Apache Longbow Assault
Military helicopter sims are a rarity on the PC nowadays, so it's rewarding to see a game like Apache Longbow Assault come along. It gracefully steers the fine line between serious sim and all-out action game and features some attractive visuals and immersive sound effects. While Apache Longbow Assault suffers from a no-frills campaign and a lack of other game modes, it still offers plenty of exciting combat while letting you fly one of the most powerful helicopters yet built.
Apache Longbow Assault puts you in the cockpit of the US Army's famed Apache attack helicopter, in this case the advanced AH-64D Longbow variant. The Longbow significantly improves on the radar/fire control system, weaponry, and survivability of the original Apache to create an even more lethal helicopter. The Longbow is fast, highly maneuverable, heavily armored, and bristling with advanced weapons.
The beauty of Apache Longbow Assault is that it lets you feel all that power right away. As soon as you take off, you know you have a brutally powerful helicopter at your disposal. Admittedly, hardcore sim fans will likely be disappointed with the way the game simplifies the radar system, countermeasures, weaponry, and so forth. Still, Apache Longbow Assault lets you enjoy yourself right away instead of having you work through a lengthy learning phase where you're always wondering which buttons to push.
Either way, you'll get to enjoy the Longbow's famed speed and maneuverability, thanks to the believable physics modeling. You'll also get to blast air and ground targets with a 30mm chaingun and Hellfire, Stinger, and Hydra missiles and rockets. You'll get to launch countermeasures, switch to a night-vision view, and launch illumination flares to assist ground forces.
You can control everything with the keyboard, though that's quite a handful, even with the streamlined controls and optional simplified physics. Ideally, you'll want to use a joystick with at least three buttons, a throttle, and a rudder twist feature. Then you can control everything with ease; you'll only reach for the keyboard once in a while or grab the mouse if you want to manually aim the flexibly mounted chaingun. You can have the targeting computer aim the gun automatically, too, though it's hard to select the specific target you want from a group. It's also too bad that there's no way to adjust controller sensitivity, only the dead zone.
Apache Longbow Assault offers just one gameplay mode: a linear, rigidly scripted campaign. You won't find any instant action mode or multiplayer options, which the game just begs for. There's no tutorial, either, though the missions at least tersely introduce some of the Apache's capabilities as you go along. Despite these flaws, the campaign does offer 30 missions that you can tackle on three difficulty levels. You'll fly at different times of day, in different types of weather, and over varied terrain, from forested mountains to icy seas to sandy beaches. You'll assist ground forces, attack convoy escorts, aid rescue operations, defend cities, and a lot more while going head-to-head with enemy choppers, ground vehicles, AA batteries, and ships. While the missions are mainly about explosive action, you'll need to think a little, too, by choosing an effective weapon loadout before each mission and prioritizing enemies during battle so as not to run out of ammo before knocking out mission-critical targets.
While most of the missions are entertaining, many are too short, lasting just three or four minutes. The campaign as a whole also suffers from a bare-bones presentation. You don't get any voice-overs or cutscenes, just some boring text briefings before each mission. The clumsy story about fighting terrorists in Siberia and the Pacific is forgettable and suffers from an anticlimactic ending. You mainly fly missions alone, and when you are joined by fellow pilots, you never hear any radio chatter, so it doesn't even feel like they're there. The campaign just doesn't generate enough emotional involvement or make you feel that you're part of bigger military operations. These weaknesses undercut the genuine diversity of the missions, making it feel as if you're one lone pilot out there mopping up a bunch of generic enemies over and over.
The campaign's presentation may be bland, but the in-mission graphics offer a lot of color. It's true that cities look way too small, and buildings often look drab and simple. The terrain overall gives you a good sense of scope, though, and features some attractive texturing. Atmospheric and combat effects look especially nice, from flickering flares brightening the night sky, to the glow of the rising sun, to a helicopter exploding in a ball of fire and raining debris after a missile slams into it. You'll get to view all the action from five internal and external cameras. The Apache itself is finely detailed inside and out, though the control panels are just for show; you can't actually click on them as in some flight sims.
Outside of the glaring lack of voice-overs, Apache Longbow Assault features really solid audio, too. Whooshing missiles, buzzing lock-on warning signals, and rumbling explosions all bring the combat to life. The electronic soundtrack is a bit generic, but not too shabby overall.
It's a real shame Apache Longbow Assault doesn't offer a deeper campaign and more game modes. It otherwise has some good things to offer: sharp graphics, solid audio, and lots of fast airborne action. This is a game that doesn't do too much, but what it does, it does well.