve ordered them to the right one. What should be a very simple operation thus becomes a very annoying exercise. It doesnt help any that your wingmates tend to be pretty passive; sometimes theyre so useless that you might as well be fighting on your own. I also had a lot of problems whenever Id check my map view. It didnt matter if I had my helicopter autohovering in a secluded area; if I spent more than five seconds perusing my tactical map, Id return to find my chopper auguring in or moving out of cover. In a game where youre 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 airwhich isnt 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 theyre doing. As I said earlier, this is clearly a game that was
meant to appeal to a broad audience. Im afraid many of them will be turned off by
the games lack of useful instructions.
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 Ive had a hard time finding anyone to play.
So heres the bottom lineif you just want to fly around and watch pretty explosions in a beautiful environment, youll like Gunship!. For all my reservations about the game, it can be a lot of fun if you dont expect it to be too much. But if you do have certain expectations, for instance that Gunship! will offer realistic campaigns and battlefield tactics, youll be disappointed.